Putin’s Generation

Nashi has officially hit the American mainstream. On Sunday the NY Times published an expose of the youth organization. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said before. In fact it is clear that the media has nothing new to add to what Nashi is except for repeating the fact that it is a Kremlin tool. I would figure that this is quite obvious. I’m more interested in how the organization actually functions on the ground. That said, I think the best statement was from Yabloko youth leader, Ilya Yashin. He told the Times,

“The authorities may face serious problems because all the young people whom they teach today, in whom they invest, whom they teach to organize mass actions, may find themselves in the real opposition when they see that their interests are violated. Today they are loyal, but tomorrow they may become the opposition. And this may not be the young Red Guard’s Cultural Revolution, like in China, but something much more serious.”

I think he is right on. Such is the dilemma of arousing and then having the audacity to think you can actually control populism.

But what really struck me is how the article opened. It reads:

Yulia Kuliyeva, only 19 and already a commissar, sat at a desk and quizzed each young person who sat opposite her, testing for ideological fitness to participate in summer camp.

“Tell me, what achievements of Putin’s policy can you name?” she asked, referring to Russia’s president since 2000, Vladimir V. Putin.

“Well, it’s the stabilization in the economy,” the girl answered. “Pensions were raised.”

“And what’s in Chechnya?” Ms. Kuliyeva asked, probing her knowledge of a separatist conflict that has killed tens of thousands and, although largely won by Russia’s federal forces and Chechen loyalists, continues.

“In Chechnya, it’s that it is considered a part of Russia,” the girl responded.

“Is this war still going on there?”

“No, everything is quiet.”

Ms. Kuliyeva is a leader in the Ideological Department of Nashi, the largest of a handful of youth movements created by Mr. Putin’s Kremlin to fight for the hearts and minds of Russia’s young people in schools, on the airwaves and, if necessary, on the streets.

I sure wish the Times would have questioned this obvious charade. I doubt your average Nashi member has such ideological prowess. In fact, Kuliyeva’s question and answer session reminded me of a document I found in the Komsomol archive. Such ideological questioning was common in Komsomol admissions and expulsion trials. Mine comes from an expulsion trial. I believe it is probably more indicative of not only your average Komsomol member at the time but also even symbolic of your average Nashi member’s ideological awareness.

The document dates from 1926. On trial was one Klishin, born in 1904, an unemployed peasant, and joined the Komsomol in 1923. Klishin was also charged with neglecting his studies, playing ill to get out of them, and for “rowdiness and drunkenness.” Here is what the Moscow Raikom expulsion commission asked Klishin to determine his guilt:

Were you drunk in the washroom?

I drank.

What kind of work did you do in the Komsomol since 1923?

I was a member of the cell bureau.

What did you do as a bureau member and what was your responsibilities?

They didn’t give me any responsibilities.

What else did you do?

I did literary work, gave reports on Komsomol activism.

How do you express your Komsomol activism?

I encourage worker youth to join the League.

When was the 14th Party Congress?

I don’t know.

Which Party Congress was in 1925?

The nineteenth.

What is KIM (Communist Youth International)?

Dictatorship of Komsomol.

What newspapers do you read?

I read but I haven’t for a month.

Who is Stalin?

I don’t know.

The last one was the ringer. To say the least, Klishin was expelled from the Komsomol. I wonder is Nashi has its own expulsion process to deal with their riffraff.