>Our Kids: Putin’s future stormtroopers?

> For ‘democratic’ politics truly from another universe one needs to travel to Russia. Yesterday’s Newsnight on BBC2 carried a fascinating report about the Nashi youth movement. ‘Nashi’ means ‘Ours’. More idiomatic translations might be ‘Our people’, ‘Our youth’ – ‘Our kids’ even. The movement was apparently formed in early 2005 from ruins of the overly craven and hence discredited – pro-Putin ‘Walking Together’ Movement reports Radio Liberty and proved sufficiently successful to get 60, 000 on to the streets. Its shirts and flag – perhaps with a certain retro chic – echo the iconography of communist youth movements. Nashi supports Russian state power and pride, clean living and population growth. Apart from holding ‘demographic actions’ encouraging young Russians to meet and have children – its self-styled ‘commissars’ taking training courses to prepare themselves as the future elite, stage parades, run summer camps andoccasionally demonstrate against un-Russian practices, although anti-racist apparently. They are, of course, also are unqualified fans of President Putin, who has met the movement’s leaders on three occasions. Putin’s presidential apparatus– in the person its Deputy Head Surkov –co-ordinate and bankroll the movement.

Despite engaging a certain amount of genuine patriotic activism at grassroots level, the movement – along with other similar youth movements like the Yellow Shirts profiled more a community organization– appears a classic – ifvery interesting – example of what my SSEES colleague Andrew Wilson (in a book of the same name) has termed the ‘virtual politics’ of the post-Soviet world. ‘Virtual politics’ in the FSU involves the top down creation by oligarchical power structures of pseudo-parties to demobilise and split the opposition forces. This can including fake populist challengers, compliant ‘extremists’ to make ‘parties of power’ seem acceptable, youth, Green and women’s parties and manageable ‘opposition’ parties happy to lose elections by some distance. Cash, influence over electoral and party registration procedures and monopolistic control of media outlets are the key to creating such an illusion of democracy – a chess game with a very number of pieces, as Andrew’s book puts it – liberals, Communists and others get lost amid a fog of black PR, spin, kompromat and ‘political technology’. This is the reality of Putin’s ‘managed democracy’, which as the Russian original term upravlaemaya demoktatiya makes clear, is democracy that is being steered, rather than just a rather distant technocratic style of government.

The new youth movements constitute a ‘virtual civil society’. The Putin version of this seems not a million miles away from the elite Western sponsored NGO projects for which this term was coined. Indeed, in a grim reversal of the use of youth movements as foot soldiers against semi-authoritarian regimes in Serbia or Ukraine (also to some extent ‘managed’ processes) they seem to be destined to be shock troops in a future defence of the regime – as the heckling of the British ambassador at the Other Russia conference by other, more radical, Kremlin-friendly youth activists shows

Central European politics for all its slight other worldliness with its elite-dominated but unmanaged party landscapeseems positively boring . Indeed in the fact that it has a party landscape, not a politics of elite networks and ever shifting behind-the-scenes flows of ‘administrative resources’ makes it boring and ordinary

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