Over the past few years, I’ve argued that without the specter of “colored revolution” Nashi has become a rudderless organization. Enemies are necessary. And when it comes to those, Nashi is good at conjuring them. Still, after three years of hounding and ridiculing the “enemies of the people,” Nashi, not to mention the Kremlin, has little to show for it. Million of rubles have been thrown down the blackhole leaving in terms of actual social presence, an organization that continues to limp along just to save face because dissolving it would be admitting that the whole thing was a big mistake in the first place.
Still though Nashi is more like the living dead, it continues to have powerful patrons. Vladislav Surkov and ex-leader Vasilii Yakemenko provide key support. Perhaps equally important it has continued financial backing. It is estimated that between 2007 and 2010, Nashi received 467 million rubles ($16 million), the vast majority of which, 347 million to be exact, came from the coffers of Yakemenko’s balliwick the Federal Department of Youth Affairs (Rosmolodezh). The vast majority of these funds are spent on Nashi’s annual summer camp at Seliger. Seilger’s budget grew 60 times since 2007, from a mere 1.5 million rubles to over 100 million. Granted, the camp has expanded from 3000 annual attendees to 20,000 but Seliger is also Nashi’s major international showcase, ideological loudspeaker, training retreat, and I would assume, main base for recruitment. Without it, Nashi would have even less to show for itself than it already does.
In addition to dolling out mountains of cash for what is essentially a lavish teen orgy, a good amount of government funds are being funneled into Nashi’s various initiative groups. For example, between 2007 and 2010, Nashi’s Voluntary Youth Militias (DMD) recieved got 9.3 million rubles ($300,000) and its patriotic wing, Stal’, got 15.2 million ($500,000). DMD and Stal serve as Nashi’s attack dogs. The former has been known for helping the police crackdown on opposition protests, while the latter now engages in campaigns to discredit people like Boris Nemstov. The majority of funding, however, goes to Nashi’s Higher Management School to train activists, the promotion of health, sport and fitness, and technological training. Almost all of this money came from Rosmolodezh, and in this sense Nashi acts like the old Komsomol in providing youth with potential avenues for social mobility despite its ability promote that mobility remains fairly limited. Nashi gets a lot of cash, not doubt. Just to emphasize how much Nashi is favored by the Kremlin, Molodaya gvardiia and Mestye, both of which are pro-Kremlin youth groups only received a paltry 8 million ($270,000) rubles each over the same period.
Nashi’s support also gets funding from oligarchs and even some Western corporations. Mikhail Prokhorov, Russian oligarch and New Jersey Net owner, is said to have given 45 million rubles to promote technological training and innovation at Seliger 2010. Merecedes-Benz Russia, Tupperware, KPMG, Siemens and Intel all donate resources or acted as sponsors of the summer camp.
What is gained from all this support? Besides being a potential base for the Kremlin to tap if it needs a street presence, Nashi’s day to day activities comprises of staging meaningless, though at times comical, PR stunts and manufactured scandals. They hound, slander, and protest oppositionists and foreign embassies. They’ve also (allegedly) beat up critics through their proxies among football fans. Their most recent attempt to slander “liberasts” involved Nashi’s press secretary Kristina Potupchik petitioninf the Russian Prosecutor’s office to look into whether Russian oppositonists were in the pocket of the CIA. Potupchik even went so far as to suggest that members of Solidarity were involved in the Domodedovo bombings.
Anyone who’s followed Nashi are accustom to such outlandish claims. The truth of the matter is that emphasizing that people like Nemtsov are the Trotskys of today is pretty much all they have. After all, imagined enemies work wonders on young fanatics. If the history of the Komsomol has any lessons to impart, it is that hunting for Fifth Columnists is a much more exciting endeavor than Nashi’s campaigns against illegal parking, the unlawful dumping trash, underground casinos, and the illegal sale of alcohol to minors. Youth are far more effective as rabble-rousers and provocateurs. As Milan Kundera wrote in the Joke, “Youth is terrible. It is a stage trod by children in buskins and a variety of costumes mouthing speeches they’ve memorized and fanatically believe but only half understand.”
Despite all the resources and energy poured into Nashi, their influence in Russian political culture is rather minimal. There is no evidence that Nashi currently serves as a stepping stone to power. Nor is there any indication that it will become so in the future. Sure it is connected to power, but that seems to be a one sided relationship in favor of the Kremlin. For the most part, they are a circus sideshow. Unfortunately, for them their act is losing spectators. A recent poll by the Levada Center suggests while Nashi is becoming more of a household name, actual interest in its activities has plummeted. Only 14% of respondents show any interest in the organization, compared to 26% in 2007. More telling, 45% are disinclined toward Nashi’s activities, 66% are simply indifferent, and a mere 3% have affinity to their purpose and goals at all. In an ironic way, I think Nashi’s real base of interest is among the bloggers (myself included) and journalists who periodically lambaste them. Beside that, Nashi is nothing but a rash that swells and pulsates when it is scratched, but fades away when ignored.