Nashi: Pro-regime Youth Groups in Russia

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Type “Nashi” into any search engine and you will come across videos of uniformly clad youth chanting in unison, evoking bygone images of Komsomol or Hitler’s Youth. Indeed, Nashi, a pro-regime, state-supported youth organization, has often been likened to these organizations by the media and scholars alike. Yet, is this simplistic comparison an accurate one? Are state-led youth organizations in Russia merely puppets of the regime, lacking their own will or motivation? In the following pages I trace the origins and purposes behind the organization of pro-regime youth groups in Russia, arguing that while these movements undoubtedly perform many of the same functions as youth groups of the past, they do have some measure of autonomy and agency separate from the regime, if not completely independent of it. When the Soviet Union collapsed, many Russians hoped for a rebirth of civil society and political participation. While there was a subsequent proliferation of non-governmental and public organizations, civil society in Russia has remained fragmented and divided. It is commonplace to characterize civil society in Russia as perilously weak “owing to the post-Soviet legacy of political cynicism, continuing state ambivalence about the role of society in politics, and a lack of domestic resources to support activism” (Henry 2010: 3). However, weakness of civil society in Russia cannot be equated to a lack of participatory movements. Indeed, Putin spent much of his second term as president filling the political and civil space with “ersatz social movements” in support of the regime (Robertson 2010). These organizations were formed in response to protests by pensioners and pro-democracy groups and represented an innovative approach to m... ... middle of paper ... ...nov’ nadezhdy na aprel. Sobesednik 45: 2. Topalova, V. 2006. In Search of Heroes: Cultural Politics and Political Mobilization of Youth in Contemporary Russia and Ukraine. Demokratizatsiya 14(1): 23-41. Vinatier, L. 2007. The ‘Opposition’ Youth Movements in Russia: In Search of Political Alternatives. Project on Emerging Actors, September 2007. http://institut-thomas- more.org/pdf/168_en_ReportPEARussia_V2_Oct2007_Eng.pdf. Walker, Shaun. Pro-Kremlin youth group blamed for attacking paper. The Independent, March 6, 2008. Accessed May 3, 2012. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/prokremlin-youth-group-blamed-for- attacking-paper-792074.html. White, Gordon, 2004. Civil Society, Democratization and Development: Clearing the Analytical Ground, in Peter Burnell & Peter Calvert (eds.), Civil Society in Democratization. London: Frank Cass.

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