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Feature Story April 22, 2008
Nashi: Is It Really The End?
By Sean Guillory Browse author Email
Page 3 of 5

Last fall, Nashi organized some of their "socially maladjusted guys" into the Voluntary Youth Militia (DMD). DMD’s official purpose is to patrol the streets with the police, keep public order, and organize sport events (rugby appears to be a favorite). The DMD serves as the de facto security during Nashi events and rallies. Its unofficial purpose is to act as Nashi’s muscle. As a disgruntled Nashi member named "Ivan" explained in an interview with Kommersant last summer:

[The] Voluntary youth militia, well, [are] sort of "cleaners." There have already been cases when they’ve beaten people who have spread information against Nashi. They can probably catch you anywhere. They are football fanatics, athletes, and ordinary thugs. They enforce the ideology and they fulfill their duties with pleasure.

[Their duties include] keeping order in the movement and its borders, creating chaos in those meetings and marches which haven’t been approved by the Kremlin. In the spring DMD arranged provocations in practically every anti-Kremlin "Dissenters’ March." They provoked the police and threw smoke bombs and planted [the bombs] in the bags of the marchers.

There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of "Ivan’s" testimony, especially considering that DMD’s Federal Coordinator is Roman Verbitsky. According to witnesses, Verbitsky was involved in the violent August 2005 attack on the Communist youth gathering. At that time, Verbitsky led the Gladiators, a football hooligan gang that follows Spartak.

The Voluntary Youth Militia (DMD) has grown steadily over the last six months. It claims to have nineteen chapters with an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 members. Documents provided by "Ivan" show that the DMD was heavily funded in the run up to the Duma elections. The budget for the DMD’s Moscow branch for August 2007 was around $30,000 per month. Funding of its regional branches was about ten times smaller.

Black pr 101

Nashi’s actions of choice are protest and "campaign." It has launched several of these "campaigns" over the last three years. Nashi’s actions can be irritating, as with their constant hounding of British Ambassador Anthony Brenton; or downright embarrassing, like the Bronze Solider campaign against "Estonian state fascism"; and even witty, like their presentation of the cookbook "1000 Recipes for Cabbage Soup" to the American embassy. The thrust of most of Nashi actions is to become a gnat in their enemy’s ear.

Attention-grabbing public campaigns are the ace in the hole for any youth organization. Among other things, they can be damn good fun for the youths involved. You get to march around the big city, shout, hang out, meet people, and, most importantly, feel like you’re making a difference. Fawning media attention turns hyped up boys into mini media stars. Nashi’s actions are often staged as carnivalesque spectacles, combining elements of humor and the whiff of violence with high-stakes politics. But political comedy doesn’t come easy. Comedians are needed. And Nashi is just the place to train Russia’s future masters in the arts of black PR.

Ironically, these tactics are taken directly from the playbook of Nashi’s "fascist" opponents, the color revolutionaries. In Belgrade, Tblisi and Kiev, youth movements employed carnivalesque spectacle to discredit the entrenched regimes; here in Russia, Nashi has turned this on its head, using youths and comedic spectacle to discredit the opposition.

Nothing shows Nashi increasing use of the black PR arts more than its recent action against Kommersant. Over the past year, the popular business daily has published a number of articles exposing Nashi’s darker side. After Kommersant published an article titled, "Nashi has become alien," in late January, Nashi decided it was time for some payback. What offended them most about the Kommersant article was its suggestion that Kremlin officials had grown weary of Nashi’s antics and were ready to abandon them. For Russia’s political elite, Medvedev’s victory signaled a change in the political winds. "Colored revolution" was no longer a threat, making Nashi’s "jubilant thugs unnecessary," in the words of one anonymous Kremlin official. As a result, word of Nashi’s impending doom spread throughout the Russian press. The organization’s very future was at stake, at least in the public’s eye.

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