The Nashi summer camp at Lake Seliger opened itself up to media on Saturday, giving reporters a chance to get a glimpse of how members train to become tomorrows “Our Army”. As I wrote last week, Nashi has adopted a platform that encourages its youth to join the Russian military. According to Kommersant correspondent, Ekaterina Savina, the camp is much more. In addition to physical fitness, the day of a Nashist is filled with seminars and lectures on ideology and chances to meet with some of Russia’s important political figures. It serves to not only to indoctrinate youth with the ideology of Putin; it seeks to reproduce it by concretizing loyalty through the opportunities of networking and social mobility Nashi membership provides. To older Russians the similarities to the Soviet era are striking. They should be. It seems that all that is missing are the little red neckties.
A day in the life of a Nashist(ka) at Seliger is similar to any summer camp, but with a more political edge. The Nashi camp does more than say the Boy or Girl Scouts, which pledge an ideology of God and Country. Included among the patriotic themes is the devotion to one man: Vladimir Putin.
The day runs like this: A Nashist(ka) awakens at 7:30 to the Russian national anthem. They fold up their tents and head to Prospekt “Sovereign Democracy”, where they line up for the toilet and showers. Standing in a long line with a full bladder is made “easier” by organizers leading campers in songs like “Prekrasnoe dal’eko,” “Goluboi shchenok” and “Chunga-Changa”. A half an hour later the mandatory five kilometer run begins. Along the run, the activists are treated to slogans that encourage enthusiasm and hygiene. They even stole one from President John Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
The Nashisty were ready for media day. They all dawned their red Nashi t-shirts. They all listened attentively to the lectures on the “Ideology of President Putin” and “Russia as a potential superpower.” They heard praises from their political elders like Gleb Pavlovskii and were encouraged to raise the birth rate from Nashi leader Vasilii Yakemenko. Several Nashisty even sported t-shirts that read in agreement “I want three”. All the themes of the lectures can be found in Putin’s platform for the future of Russia. Nashi itself seems to be part of his legacy—a generation of youths trained and indoctrinated with the ideology of their President. It was all so well orchestrated and planned for the media to see. Camp Seliger was a well oiled machine. It all seems so Soviet . . .
The camp, however, is not all politics. Attendees can get their fill of canoeing, hiking, swimming and all the typical summer camp stuff. Youth groups, after all, have to provide some fun. Still all of the politics can wear on a youngster. One young person decided to leave the camp because “When we finish all of our classes, swimming is already forbidden.” Another attendee from Moscow, found a compromise. Sure all the patriotic fluff took a lot of time away from leisure in the sun and by the lake, but the camp still gave them the chance to be out of the city.
Estimates on exactly how many members Nashi has are difficult to find. Last year organizers hoped to attract at least 300,000 youths, with 3,000 hardcore activists. This years camp has 5,000 attendees, a marked increase from last years 2,000. Since the group is indirectly sponsored by the Kremlin, one can only guess that the funds at their disposal are enormous. To get more information about the Nashi movement and its role in contemporary Russia, I suggest readers check out Douglas Buchacek’s MA thesis, “Nasha Pravda, Nashe Delo: The Mobilization of the Nashi Generation in Contemporary Russia.”
Guest: Edyta Bojanowska on A World of Empires: The Russian Voyage of the Frigate Pallada published by Harvard University Press.