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Putinjugend: The Pro-Kremlin Youth Movement Nashi

Miron, Mădălina (2024), Putinjugend: The Pro-Kremlin Youth Movement Nashi, Cunoașterea Științifică, 3:3, DOI: 10.58679/CS23650, https://www.cunoasterea.ro/putinjugend-the-pro-kremlin-youth-movement-nashi/

 

Abstract

This study investigates the dialectic between party politics and contentious street politics. a concept central to the personality of the youth organisation Nashi, also known as Putinjugend, which supports the Kremlin. Following the Colour Revolution, the movement was created in Russia in 2005, with the Putin administration’s support. As a result, the study is based on a theoretical framework that emphasises the growing significance of divided politics in forming Nashi’s worldview. Nashi’s responsibilities grew over time to include fostering youth involvement in party politics. They do, however, enjoy government support. Nashi’s continued participation in contentious politics in support of the Putin administration. In addition to the theoretical framework, the paper focuses on a case study: backing demonstrations in Moscow in December 2000, when Nashi declares its support for President Putin.

Keywords: Putinjugend, contentious politics, party politics, post-Soviet Russia

Putinjugend: Mișcarea de tineret pro-Kremlin Nashi

Rezumat

Acest studiu investighează dialectica dintre politica de partid și politica de stradă controversată. un concept central pentru personalitatea organizației de tineret Nashi, cunoscută și sub numele de Putinjugend, care susține Kremlinul. În urma Revoluției Culorii, mișcarea a fost creată în Rusia în 2005, cu sprijinul administrației Putin. Ca rezultat, studiul se bazează pe un cadru teoretic care subliniază importanța tot mai mare a politicii divizate în formarea viziunii asupra lumii a lui Nashi. Responsabilitățile lui Nashi au crescut în timp pentru a include promovarea implicării tinerilor în politica de partid. Cu toate acestea, ei se bucură de sprijinul guvernului. Participarea continuă a lui Nashi la controversata politică în sprijinul administrației Putin. Pe lângă cadrul teoretic, lucrarea se concentrează pe un studiu de caz: susținerea demonstrațiilor de la Moscova în decembrie 2000, când Nashi și-a declarat sprijinul pentru președintele Putin.

Cuvinte cheie: Putinjugend, politică controversată, politică de partid, Rusia post-sovietică

 

CUNOAȘTEREA ȘTIINȚIFICĂ, Volumul 3, Numărul 3, Septembrie 2024, pp.
ISSN 2821 – 8086, ISSN – L 2821 – 8086, DOI: 10.58679/CS23650
URL: https://www.cunoasterea.ro/putinjugend-the-pro-kremlin-youth-movement-nashi/
© 2024 Mădălina MIRON. Responsabilitatea conținutului, interpretărilor și opiniilor exprimate revine exclusiv autorilor.

 

Putinjugend: The Pro-Kremlin Youth Movement Nashi

Mădălina MIRON[1]

madalinamiron175@gmail.com

[1] Doctorand, Facultatea de Studii Europene, Cluj-Napoca

 

Introduction

The youth movement is addressed in this article. Nashi (Russian: олодное демокрaтиеское аистское двиение аи) is a political youth organisation in Russia that identifies as democratic, anti-fascist, and anti-oligarchic capitalism. Many people referred to Nashi as a pro-Putin movement. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, it is Putin’s own army, and Western critics (Franchetti, 2007) have noticed a purposeful resemblance to the Soviet Komsomol or Hitlerjugend 2.0. Nashi is not affiliated with any political party; its formation was encouraged by major Kremlin figure Vladislav Surkov, and the movement expressly supports Putin. Nashi receives state funding in a variety of ways (Marcovici, 2014). The first deputy prime minister, Vladislav Surkov, met with Nashi youth movement organisers on a regular basis, and government figures, including Presidents Putin and Medvedev, paid a visit to the youth movement’s annual summer camp. Former Nashi leader Vasilii Yakemenko stated in 2005 that the movement was able to win commercial support for Nashi’s national goal thanks to Kremlin assistance. In this paper, I will highlight three reasons why party politics are important:

  1. Since Putin took office in 2000, a closed party system has emerged in post-Soviet Russia, pushing marginalised opposition parties into the streets for divisive action. Nashi was developed by the Kremlin as a weapon against this kind of interaction. The scope of examining political parties’ principal operations has expanded to encompass domains outside of the official political arena due to the rise in contentious politics.
  2. During the Putin years, political parties in Russia have placed more emphasis on youth involvement, in part because of the role that young movements had in the coloured revolutions in Georgia and the Ukraine. By examining Nashi’s role in Russian politics and its impact on the official political sphere, the body of knowledge on Russian party politics is expanded to include this new emphasis on youth involvement (Franchetti, 2007).
  3. The increasing importance of street politics in modern Russia as a substitute for the dynamic between political parties, divisive politics, and barbaric society. This alternative political arena is debated in academic discussions on the characteristics of Russian civil society in addition to on the streets (Atwal & Bacon, 2012).

