The future’s ours: Russia’s youth activists

Zygmunt Dzieciolowski
19 January 2008

Two years ago Alissa Askalina was invited by a girlfriend to a Nashi meeting. She enjoyed this first encounter with members of the Russian youth movement: everybody there was young, their eyes were shining, they pulsed with fresh ideas about how to attract more young people to the organisation. Alissa, a slim 20-year-old with chestnut hair, lives in the city of Vladimir, 200 kilometres northeast of Moscow. She learned at school how, more than five centuries ago, Vladimir was a candidate to become Russia's capital but lost out to Moscow. Today, tourists are more likely to visit neighbouring Souzdal with its famous complex of Orthodox churches. This is provincial Russia; life in Vladimir, for young people especially, is slow.

Zygmunt Dzieciolowski is a Polish journalist and writer who has reported on Russia for leading German, Swiss and Polish newspapers since 1989. He is the author of Planet Russia, published in Poland in 2005Among Zygmunt Dzieciolowski's recent articles on openDemocracy:

"How Russia is ruled" (14 March 2007)

"New Russia, old Russia" (5 April 2007)

"Boris Yeltsin, history man" (24 April 2007)

"Russia's unequal struggle" (18 May 2007)

"Russia's immigration challenge" (15 June 2007)

"Tatyana Zaslavskaya's moment" (20 July 2007)

"Vladimir Putin for ever" (2 October 2007)

"Russia's festive days: tides of history" (2 November 2007)

In the 1990s, young people in Vladimir were starved of fun and entertainment. Even now, when the Russian economy has picked up, few can afford more than regular meetings in the dirty staircases or basements of the city's apartment buildings to drink beer, take drugs and flirt. Alissa, unlike many other young people, doesn't smoke and doesn't like alcohol. She has been meeting her boyfriend Stas for the last two years; some day she will for sure agree to marry him, but it is better (thinking of the difficult life of her parents) to wait. When she discovered Nashi ("Our Team", or simply "Ours") she was thrilled. They discussed serious matters, they could freely express their opinion. For the first time in her life she met young people of her age talking not about getting alcohol, sex or money, but about their own country: Russia, its past and future. A year and half later she was promoted to the higher rank of commissar. She matured, grew up and understood how much Russia owed to its president, Vladimir Putin:

"We were in a black hole before him. He made the Russian economy work again. We were no longer ashamed to feel a sense of national dignity. We demonstrated to the world that Russia is not and will not be a second-class country. We understood the importance of patriotic education for our youth."

Alissa and her colleagues know the circumstances surrounding their beloved leader Vladimir Putin's decision to abide by the constitution and leave the presidency in March 2008, while he prepares to exert influence in another role. But no matter what his future position will be, Nashi activists like Alissa cannot imagine Russia without him.

I came to Vladimir with a film crew of the American TV channel HD Net to make a documentary on Nashi, and Alissa was our guide during most of our time in the city. The first day of filming, however, was in Moscow on 7 October 2007, when 10,000 Nashi activists gathered in the Russian capital to celebrate Vladimir Putin's birthday. In seeing these youthful activists in action for the first time, I realised that in order to understand Nashi it was essential to get out of Moscow and head for the Russian provinces.

Thank you, Vladimir Vladimirovich

Most of the celebrants were 10-14 years old when Vladimir Putin was handpicked by the outgoing president Boris Yeltsin as his successor at the end of 1999. At that time, the shy KGB colonel looked much younger than the experienced statesman whose giant photo now decorates the centre of the stage built on the Shevchenko Embankment, next to the Ukraine Hotel's Stalin-era skyscraper. "What will be your reply to the president?", says the accompanying inscription in big red characters. "2 December - the election of the national leader", announces a huge banner on the left side of the stage (an important piece of information for those who might have wrongly thought that it was rather the date of the parliamentary election).

With 10,000 Nashi members in festive mood, nobody at the rally is willing to remember that 7 October 2007 is also the first anniversary of the murder of the dissident journalist Anna Politkovskaya. In the past, Nashi members have often tried to break up opposition meetings; today, with President's Putin's birthday being their top priority, Nashi this time allowed the Politkovskaya memorial rally to proceed undisturbed.

