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Feature Story April 22, 2008
 
Nashi: Is It Really The End?
By Sean Guillory Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 5
 

Nashi has grown modestly over the last three years. Its membership is estimated between 60,000 to 100,000. It has at least 3,000 to 5,000 full and part-time activists. Its rank and file is centered in Russia’s two capitals, and the provincial centers Tula, Ivanovo, Vladimir, Voronezh, and Yaroslavl. Nashi’s total budget is unknown, but it must be a nice paper stack considering its spending. Kommersant reported last July that its summer camp Seliger 2007 cost over $20 million. Even its smaller campaigns are expensive. Its "Christmas Father Frost" action was estimated cost around $1.5 million to stage. Nashi officials call these numbers exaggerations, and they probably are, but I don’t think by much.

Where the bulk of Nashi’s money comes from is also shrouded in mystery. Most of it is assumed to flow from Surkov’s office, probably laundered through a few state agencies. Corporations like Gazprom and foundations like the Civic Club are also sponsors. The latter is a fund set up by United Russia that has already granted Nashi $400,000 for Camp Seliger 2008. Nashi’s financial future appears secure as well. It has well placed allies in two state agencies that fund youth groups. Boris Yakemenko—Nashi’s ideologist and the brother of Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko-- and Irina Pleshvheva, a Nashi commissar, are members of Russia’s Public Chamber, which controls $62 million in grants to develop Russian "civil society." Nashi also has direct access to the over $6 million allotted to the Committee for Youth Affairs. The Committee’s leadership is lead by former Nashisti Vasilii Yakemenko, Pavel Tarakanov (chairman), and Sergei Belokonev (deputy chairman). Given these sweet ties and access to state funds and power, Nashi’s fortunes look bright indeed.

Nashi youth camps give Russian children the opportunity to spend time in nature, make new friends and learn how to infiltrate political organizations

Our Muscle

Nashi may be a creature of the state, but it’s on the ground, it’s got genuine street muscle. It commands a cadre of street fighters who’ve been implicated in a number of violent attacks against its "fascist" youth rivals—the National Bolsheviks, Red Youth Vanguard, and even the Communist Youth League. The most infamous incident occurred in August 2005, when 40 club-wielding Nashisti in masks raided a joint gathering of the National Bolsheviks, the Young Communist League, and Red Youth Vanguard at a Communist Party office in Moscow. The attacks left scores of young left-wing activists hospitalized with concussions and broken bones.

As the Nashisti left the scene on a hired bus, local police, clearly not informed in-advance of the attack, arrested 24 of the attackers, only to let them go a few hours later. "A call came from above ordering us to release the detainees," a policeman told Kommersant. "They told us when we were questioning them that it wasn't worth the effort, that they would soon be released."

This attack was followed by another in January 2006, when thirty suspected Nashisti attacked a National-Bolshevik rally with clubs and pellet guns. The Russian media have cataloged scores of other attacks. To date, not a single Nashist has been charged.

Its rivals, however, haven’t fared so well. A few weeks ago seven of anti-Kremlin youths—Roman Popkov, Nazir Magomedov, Vladimir Titov, Elena Parovskaya, Aleksei Makarov, Dmitri Elezarov, and Sergei Medvedev—were sentenced to 18 to 36 months for defending themselves against Nashi attackers in April 2007.

Unlike the Komsomol’s Civil War generation, who were cut down, tortured, and imprisoned by real enemies, Nashi fights its adversaries via proxy. It’s suspected when Nashi wants to stomp its rivals, it hires soccer hooligans eager to lend their bone-breaking services. Vasilii Yakemenko admitted as much in an interview with Novaya Gazeta in 2005. When asked if he would use football hooligans against protesters, he responded, "If a group of a few thousand people with physical strength [had been] brought in from Moscow to counter the demonstrations in Kiev [during the Orange Revolution], there would be no trace left of the demonstrators. . . . If we need [football hooligans] for some reason, I do not see any problem in this." Though Yakemenko claims he’s against violence, he has no problem reaching out to those who aren’t. For this "antifascist," skinheads are "simply socially maladjusted guys," with whom one can and should work."


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