Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Thursday, August 9, 2007

The New Brownshirts

No, they are not in Germany. they are in Russia, and they are fiercely loyal to Putin. Cathy Young @ The Boston Globe takes note of their existence:

A COUPLE of months ago on an Internet forum I frequent, a discussion of human rights in Eastern Europe turned to the brutal suppression last May of a demonstration in Moscow protesting the city's ban on a gay pride march.

Then came a remarkable response from a Russian forum participant, a 19-year-old university student from St. Petersburg: "RUSSIA THE BEST!!! AMERICA SUCKS!!!" she wrote in capital letters. "Next time write about the things that happen in your gay country, leave Russia alone!!!! Putin is the greatest president and we have the greatest history ever!"

I thought of that young woman when, shortly afterward, I read alarming reports about a new force in Russian public life: a youth movement called Nashi. The word is typically translated as "Ours," but that doesn't quite capture the nationalist, triumphalist overtones of the Russian name. "Nashi," in Russian idiom, means "Our Guys" or "Our Kind"; it's the "us" in us versus them.

"Them," for Nashi, includes everyone from Americans to former Soviet republics that bristle at Russian diktat to Russians who don't subscribe to Putin's authoritarian vision of "sovereign democracy."

Nashi was launched in the spring of 2005, largely in reaction to the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine in 2004, where young adults played a key role in the massive street protests, sit-ins, and strikes that helped pro-Western presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko prevail in an election dispute. With Nashi and several smaller pro-Kremlin youth groups, the Putin regime is hoping not only to co-opt political activism among the younger generation but to use it as a club against its enemies.

And make no mistake: While ostensibly independent, Nashi is a Kremlin creation. Officially, its lavish funding comes from pro-government business owners; it is widely reported that the group also receives direct subsidies from the Kremlin. Nashi activists land coveted jobs and internships in government agencies as well as state-owned oil and gas corporations. Putin's top advisers have met frequently with the group's leaders.

Last July, its two-week training program in a camp 200 miles outside Moscow, attended by 10,000 young men and women carefully screened for ideological fitness, was capped by a video message from Putin in which the president proclaimed Nashi a part of his team. Several days earlier, he had met with a group of Nashi "commissars" at his summer residence in Zavidovo.

Nashi claims to be over 100,000 strong; according to some reports, it has a core of 10,000 activists ages 17 to 25, with another 200,000 or so who regularly attend its events. ...

Beyond this personality cult, Nashi champions the ideology of the Putin regime, which blends elements of the Soviet legacy and that of imperial Russia. Though officially secular, the movement has a Russian Orthodox wing. It promotes conservative social values and healthy lifestyles, condemning such scourges as draft evasion, drinking, smoking, birth control, and abortion. Its leaders speak of "freedom" as essential to the Russian people -- but what they mean is freedom from outside interference and infringements on Russia's sovereignty.

Propaganda is not the only weapon in Nashi's arsenal. The movement offers paramilitary training that prepares members for breaking up opposition rallies (under the guise of combating "fascism") and intimidating those who run afoul of the Putin regime. Last year, when the governor of the Perm region recklessly allowed a member of an opposition party to attend a youth conference, Nashi protesters picketed his offices until he apologized.

The idea of "never again" might still prevail in Germany, but Putin's little minions have all the aspects of the Hitler Youth when they rose to prominence in Germany. They are in the initial stages of growth, despite being around for two years. Propaganda has become their trademark tool, and given the numbers within their ranks, it looks as though it is working.

This is Putin's final year in office, and it is no secret that he has taken some steps that have a few in Russia worried. He has yet to request a change to the Russian constitution, which would allow him another term in office. But given his "brownshirts" in the Nashi, and the key places they keep moving into within the government, there could be serious pressure applied to those in Parliament should Putin make that request.

Their presence is worrisome. The fanaticism of the Hitler Youth is alive and well in them. Their loyalty to Putin is nearly equal to the sort that was exhibited by Hitler's brownshirts. According to the Wikipedia entry there have been incidents of violence that have come from the Nashi including this one from April of this year where they led a violent protest in Estonia. while the violence was really nothing more than vandalism, and clashes with police, riot police were sent into to reinforce the security forces,and they resorted to using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesting Nashi members.

Critics of the group routinely refer to them as "Putinjugend," a direct reference to "Hitlerjugend," or "Hitler Youth." They seem to have those aspects covered, and given that Hitler first stole the innocence from the children in Germany in his rise to power, it should worry some that this is repeating in Russia in a similar fashion.



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