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Kremlin's Disneyland

de Natalia Pelevine, Moscow     HotNews.ro
Miercuri, 10 decembrie 2008, 14:47 English | Regional Europe

Nashi youth with Putin
Foto: Natalia Pelevine
The most gorgeous and glamorous young people of Moscow. Super trendy, groomed and chick. Super wealthy and super cool.  Women in high boots and with long silky hair; men with traces of ‘metro-sexuality' and aura of immense self-importance. Many local celebs are here too. Recent collagen jobs are evident here and there.  I would say they were clones of the Beverly Hills crowd except there is something a little different here. Perhaps it is that they are not exactly clones but replicas. A replica of something that is already fake - is there a word for that? The Russian fashion week is happening at Gostiny Dvor, minutes away from the Red Square and Kremlin. Designer Antonina Shapovalova, a member of Nashi youth movement, has her own slot.

Nashi (Ours) youth movement came into existence in early 2005 and claim to have been formed spontaneously, driven by a dire necessity for such an organization in contemporary Russia, recognised by a 37 year-old ‘young patriot' Vasily Yakemenko, Nashi's first leader and now the chairman of a newly created State Youth Committee.
Nashi also claim that its ideology was shaped and declared first, (complete with the creation of a Manifesto, sealed on the 15th of April 2005), and only then came full and absolute support of the political and financial elite of the country. And with it, the big cash.

Except, as one of Nashi leaders told me in a private conversation, the ideology was ‘suggested' by Vladislav Surkov, the First Deputy Chief of Staff Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation and Vladimir Putin's top aide, a man always looking for new ways to maintain president's popularity and root all the political decisions of Kremlin in public support, at least nominally so. Mr Surkov is a very powerful man, widely seen as Kremlin's main ideologist who has contributed greatly to Putin's electoral win in 2004. Nashi is thought to be his brainchild.

The movement was formed on the back of the Orange revolution in Ukraine that brought to power a democratically elected government, which must have genuinely scared those in Kremlin. As a result they decided that there needs to be an organisation which, during a time of a threat of revolution similar to the one in Ukraine, when people decide that they've had enough, can be used to rally against such a threat. It was decided that large masses of loyal energetic young people might come in very handy.  Large financial corporations supported the idea and poured in the money.

In the summer of 2005, in the presence of all main Russian media outlets, Nashi leaders met with president Putin.

After the movement has successfully fulfilled its function of propaganda boost and formation of social opinion leading up to the 2008 presidential elections, it is now stronger than ever. The organization has a respectable number of members, around 120,000 throughout Russia, covering approximately 50 regions, and ages 18 to 25. And this is how it operates. Having received direct or indirect signal from Kremlin, Nashi goes to work on an outlined issue.


Maria, the Commissar

Nashi headquarters are situated in the heart of Moscow in a pink two-storey building. Inside the walls painted in Nashi symbolic colors-white and red- are plastered with collages of pictures of Nashi leaders having meetings with president Putin, both sides dressed causally, laughing and having a good time, as well as pictures from various events.  There are plenty of propaganda posters of anti-Western and anti-opposition contents, as well as photos from the annual summer camp, visited by big time Kremlin players and aimed at promoting, among other things, the improvement of the demographic situation in Russia. One can imagine what that implies.
The core of the movement, as constantly declared and even reflected in the headquarters design, is, what Nashi calls, mass patriotism.

Maria Drokova is an influential person in the movement. She spends time in the parliament and occasionally talks to the press. She is a commissar, a term that came into existence in the early days of Soviet Russia. In Nashi this is a very prestigious status to achieve which, not only do you have to prove yourself over time through hard work and loyalty, but also, once your candidacy has been brought up, you must successfully go through a number of tests, the specifics of which are kept in secret.

Maria is studying economics at the Moscow State University, one of the most prestigious in the country. She is a twenty-one year old confident, good-looking girl, not very conservatively dressed in a short dress and high boots.  Maria claims not to smoke or drink but do sports and go to theatre. She loves to shop and listens to the songs of the Soviet era; has travelled around Europe but has never been to the US.

When I ask if her, already seemingly bright future, will be helped by her role in the Nashi, she laughs in a charming way and denies it. She is in Nashi, says Maria, and devotes huge amounts of her time to the movement, (to the point of not having a boyfriend), because she believes whole-heartedly that the country is finally, and Putin gets all the credit for it, on the right track; and the sensible and active young people shall not allow for any detours of this course. The danger, according to her, can come from the inside as well as the outside; the inside danger-the opposition, are nothing more than prostitutes who sold themselves to the West.

