The Times of London reports:
It should have been a celebration of their success in defending Vladimir Putin’s Russia from a democratic revolution. Instead, the annual summer camp of the youth movement Nashi (Ours) seems a listless affair. The ideologues behind it admit that Nashi has run out of steam now that Dmitri Medvedev is in the Kremlin as Mr Putin’s handpicked successor. The face of Mr Putin, now Prime Minister, still hangs from banners spread across the campsite, on the shores of Lake Seliger, 300 miles (480km) north of Moscow. Mr Medvedev is virtually invisible.
Even the anti-Western propaganda seems half-hearted compared with previous outpourings of hate against opposition leaders such as Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Prime Minister, and Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion. Nashi’s principal “enemy” this time is a pig named after Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the President of Estonia. An Estonian tricolour flies over his sty in protest at the removal of a Red Army monument in the capital, Tallinn.
Fewer than 5,000 activists are at the two-week camp, half the number last time, as organisers struggle to find a purpose now that the presidential election is over. Street protest has given way to support for Russian economic development under the “Putin plan” to 2020.
Patriotism remains a constant theme, particularly the need to produce children for the Motherland. Igor Shuvalov, the First Deputy Prime Minister, toured the camp in a T-shirt with the slogan “Home, wife, children. I love my family”. Yuliya and Vitali Shuvayev were among 15 Nashi couples who demonstrated their devotion to the cause in a mass wedding. They spent their honeymoon in a group of tents formed in a heart shape under a banner proclaiming: “This is the miracle of Seliger.”
“Nashi means patriotism for us. That’s why we wanted to get married here,” Yuliya, 22, said. “We want three children because the first two are for the parents and the third is for growth of the country.”
Nashi has now splintered into different branches that support causes ranging from the Orthodox Church to business innovation. Some of its more muscular traditions remain. One section, Stal, organises street protests, while another trains young men to form street patrols with the police. The movement revives a Soviet-era tradition of volunteer druzhniki to maintain order. “A lot of young people have nothing to do and just watch TV, so we tell them that if they want to help the country then here’s their chance,” Roman Verbitsky, the Stal leader, said. Mr Shuvalov laughed as he passed a derelict shed symbolising Mr Kasparov’s movement, The Other Russia, which was hounded by riot police during anti-Putin demonstrations before the elections.
Nashi was founded in 2005 as a response to the pro-democracy Orange Revolution that had swept Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia. Sergei Markov, a United Russia MP and a key Nashi ideologist, admitted that the movement had “lost its mission”. He told The Times: “The mission was to prevent an Orange Revolution.” Asked whether Nashi had any place when the Kremlin under President Medvedev was attempting to present a more liberal face to the West, Dr Markov replied: “Nashi is part of pop culture now and they are fans of Putin. Medvedev for them is a bureaucrat, while Putin is a hero.”
The AFP has more:
Military training, satirical shows and US-style business seminars were among the strange mix of activities on offer at this year’s summer camp for Nashi — the Kremlin’s youth movement. With political power in Russia now firmly in the hands of President Dmitry Medvedev and his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, it seems that the massive group set up to counter any popular dissent has lost its focus. As the movement searches for a new purpose in Medvedev’s Russia, its activists say one solution could be to concentrate on beating the West at its own game by making the most of the country’s oil-fueled economic boom.
“Medvedev unfortunately doesn’t have the same attitude towards Nashi as Putin,” a senior member of the movement told AFP during a visit this month to the camp near Lake Seliger, 400 kilometres (250 miles) northeast of Moscow. “But it would be dangerous to let these young people go now. They could join the opposition,” said the Nashi member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noting that there were three times fewer activists this year than last year. “The authorities have lost their interest in Nashi,” read a report on the Gazeta.ru news website. Nashi leader Nikita Borovikov was quoted in the report as saying: “The movement changes in line with the country’s agenda.”
Reflecting Kremlin thinking, events at the camp included a wedding of 20 couples who were then told to go and procreate to solve Russia’s demographic crisis, and the founding of an Orthodox group against Kosovo’s independence. Nashi, which translates as “Our People” [LR: No, it doesn’t. It translates as “us Slavic Russians”], was set up by Kremlin officials under Putin in 2005 immediately after Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, where youth activism proved decisive in toppling the country’s pro-Moscow government. They have held large-scale demonstrations as a show of force against Russia’s beleaguered opposition and have launched stinging campaigns against Kremlin critics, as well as trying to spread a Putin personality cult.
But this year, Nashi members said they wanted to focus on career prospects. “We have selected 340 students from 25 regions. Experts work with them to help them join the elites,” said Yelena Berezhnikova, head of one of the movement’s subgroups called “Personnel for Modernisation of the Country”. The library at the camp contained economic manuals, a biography of former US president Bill Clinton and a book by US management guru Tom Peters. One of the lectures on offer was entitled: “How to overcome US hegemony.”
But while some Nashi activists charted out stellar careers to serve Russia’s national interests, others were busy mocking Russia critics or undergoing military training to fight against the anti-Kremlin opposition. Activists organised a show at the camp in which a character covered in dollars representing the United States walked around with a pig on a leash. The pig was named after Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
Relations between Estonia and Russia are testy as Kremlin officials say the Baltic country discriminates against its large ethnic-Russian minority. One of the Nashi slogans for the show read: “If you lose control, you get fucked!” For more direct action, the movement even showed off a military wing that trains reformed alcoholics and drug addicts and turns them into street fighters who patrol cities alongside Russian police to clamp down on “disorder.” The peaceful transition of power from Putin to his ally Medvedev is paraded by the Nashi as a victory. But Matvei Matyushin, one of the group’s leaders, said: “It seems that everything’s okay but we have to remain vigilant.”