In this article, I will respond to the author Edwin Bacon’s question: „Where the role of the street removes a degree of independence, but distinct groups and movements remain, with a voice, a legal identity, and not universal but nonetheless real in a number of cases political influence?” This question is answered by the political youth movement. Nashi is a wonderful example of how the notion of civil society cannot be pushed too much, given most definitions already exclude political parties. Nashi, according to the concept of civil society, is a political group that interacts with the government but does not attempt to replace it. Not only does Nashi receive support from the state, but the Putin regime instigated its very formation (Bacon, 2012).

A focus on associational existence in a nation should replace the article’s consideration of Nashi’s inclusion and exclusion from civil society. From this vantage point, I contend that while Nashi possesses certain characteristics of a civil society organisation that could be seen to support progressive democratisation, such as youth mobilisation and political participation, at the moment, the closeness of its ties to a semi-democratic regime and its readiness to act as the regime’s tool in street politics The article examines how the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi developed from the standpoint of the political behaviour and related standards that the movement fostered. Nashi’s shift to formal politics after the 2007–2008 election season, highlighting the movement’s function as a supply of candidates for formal party politics (Kommersant, 2008).

Ultimately, I go back to my analysis of Nashi’s position in relation to the state and civil society after considering the events of December 2011, particularly the pro-regime protests. I contend that if Russia’s democratic deficit continues, the movement’s role in supporting the regime in contentious politics will remain a defining feature of the region.

The concept of contentious politics

Contentious politics is a central approach in social movement studies that is widely used to this day focuses on contentious politics (Atwal & Bacon, 2012). In this approach, contention is understood as making claims to those in power, usually governments, by engaging in public (Atwal & Bacon, 2012) collective protest. When contentious action is sustained and organized, researchers qualify it as a social movement (Atwal & Bacon, 2012). In contrast to institutional politics, contentious action is practiced by ordinary people who lack access to institutional channels or challenge authorities in fundamental ways (Tarrow & Tilly, 2015). For this reason, contentious action is typically understood to take the form of protest: demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, etc. The involvement of governments is central to the definition of politics from the contentious politics perspective, when social movements do not involve governments, they are labelled “apolitical” (Tarrow & Tilly, 2015). Several concepts developed in the paradigm of contentious politics, including contentious action, protest cycles, movement resources, and political opportunities, are relevant for the discussion of the contemporary feminist movement in Russia. Several analyses of politics in Russia since Nashi’s formation in 2005 have drawn attention to the rising significance of contentious politics (Tarrow & Tilly, 2015). The reasons behind the current surge in street politics seem to be simple. First, some opposition groups were driven to take to the streets by Nashi’s planned expulsion from the official political sphere, and as a countermove backed by the current administration, pro-Kremlin youth organisations emerged. Second, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine demonstrated the potential power of public mobilisation, setting a pattern for mobilisation that both the opposition and the Kremlin found instructive. As a show of strength and resources, Nashi began its mass actions on May 15, 2005, in Moscow with a gathering of 50,000 people known as Оaша Победа (Our Victory) is intended to represent the younger generation assuming responsibility for preserving Russia’s independence from its war veterans. In honour of National Unity Day, Nashi organised a Russian March in Moscow on November 4, 2009, which drew about 30.000 participants. The movement has also persisted in holding yearly „Our Victory” rallies, which in May 2010 drew over 65,000 young Russians to celebrate Victory Day’s 65th anniversary. When the Western media extensively covered Moscow’s anti-regime protests in December 2011 after rigged parliamentary elections, Russian television gave equal weight, if not more, to pro-regime gatherings coordinated by Nashi.

Public demonstrations and large-scale rallies, complete with slogans, placards, emblems, and other theatrical components, are examples of contentious political phenomena. The physicality of the conflict between opponents and Kremlin loyalists, however, is what really sticks out when it comes to youth politics in modern Russia, and more especially, the involvement of pro-Kremlin organisations like Nashi on the street. In this context, contentious politics refers to the gritty, unrestrained politics of the streets as opposed to the columned halls and benefits of party politics. The crux of Nashi’s involvement in Russian street politics has been its more controversial actions during times when the movement has adopted an approach of confronting and intimidating the opponents.

