Nashi Turns Five

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I haven’t peeked into the world of Nashi in a while.  The movement seems like it’s in a rut and continues to bobble along.  Long gone are the days where Nashi paraded 10,000 red and white clad youths down a Moscow thoroughfare denouncing the scourge of “colored revolution.”

Yet Nashi perseveres.  It carries out a small action against illegal gambling clubs here; and joins the chorus of sympathy for Poland there.  Nothing flashy.  Almost barely noticeable, in fact.  If it wasn’t for the machinations of  its member and Duma rep Robert Shlegel, Nashi would barely make headlines at all.

Shlegel reared his all too Aryan looking head following the bombings in Moscow.  Always eager to seize the moment, if not some exposure, the young parliamentarian proposed a bill making it illegal for media outlets to quote terrorists.  I suspect the bill won’t go anywhere, in fact I’ll be surprised if we every hear about it again.  I rather agree with those in Russia who are calling Shlegel’s move a “PR stunt.”  No one in the Duma seems to take him seriously.  In fact it seems that the only people who take Shlegel’s proposals seriously are Russia’s liberals.  Novaya gazeta, for example, devoted its opening pages of its 7 April edition to Shlegel.  Notable was Yulia Latynina’s fake-rage article “Whabbism-Lite” where she pontificated about how she broke Shlegel’s proposed law “ten times in the last week.”

Apparently Russia’s liberals aren’t as attuned to signals “from above” as United Russia is.  When Boris Gryzlov labeled Moskovskii komsomolets and Vedomosti as aiding and abetting terrorists for their respective editorials criticizing the government’s anti-terrorism efforts, Medvedev shot him down saying such criticism was normal.  Since Medvedev’s intervention, we’ve heard nothing else from Shlegel or Gryzlov.  The only real news on the muffling the media front is that Gryzlov faces a lawsuit from Moskovskii komsomolets‘ Aleksandr Minkin for slander.  Finally someone is using tactics of chinovniki and Nashi against them.

In fact, Shlegel’s days in the Duma might be numbered.  Nashi is holding its Fifth Congress in Moscow where it voted on a new leadership.  It appears that Shlegel has been awarded for parliamentary enthusiasm with the possible chance of running Nashi.  Nothing is set in stone yet.  Nashi will elect its new leader on May 15.  If appointed, I would assume that Shlegel would have to give up his Duma seat to take on Nashi’s day to day activities.  Or not since Duma life doesn’t seem to be all that demanding.  Either way leading Nashi is a nice way of banishing someone to the outer rim of Russian politics.  Don’t think so?  Just look at Vasili Yakemenko.  His career has gone almost nowhere since founding Nashi.  Heading Russia’s Youth Affairs committee seems to a kind of internal exile.  You’re not out, but you’re not exactly in either.  As for Vasili’s current activities, all he seems to be doing is filing lawsuits with his brother against “slanderous” oppositionists.

In this sense a career in youth affairs in post-Soviet Russia follows what it was in Soviet Russia: a road to nowhere.  One should note that no Komsomol Gensek ever became anything or anyone important.  Political careers had two tracks: a Party track and a Komsomol track.  Never the twain did meet.  At most a Komsomol Gensek got to be a provincial secretary, and that was more of a curse than a blessing.

Despite Nashi’s slow march into political irrelevance, it’s still getting blessings from Russia’s political potentates.  Medvedev sent his greetings via Vladislav Surkov.  Putin sent a letter stating that Nashi “unites people who love their motherland and are trying to make a serious contribution to the resolution of the current problems of the state and society.” Yakemenko urged Nashists to continue to fight the good fight and follow the course laid down by Medvedev and Putin.  “Ask yourself: Am I angry?!” the movement’s “founding father” told the crowd of 2,000. “I am prepared to sacrifice my happiness for the possibility to change the country?”  Yakemenko hopes most youths will say, yes.

But what is the fight?  Georgia is so 2008.  America and Russia are on the “reset.”  Estonia is passe. Luckily for the denizens of Nashi,  a video was prepared to outlining the movement’s history and restate its eternal war.  According to Kommersant:

The sum total of five years of sacrifice was outlined in a video to the crowd.  It showed how Nashi saved the country’s sovereignty from “Orange [revolutionaries] and fascists” and created a civil society that defends democracy from them.  The present task was called “the modernization of Russia,” however the meaning lacked elaboration.  Activists were asked to only “modernize themselves.” The enemies of Russia were called “defeatists” (by this term Nashists were to understand corrupt officials) and the “Party of Revenge” (As usual, the opposition and human rights activists fell into this category.)

Basically Nashi helped defeat Russia’s enemies, but the enemy still lurks, plotting and plotting and waiting and waiting . . . to strike.

But the most curious of statements came from the pasty grey cardinal and main Nashi backer himself, Vladislav Surkov.  He iterated his and Medvedev’s support for Nashi, which was, in a way, weird since Medvedev has never warmed to Nashi and Nashi to him.  Some say Medvedev finds Nashi quite useless. Nashi has always been partisan to Putin who it sees as some kind of All-Father.  Surkov, however, clearly feels that keeping the group alive and making it think it actually matters is important. If anything you never know when you’ll need them.  Perhaps this is why he positioned Nashi as a kind of “nightwatchman” of Russian political stability.  “If we all go on vacation, the consequences won’t wait,” he told the crowd. “We see what’s happening in Kyrgyzstan — that means we’re needed and have to be at our posts. … Those who chose for themselves the political fight will never be able to relax again. I’m calling on you to remain in that fight.”

And a fight needs a clear, unadulterated enemy.  Like at every large Nashi gathering, the enemies were on clear display just in case anyone was confused.   As Moskovskii komsomolets relates:

The greatest praise of the audience was for what the event’s leaders called “Our Streets,” which featured caricatures of opposition leaders by Anton Smirnov.  It even called likely personages by name: “Liuda Doshrak” [translation: Liuda Noodles?] (Liudmila Alekseeva), Pawn-Man (Garry Kasparov),  “The last time I had a job”-Man (Mikhail Krasyanov) and Rainbow-Man (Eduard Limonov) [I assume the rainbow reference is a gay joke].  Marina Zademidkova gave the last speech on the project “Our Victory” which is dedicated to the struggle against the falsification of history and the preservation of the memory of the war (for which an online archive of video has been created).

So the fight rages on.  But for how long?  Luckily for Surkov, “fascists,” “oppositionists,” and “historical revisionists” can be conjured ad infinitum.  The question is will this be enough to keep Nashi going for another five years?  I doubt it.  But who knows? No one would’ve imagined that they would’ve been around this long.