Cults and Politics: Propagandizing Russia's Youth

Article excerpt

More than 15 years after the fall of the USSR, Russia is on a steady slide away from genuine democracy and toward authoritarianism. Even more troubling is the Russian government's effort to inculcate its new generation with values that justify this regression. By propagandizing its youth with nationalistic fervor and political orthodoxy, Russia is setting itself up for a future of repression and international confrontation.

Under President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has started to organize and fund a variety of youth organizations, such as the Youth Guard, United Russia, and the Locals. Perhaps the most popular of these is Nashi (meaning "ours"), an organization for citizens 17 to 25 that claims 10,000 members and draws over 200,000 participants to its events, rallies, and summer camps. The Nashi agenda is characterized by a cult-like respect for President Putin, vehement hostility toward any opposition parties, a romanticized view of Soviet history, and the belief that the West is bent on denying Russia its rightful place in the world. Nashi owes part of its success to its strategy of putting opponents on the defensive--it criticizes opposition parties as fascists and has helped create a "museum of double standards" which highlights supposed Western hypocrisy and imperialism by drawing attention to rights violations occurring in Western countries. This strategy not only discredits opponents but also diverts attention from Nashi's own alarming tendencies.

Nashi is a product of both recent events and Soviet history. It is not a coincidence that the organization was started in the spring of 2005. Russia witnessed the Rose Revolution of 2003 in Georgia and the Orange Revolution of 2004 in Ukraine--in both cases, youth formed the backbone of the mass protests that toppled corrupt regimes. The Kremlin decided that instead of leaving youth to agitate for change, their energy could be channeled into pro-regime activity. Nashi also borrows a chapter from history almost a century old. It takes its colors and motifs from Soviet organizations such as the Young Pioneers and Komsomol, the youth branch of the Communist Party. Knowledge of these historical antecedents makes it easier to see Nashi as instruments of political control.

The distinction between Nashi and other ideologically driven youth organizations in Europe and the United States is that the former acts as a de facto tool of executive power. …