Putinjugend

Russia has undergone significant changes since the start of the protracted conflict in Ukraine. If the Russian government neglected the children during the start of the conflict, they have since tried them as well. It is told to Nashi movement members how to think and live, who to love and who to hate, why fighting is noble, and why dying is not so scary. Russia still lacks a well-defined military-patriotic education system. The only places these indoctrinations take place are camps set up by the leaders of the Nashi youth movement. Many of the people who arrived or were brought to the camp assert that they want to defend the government by taking to the streets if a revolution or a war takes place. He hoped for those who fought for the acquisition of the Ukrainian territory, notably the Wagner group’s mercenaries, as the professors had proven to be unreliable state aides in imparting patriotism. Through these activities, participants in these camps get knowledge of the ultranationalist state of Ukraine, whose citizens aspire to join the Russian Federation. They also read about the ways that the West incites war with Russia and supports Russophobia in the former Soviet states. The anti-American message is the one that predominates in these activities. For example, a drawing from the art studio of the movement depicts very fat American diplomats carrying suitcases full of money entitled: “What to do in Russia?” followed by “Ours slogan they will win”. Tents, flags, and other items decorated in Putin’s youth’s signature red and white are the most emblematic of these camps. Young people receive training in teamwork and public relations-specific approaches. The activities of the Hitler Youth are comparable to these. The participants had to go through multiple steps on the Nashi website:

  1. In the first stage we will get to know each other. You will write in the questionnaireabout yourself and a little about how you see your role in the Movement, what you want to achieve in a year, two, five years, how you see Russia in the future and what you are ready to do to make your dream come true.
  2. In the second stage, we will ask you to read several articles and books, watch several films.
  3. At the third stage, we will give you a series of simple practical tasks.
  4. At the fourth stage, we will offer you to choose one of 8 areas of work and begin to train you according to your choice. In addition, we will give you the technology and all the necessary tools for holding bright creative events in your field. You will hold it in your city, and thousands of people will know about you.
  5. At the fifth stage, you will be able to gain access to the most modern distance education in the country and begin studying at the National Institute “Higher School of Management”. Already in the spring you will have the opportunity to open a full-fledged branch of the Movement in your city or district.
  6. The sixthstage will be for you the All-Russian Innovation Forum “Seliger” – the calling card of the Movement, to which you will bring a team of like-minded people and your ideas, which will become projects within the chosen direction. At the Forum, you will be able to discuss projects with leading Russian and world experts and receive support for your initiative from the state and business (Nashi’s website). There are representative propaganda messages on the organization’s website, for example: “You decided to join the Nashi Movement.

While you read this text, you will have time to think about everything again. This is where your life can really change. We can help you realize your competitive advantages, master unique skills, comprehensively understand the modern world, make hundreds of friends across the country, become a professional and a patriot. However, for this you will have to work on yourself now. Of course, we are not trying to dissuade or scare you. I would just like to be completely honest from the very beginning with those with whom we may soon live the same life. In two months, we will communicate in person. But for now, the center of our communication with you will be the Nashi.su portal, where you are now. Remember the address and think about how to provide yourself with constant access to the Internet. Here you will receive instructions, information, and answers to your questions. Here you will be able to propose your own ideas and evaluate the ideas of others; a colossal experience has been collected here that will help you become famous and successful. We are ready to share it (Nashi’s website).”