During our interview Maria quotes Putin's speeches on a number of occasions, such as his ‘famous' 2020 speech in which he laid out a plan for the country for the next 14 years. She refers to various legislations and uses many fancy words, such as innovation and modernisation, but I doubt she fully understands what they mean. When the unexpected question comes her way, Maria gets a little lost. When I ask her about their symbolic colors, which are the same as the colors of their flag-red and white, she refers both to the Andreev flag of the Tzarist Russia as well as the symbol of the 1917 revolution. When I point out that they really should pick only one of the reference points, Maria gets slightly embarrassed but mostly angry.

There is generally an unhealthy amount of pathos and arrogance in the movement's activists, which, I imagine is connected to their strong link to those in the country's highest office, Kremlin.

As we sit a café doing our interview, Maria the commissar tells people at the next table to keep quiet. Immediately after this highly embarrassing moment she goes back to saying all the right and pretty things. ‘This movement makes me a better person,' she says, ‘I want to influence people's lives in a positive way and make the world a better place.'
Maria's father, former member of the Communist party, is the head of financial committee in the city of Tambov, 300 kilometres from Moscow.

Maria herself claims to have become a real patriot of her country while studying history, her favourite subject at school. The school in which she is now a bit of a cult figure, with a photo tribute to her mounted on the wall in the hallway, complete with a photograph of her taken with Putin.

‘We are creating new role models', Maria says, ‘as well reinstating the right values'.
When I ask her what their real goals are, she says that it is to make Russia the global leader. The next statement sounds almost delusional-Nashi wants to see Russia's main competitor, America, out of Russia's way. The most alarming thing about this is that they are, by all accounts, the voice of Kremlin. When they don't act on direct orders from behind the sturdy red brick Kremlin walls, they come up with their own ideas that invariably support Kremlin's latest political agenda.

What is the basis, the core of Nashi, I ask Maria. Is it the Kremlin ideology? She proudly admits - that is the basis of the movement; in fact ideology and patriotism are the two words most loved and frequently used by the activists. Perhaps, in part, because it makes them feel grown up. The way smoking does for a 14 year old. And in the context of Nashi those words might carry more poison than the cigarettes because, as I learn in the process, ideology stands for fanatical loyalty to those in power and patriotism is equal to blind hate of a common enemy.

‘What is patriotism for you, Maria?' ‘Noble things', she says. ‘If you are ready to participate in picketing embassies, even though that might mean they will never grant you a visa to travel to their country, you are a patriot. If you are prepared to work hard to ensure the global leadership of your motherland, then you're a patriot.'

As I listen to her I keep going back and forth between ‘hopelessly brainwashed' and ‘a bright girl, squeezed into narrow frame of thought, walking a narrow corridor, forced to think that hatred, which their protests are full of, is actually noble'. She admits to pitying those who don't share Nashi views, as does, she says proudly, their ideological leader and a father figure of sorts, Vladislav Surkov. Except I doubts that that's' how he, a man deeply pragmatic and cold, sees them. More like an army of clones born from his clever idea.


"Helloween" or "Yankee, Go Home!"

On this dark November afternoon the weather proved unkind to Russia's young patriots. Few hours before their event in front of the American embassy in Moscow, a mockery of Halloween and anti-American protest, was due to commence it started pouring and didn't stop until much later that night. The young activists, approximately 20,000 of them, many brought from other cities and towns on busses, are standing in puddles of water, soaked, with pumpkins in their hands.

Each pumpkin, with triangular eyes, and an angry grin cut out in its flesh, is a symbol of a person killed as a result of American policies, in Iraq, Serbia, Ossetia, Russia etc.  In each pumpkin there is a Russian candle (the fact that it is specifically Russian (does it have a passport?) was stressed many times over) and an American flag with a name of the person who died because of the criminal American regime written on its back. Among the names I saw that of Saddam Hussein.

