This year, there has been much speculation in the Russian print media about the demise of the Kremlin youth organization "Nashi," which has been as much a darling of the Russian state as it has been the bane of the Russian opposition and the Western media.
But the situation is not so simple as merely shutting down Nashi. As a new president comes to power in Russia, some are speculating that Nashi’s task is done and they’re no longer needed. This is perhaps wishful thinking for a host of reasons. In order to understand where Nashi is going in the post-Putin era, it is necessary to understand where they came from, and what role they have played.
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"Do you want to realize your plan? Do you want to change the world around you? Do you want to influence your country’s future? Do you want the world to remember you? Are you searching for your place in life? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, don’t despair, there is an answer."
In America, a pitch like that would signal a "Tony Robbins" alert, but in Russia, a far more sinister organization offers the answers to your prayers: the Antifascist Democratic Youth Movement "Nashi," waiting for you with open arms.
All you have to do is, first, click onto their site and fill out your online application. A few days after you fill it out, Nashi promises to invite you to a "get-to-know-you" pow-wow. If accepted, Nashi promises to give you "a chance to change your life, influence world politics, and become a member of the intellectual elite."
Given the demanding, competitive environment in Putin’s Russia, it’s easy to see how Nashi’s offer would look attractive. Its flashy website, spectacular rallies, and lock-step marches produce images of power and success. Through spectacle, it projects an image of unity and devotion to a cause. Nashi considers itself the vanguard for protecting the moral, political, and cultural fiber of Russia. For most people around the world, an organization like this evokes the worse aspects of totalitarianism—where youth are mobilized to blindly fulfill the whims of a repressive regime.
But Nashi is much more than that. It is emblematic of a new kind of youth movement that is neither a grass roots organization, nor one that is linked officially to a political party. Instead, Nashi is a creation of the Russian state, specifically of the office of the President, to serve as a counterrevolutionary force hell-bent on protecting Putin’s "national idea." Through its activism, ideology, and political and professional training, members learn that Putin’s Plan is indivisible from Nashi’s plan. Put simply, Nashi is an attempt to fulfill Martin Luther’s maxim: "Who has the youth, has the future!"
Nashi was formed out of an earlier pro-Putin youth group, "Walking Together," in February 2005 by Putin’s own Karl Rove in the Kremlin, Vladislav Surkov. A few months earlier, the last in a wave of "colored revolutions" had brought Ukraine to a standstill. Youth in Ukraine, along with the youth in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia, were on the front lines against those nations’ entrenched regimes. Russia was damned if it would be next in line. So Surkov and Vasilii Yakemenko carried out a preemptive strike. They formed their own anti-colored revolution movement from above.
Once formed, Nashi immediately branded itself as a fighter against "fascism." But its "fascists" are not the ones their grandparents fought. Its fascist evildoers are the harbingers of colored revolution: exiled oligarchs, liberals, oppositionists, foreign states, Western NGOs, and anyone else willing to challenge Putin’s hegemony. As Nashi’s manifesto reads, "The struggle against fascism today is integral to the struggle for Russia’s integrity and sovereignty." Nashi’s formula for identifying its enemies is beautiful in its simplicity, genetically imprinted into its very name. There are "ours," or nashi, and there are "theirs," or ne nashi.