  1. The December 2007 elections for the State Duma and the restructuring of the Nashi

After the State Duma elections were concluded in December 2007 and Vasily Yakemenko resigned as Nashi leader to assume his new role as the newly established State Committee on Youth Affairs, it appeared that Nashi would be able to move on from divisive politics and its more well-known members would be able to enter the formal political sphere. indicative of the way the Kremlin bestowed federal positions of power upon Nashi. Thus, it is clear that Nashi can work as a steppingstone for young activists to pursue official party politics in Russia, and in this regard, it can be considered as a beneficial element of civil society, encouraging political participation and building social capital. The idea that Nashi is democratising civil society is called into question by its intimate ties to the state and its pursuit of political power through cooperation with the ruling party of a, at best, shaky democratic regime. Speaking to a group of Nashi activists at the movement’s summer camp in July 2008, newly elected Duma deputy and Nashi ideologue Sergei Belokonev urged his audience to be on the alert for any elections in their regions so that the movement and the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs could assist them in their endeavors to be elected (Guillory, 2015). Nashi’s restructuring was announced at the end of January 2008, at the same time by new leader Nikita Borovikov. This required swapping out forty of the movement’s fifty regional branches for national initiatives centred on important goals including modernization, education, and the economy. Prior to the presidential election, the movement underwent a reorganisation that was mainly written off as an attempt to align the movement with government interests after the 2007–2008 election season. the modifications made to Nashi’s strategies and position in politics. With the leader’s declaration, Nashi began a phase of activity diversification and appeared ready to move past the divisive politics of the past. First off, Nashi purposefully reorganised the movement in order to keep the state from overly organising it. The decentralisation of the youth movement was symbolised by the new organisation. Borovikov’s interview with the leading daily Kommersant explained how, because of this radical reorganization, Nashi would no longer be a centralized federal organization and would be split into independent public groups (Kommersant, 2008). In terms of organisation, this indicates a shift away from the state and closer to the traditional understanding of civil society. Before the 2008 reorganisation of the movement, Nashi was an extremely concentrated force designed to mobilise large numbers of youth quickly. The youth movement’s leaders organised groups of supportive young people from sports clubs, college campuses, and other youth gathering places and they had them bussed to the capital to take part in Nashi’s large-scale protests. The movement’s operations were managed from Moscow. With Nashi’s reorganisation, the central leadership’s role in encouraging local initiative and action was significantly reduced. Second, a less confrontational stance was suggested by Nashi’s new focus on enterprise, innovation, and modernization. It now aimed to constructively assist the government’s modernization efforts by encouraging the creation of creative new company concepts. Nashi commissar Maria Drokova sums up this shift in her assessment of the youth movement’s changing purpose: “At the beginning Nashi’s role task was to prevent an Orange Revolution…now in Russia it is imperative to create something new” (Nashi’s webiste). While the hard-line attitude taken by Nashi’s summer camp at Lake Seliger in 2007 was well-known, the focus of Seliger 2008 was on securing sponsors to aid in the development of youth entrepreneurial ventures. For instance, the Youth School of Enterprise project was able to obtain funds to start teaching 10,000 youths business planning and helping new businesses get off the ground. The shift from contentious politics to the more traditional idea of civil society functioning in the formal political sphere is linked to the adoption of a more cooperative strategy.

Nashi has some characteristics of a civil society organisation that could be seen as encouraging progressive democratisation, such as youth mobilisation and political participation; however, now, these democratic characteristics are undermined by the organization’s close ties to a semi-democratic regime and its ongoing willingness to act as the regime’s tool in street politics. Several recent events suggest that, despite Nashi’s seeming shift towards more positive endeavours and its aim to establish itself as a dependable political force fit for formal political arena entry, the movement has occasionally attempted to return to the divisive politics it engaged in prior to the 2007–2008 election cycle. Demonstrations around the 2011–2012 Duma and presidential elections showed that Nashi’s role in addressing the challenge of contentious politics has changed, and that the Putin administration still must pay attention to it. In numerous instances, there is evidence that the government’ capacity to maintain control over and assist Nashi has decreased. Following the 2008 presidential election, Nashi also adopted a new approach aimed at legitimising the movement’s actions through formal legal issues in response to changes in the political landscape in Russia. Despite Nashi’s 2006 lawsuit against Kommersant for publishing false material, 2009 saw a rise in the use of legal action against media organisations that lack empathy. Nashi won its legal battle against Gazeta.ru in November 2009 over claims made on the internet that Nashi activists had physically attacked well-known liberal opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Following the Podrabinek incident, Nashi filed lawsuits for the first time against both Russian and Western media for their coverage of the youth movement’s campaign against the journalist, which marked a qualitative shift in the use of litigation. having filed lawsuits against the websites Polit.ru, newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and channel Ren-TV in Russia.

During the 2011–2012 election season, Nashi’s emphasis shifted back to political contentiousness as opposed to conventional campaign politics. Allegations surfaced early in 2011 about potential cooperation between Nashi and the security forces in identifying the sources of funding for prominent opposition blogger Alexei Navalny. Later in the summer of 2011, it was claimed that a background information paper posted on an online discussion forum outlined the necessity for Nashi supporters to thwart the efforts of opposition groups purportedly intent on toppling the government and letting Western influence determine Russia’s rulers. Opponents like Navalny and Boris Nemtsov, individuals whose political groups or movements had not been allowed entry into the system, became the centre of attention to the formal politics of elections (). This arena is typical Nashi turf because these figures are more involved in the heated political debates that take place in the streets and online. As was previously mentioned, Nashi contributed a sizable number of demonstrators to the pro-regime marches that were held in December 2011 in opposition to the large-scale anti-regime protests that followed the elections.

