It is quite difficult to assess the influence, let alone the political impact of Russian youth organizations. The vast majority are rather small with memberships in the hundreds and, if they are lucky, the thousands. According to estimates from 2005, Nashi has around 100,000 to 300,000 members. The National Bolsheviks claim 15,000 to 20,000 members. Still these organizations, especially Nashi, are only in their infancy.
If a recent poll by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) is any indication, Russian youth organizations have a lot of PR work ahead of them. According to the poll, when respondents were shown a list of twelve youth organizations, “the majority of respondents (60%) said they had never heard of any one of them.” This was only a little better among the organizations’ constituency. 47 percent of respondents under the age of 35 claimed they never heard of any the groups.
Among the twelve, three (United Russia’s Molodaia gvardiia, Nashi and the NPB) were identified by 17% of respondents and 24%, 21%, and 23% respectively among youths. More interesting is that far left and far right groups were virtually unknown. Red Youth Vanguard were only known to 3% of respondents while the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) garnered only 2%.
Muscovites were better informed. Among them,
49% of them know the National Bolsheviks, 41% know the ‘Nashi’ Movement, 27% know the United Russia’s Young Guard,, 17% know Young Russia 14% know ???, 12% know the People’s Democratic Youth Union, and 8% know Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). Only 26% of Moscow respondents said they had never heard of any of the organizations listed by the interviewer.
The poll concentrated its questioning on Nashi. For the most part, respondents were unaware of its existence. 61% said they never heard of Nashi before while 7% knew about it and 27% claimed they only heard about it. Though the poll found that since April 2006 (when the last poll was taken) more people had heard something about Nashi, those who say they know about it fell from 12% in 2006 to 7%.
But what Russians do know about Nashi lacks any real substance. Respondents’ understanding of what they stand for and what they actually do is vague and culled from television or newspaper reports. According to this information, Nashi is best know for its rallies, anti-drug and alcohol campaigns, and other public spectacles. It terms of actual concrete ideology, only 1% simply said they were pro-Putin, though without any indication of what that meant. For the most part, people may have heard of Nashi at some point but what the organization is beyond its rallies is a mystery. I would guess that this is the case for the majority of its rank and file.