12 August 2007

The Putin Youth

Meet "Nashi", Russia's frightening semi-official youth organization, already being compared -- even by some Russians -- to the Hitler Youth. Its mission is to brainwash the young with pro-Putin and anti-Western propaganda, and mobilize them into mobs to intimidate those whom the regime deems enemies, as happened with the siege of the Estonian embassy in Moscow during the recent Bronze Soldier crisis. Nashi (the word means "Ours" in Russian) would doubtless form a dangerous obstacle to any concerted Russian move toward democracy similar to Ukraine's Orange Revolution.

One might feel tempted to praise Nashi's opposition to cigarettes and alcohol, the scourges which have driven Russia's male life expectancy down to near-Third-World levels. But it is perfectly possible to combat toxic addictions without immersing people in a crypto-fascist cult atmosphere, as the success of anti-smoking campaigns in the US and Britain shows. Similarly, the startlingly un-fascist-like policy of encouraging sex at Nashi summer camp does not mean that the organization is sex-positive in a healthy sense; rather, it is cynically trying to exploit the natural instincts of young people to boost Russia's low birth rate.

Nashi is yet another sign of the hideously-disappointing wrong turn which Russia has taken since Putin's rise to power in 2000.

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