Nashi Comes of Age

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Third Congresses seem to have great significance in the history of Russia’s pro-state youth organizations. The 3rd Komsomol Congress held in 1920 steered the organization away from Civil War to socialist construction. It was there that Lenin gave his famous “The Tasks of the Youth Leagues” speech that urged that young communists must “learn communism.” Lenin said,

“I must say that the tasks of the youth in general, and of the Young Communist Leagues and all other organisations in particular, might be summed up in a single word: learn. . . The teaching, training and education of the youth must proceed from the material that has been left to us by the old society. We can build communism only on the basis of the totality of knowledge, organisations and institutions, only by using the stock of human forces and means that have been left to us by the old society.”

In this sense perhaps Nashi’s 3rd Congress may be considered a historical echo of the Komsomol’s. The Congress, which was held 25 December at the Russian Academy of Sciences, began the process of plotting Nashi’s post-Putin future. The first important outcome of the Congress was the announcement that Nikita Borovikov will take over the organization’s reins from Vasilli Yakemenko, who heads the government’s State Commission on Youth Affairs. Readers will remember that it was Borovikov who won the mock competition at Nashi’s camp Seliger. In September, I translated an interview with him from Kommersant.

The second important outcome was what Borovikov spelled out as Nashi new slogan, “10=5”. What does “10=5” mean? It means that the task of Nashi over the next 10 years is to make Russia the 5th most powerful country in the world in economics, culture, and social development. “There is an enormous amount of work ahead,” Nashi GenSek Borovikov told the delegates. “In the coming years the internal and foreign political situation will become even more heated. This demands a serious program from us that will defend our status as a strong and independent Russia within the state as well as in the international arena. We are positive that our colossal experience and love for our Motherland will allow us to make a considerable contribution to the future formation of Russia as leaders in the 21st century.”

By what Borovikov means by the internal and foreign situation becoming more heated, all one has to do is turn to Nashi’s well worn formula. The Nashisty argue that Russia despite its success and supposed stability is besieged from within and without. Within by what Borovikov calls “fascists in disguise”–a Nashi metonym for liberals, Other Russiaists, National Bolsheviks and other “radicals”–and shadowy forces emanating from the US State Department and British Foreign Office. If the myth of a “new Cold War” serves American pundits as fodder for proclaiming Putin’s Russia as “neo-Soviet,” Cold War rhetoric allows Nashi use “fascism” as political venom against the Russian state’s real or imagined enemies. “We’re here to protect the sovereignty of our country,” said Zaur Aminov, a 20-year-old economics student and Nashi Commissar told the LA Times as if that sovereignty is under threat. And who is the source of this threat the LA Times wondered? “The American State Department,” Aminov answered.

It’s also no surprise that the Nashi’s version of Lenin’s “learn, learn, learn” is being coordinated by chief Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov. Surkov was on hand to guide his creation along his preconceived ideological path. He whipped up delegates’ enthusiasm with, “Here are people gathered who are not indifferent to the future of our country. It seems to me that people who have respect for themselves have an inseparable connection to respect for their country.” It’s clear that for Surkov this “inseparable connection” is mediated with a heavy dose of xenophobia, conspiracy theories, and political hyperbole.

How will Nashi carry out their “10=5” Plan? The third significant outcome to Nashi’s 3rd Congress was, again not unlike the Komsomol’s of year’s past, its consolidation and restructuring for the future. As abraximov explains on ZheZhe’s resident anti-Nashi blog, Nashi added 10 programs, or really structures to its organization:

Student Alternative (StAl’)
Small Towns (a kind of “face the countryside” campaign which now includes 120 towns in 17 regions)
Our Builders
New Education
Lessons in Friendship
Cadres for the Modernization of the Country
Mishki (Nashi’s Young Pioneers)
Our Army (I assuming this isn’t the Kiss Army)
Voluntary Youth Militia
Youth Business School

As abraximov rightly suggests, isn’t this move be a step away for Nashi as a “movement”? True, Nashi’s additional structures will surely enable its future bureaucratization. But will this spell the death of its dynamism? In the next few years will we no longer hear statements from a pierced lip Russian teenage devs like: “My boyfriend was a member, and I joined him for one of the actions and I thought it was cool.”? Only time will tell.

Nashi may be entering on to the slippery slope of bureaucratism.  At the same time its saving grace might be in its slick branding. All one has to do is take a look at its website to get a taste of this. Amid its bright red backgrounds are nestled a potpourri of multimedia, news, and resources. To help mold the Nashi brand, they now even have their own clothing line called Shapovlova. Given Nashi’s penchant for Russian “patriotism” I’m surprised to find it written in Latin script. Perhaps it is this molding of style that will keep Nashi cool with the kids.

There has been some speculation whether Nashi would outlast its role as Putin worshipers. With the 3rd Congress, it’s clear that they are looking well into the future.