Is there life after Putin?

The success story of Nashi appears to be coming to an end with the conclusion of the Putin era. There were reports going around the public as early as 2007 that the government was trying to get rid of its young street warriors. Plans to disband at least 45 of Nashi’s 50 regional branches and combine the movement with other young organisations who support the Kremlin were a sign of this turn in events. Benefits like free cell phones for Nashi commissars have been discontinued, and more attention is being paid to how financial resources are allocated. Events were cancelled, and in recent months, the organization’s leadership has also dispersed: Yakemenko has moved to another country to pursue his studies, while Leonid Kurza, the director of the St. Petersburg chapter was appointed to a government position in early 2008. The goal is to lessen Nashi’s ability to act, rather than to totally disband the organisation. This tactical approach is best explained by the reduction of orange panic in government circles following the marathon Russian election: the political continuity of the regime is guaranteed, mass protests have not materialised in Russia’s streets, and the Kremlin’s preferred parties and candidates were safely shepherded through the crucial election phase Nashi has fulfilled its purpose and is no longer required as the extended arm of the government in combating the orange peril (). In the months following the presidential elections, a newfound confidence and political style appeared to be permeating the Kremlin. This was primarily demonstrated to the international community by Russia’s newly elected President, Dmitry Medvedev, who presented a more civilised Russia as a friend and partner of the West. This new image was not suited to the snobbish hooligans of Nashi who have been yelling in the Russian streets equally against the liberal opposition and the West. Meanwhile, the first signs of Nashi’s taming are emerging: a demonstration against the EU’s entry restriction for 11 Nashi activists and organisers of the major rallies in Estonia in early 2008 took place outside the European Commission’s Moscow headquarters, and it was remarkably moderate in tone and were only able to organise a small number of young people on the streets.

Conclusion

It would be hard to call these pro-regime demonstrations of December 2011, and Nashi’s role in them, an unqualified success. Formed in 2005 to prevent the seeds of an Orange Revolution from developing in Russia, Nashi’s founding purpose was to ensure that the streets would not be ceded to the opposition. In December 2011, and into 2012, however, massive anti-regime demonstrations took place, permitted by the authorities, in Moscow and other major cities. Nonetheless, Nashi did retain a role in such contentious politics. First, it was central to the mobilisation of supporters to similarly massive pro-regime demonstrations. Second, it had noted months earlier the dangers to the regime of anti-systemic opposition and had strengthened its capacity to engage in contentious politics on behalf of the regime. In its early years Nashi contributed to the development of street politics in contemporary Russia. In a bid to counter opposition voices, Nashi’s tactics revolved around intimidation of individuals or organisations, as well as on broader action against all political opposition. Despite taking the opportunity to gain influence in the formal political arena as a reward for their loyalty to the incumbent regime in 2007-2008, Nashi has not eschewed contentious politics. Yet, this should not be perceived as indicative of the movement’s rejection of the formal political arena or of its failure in terms of party politics, but rather as further evidence that Nashi’s strength and relative influence originates from its power on the streets. Nashi’s function has been and continues to be to engage in activities that are not open to United Russia due to the constraints of operating within the formal political arena. Nashi does not have some of the traits of a civil society organisation that might be seen to promote gradual democratisation. It provides, through its summer camps and other initiatives, education and opportunities for young people wishing to enhance their involvement with political and economic life. It serves too as pool of recruits into formal politics, notably into United Russia, at all levels. However, considering associational life in Russia as a whole (Heller, 2008) Nashi has been able to flourish almost solely because of the support it has received, from its founding initiative onwards, from the regime and the state authorities. Whether it be financial support, without which Nashi would not be able to fund participants across its range of contentious and more formal activities; whether it be support from the forces of law and order in its conduct of contentious politics, which facilitate such actions; or whether it be support from members of the regime at the highest level, which contributes to the setting of Nashi’s agenda; at present the closeness of Nashi’s relationship with a semi-democratic regime must colour our view of the movement in terms of its contribution to the development of democratic society. Nashi’s role supporting the regime in contentious politics remains its defining characteristic if Russia’s democratic deficit persists.

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