It is immediately obvious that the event is incredibly costly. There are no less than ten huge plasma screens erected outside the American embassy, along one of Moscow busiest streets, Sadovy ring, which circles around the central Moscow. Divided into four squares they are showing a collage of American movies, videos, commercials and political promos. Things that, as organisers want you to understand, corrupt and destroy people's minds and souls. While that's playing, boys and girls, with bottles of Coke and packs of Marlboros, are chatting, kissing, giggling and, as I notice, many are wearing American labels, from Nike and Rocawear to Juicy Couture.

The affair, I am told, was inspired by the events in South Ossetia in August of this year. Nashi believe that US was behind the attack on the disputed region of South Ossetia since they see Georgia as nothing more than a US's puppet. More than that, they see this ‘violent act of America' as an attempt made the White House to keep Republicans in power and for McCain to win presidential elections; McCain is better fir to deal with Russian aggression, you see.

‘We are here to protest America's world domination! We hope for a weaker America! America must pay! Russia must be world leader! America wants to dominate! America uses non-democratic ways to maintain its grip of the world and it is a threat to Russia and to Europe!' yells Maria in a now much harsher tone over the noise of thousands of youngsters lining up the street, in an orderly fashion, commanded by the Nashi leaders. Some are dancing to the music coming from massive stereos - the great American classics, from Sinatra to Elvis as well as Justin Timberlake and Beyonce.

Soon, huge screens start showing a propaganda film, an important part of the event. A mouth stuck onto George W. Bush's face tells us how every evil in the world over the past century was America's purposeful doing. From WW1 to the terrorist attacks on Russian soil. When the film is finished a sombre young woman on stage asks everyone to remember those who lost their lives and think of their families. After a minute of silence the crowd slowly places their pumpkins on the ground, stands for a while and starts to disperse to the sound of requiem.


New Russian Glamour

Antonina Shapovalova's, Nashi's home-grown fashion designer, has a prime slot in Moscow's fashion week. Her patriotic themed t-shirts and ladies panties with ‘Vova, I am with you' on the front have been a real hit since her last show and are still selling like hot cakes. She is credited with making public displays of patriotism fashionable. Her young, good-looking, trendy comrades are on hand for support. So is the political and financial elite-her fans and her customers. Unlike some of the others in the movement from more modest backgrounds, who are largely clueless and are skilfully used as tools in this ‘Russia is making a come back' game, with these people it's a different story.

Their very obvious prosperity leads one to believe that there is no way they might have a care in the world for anything or anyone. Especially not for the future of Russia and its jobless, smelly, teeth-missing poor. It is impossible to see how they might find enough time and desire to actually carry out their own analasys of what's going on in the country or come to their own independent conclusions. They are ‘patriots' while everything they wear, eat, drink and drive is foreign. They don't drive Ladas or wear Krasnyay Zarya perfume or go on vocation to a hut village in Tver province. And they will never produce a thing for this country, that's for sure.

Political elite needed a group that would speak the language the ‘common person' can understand and trust, while helping achieve the goals of the powerful, thus, as it works in Russia, the wealthy. For Kremlin the idea of unified youth supporting government's position is always handy. It sure was in the Nazi Germany and the USSR.

What might be happening with Nashi in the coming years? Considering that any significant political changes and serious shift of power is unlikely, I think this youth movement will keep going from strength to strength. Maria, with her image of a real fighter and her faith in Russia's bright future, will keep marching towards a successful political career and will no doubt one day make it to a respectable political office.

She will work hard, with unwavering devotion and long after she stops believing in it herself will continue to strengthen and spread the ideology, however it might be formulated at the time, but the essence of it will remain. The rest of Nashi youngsters will become young adults, who will keep craving all that's ‘western'; keep chucking English words into their sentences (the grotesque versions of the originals, ‘pleeze', ‘loozer', ‘glamur', ‘peepl'), while cursing their origins and talking about Russia's special destiny and greatness.

Russia is Nashi's playground. In fact it’s all a bit like Disneyland. Both kids and their guardians are exuberant and cheerful. The events are like rides; fun and scary at the same time; and the master of the park changes his face from good to evil and back in the most frightening manner.


Natalia Pelevine, the author of this article, is a playwright of Russian origin who went to Britain and settled there. She is also known as a political commentator for TV and radio stations including BBC and Al Jazeera. She is the author of a controversial play, "In Your Hands", depicting the bloody siege by Chechen insurgents at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow several years ago. According to Reuters, Natalia Pelevine accused Russian authorities of Soviet-style censorship as the play was banned on its opening night in Russia's Dagestan region.






















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