Among openDemocracy's many articles on Russia politics and society:

Alena V Ledeneva, "How Russia really works" (16 January 2002)

Geoffrey Hosking, "Russians in the Soviet Union: rulers and victims" (26 June 2006)

Christoph Neidhart, "Vladimir Putin, ‘Soviet man' who missed class" (24 October 2006)

Ivan Krastev, "'Sovereign democracy', Russian-style" (16 November 2006)

Oksana Chelysheva, "Russia's iceberg: a Nizhny Novgorod report" (25 April 2007)

Tanya Lokshina, "Russian civil society: an appeal to Europe" (30 April 2007)

George Schöpflin, "Russia's reinvented empire" (3 May 2007)

Armine Ishkanian, "Nashi: Russia's youth counter-movement" (30 August 2007)

Ivan Krastev, "Russia vs Europe: the sovereignty wars" (5 September 2007)

Mary Dejevsky, "After Putin" (21 September 2007)

Anna Sevortian, "Russia: seeds of change" (20 November 2007)

Even the awful weather could not extinguish their enthusiasm. As they waited for the official celebrations to begin amid a biting wind and pouring rain, many danced to the sound of loud, rhythmic and powerful rap:

"Fifteen years ago when the

Russian state was ruined

They mocked our morals

But now we rose from our knees

Now we'll go ahead, no problems

If they'd remain, we will be as strong

As our grandfathers during the war"


"You will not sell and you will not flood Russia with booze".

The bloom of youth

As I watched the Nashi crowds at Vladimir Putin's birthday and listened to the rap anthem, I recalled the teeming Independence Square in Ukraine's capital Kyiv in December 2004. There, people were entranced by their rhythmic song Razom nas boghato ("Together we are many") - played so loud that even talking to a neighbour was impossible.

Those who inspired and initiated Nashi consciously decided to copy some of the "social technologies" applied successfully by protest movements in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003-04), and Ukraine (2004-05). They understood - to take just one element - the importance of music for the youth movement. That is how "Nashi rap" was invented.

When I asked people at Putin's birthday-party where they came from, I heard the names of many different Russian towns and regions: Tula, Ivanovo, Voronesh, Volgograd, Saratov, Tambov, Kursk. Their faces and the way they were dressed conveyed their provincial origins; rich and decadent Moscow looks and behaves differently. In most cases they had been driven here in buses, spending the night in different hotels or holiday centres in the capital's suburbs where they were trained in what and how to chant in the next day's meeting.

"Today is a historic day. And in the history of Russia it is a bright and joyous day. Because 55 years ago, the world received a person who helped our country. And today we want to say thank you. Thank you Vladimir Vladimirovich, from the country. Happy Birthday!!!" Here, the crowd chants "Russia, Russia, Russia" - and the announcers on stage warm up the crowd before the speech of Vassily Yakemenko, the movement's founder and supreme leader.

Yakemenko is short, wears spectacles, and is dressed in a leather jacket. He doesn't look like an apparatchik from the dull Soviet-era youth organisation Komsomol. He is energetic and sharp, though at times over-intellectual for the occasion; he uses words and phrases ("postmodernism", or the "unipolar world" barely if at all understandable to most of his audience.

"I remember the 1990s, when (Boris) Berezovsky controlled the Duma. When together with (Mikhail) Khodorkovsky, in order to make their billions, they provoked the war in Chechnya. Young people like you were sent there and did not return. Our Russian national budget had to be approved by the International Monetary Fund in the United States. All of this has changed with Vladimir Putin."

The picture of the president that Yakemenko draws with his words is one of a hero, even a superman. Without Putin, Russia is doomed. The December 2007 election, Yakemenko explains, is not about the parliament: it is a vote for the supreme national leader. The whole world has to see that Russia is unanimous in its support for Vladimir Vladimirovich.

At the end of his speech, Yakemenko asks Nashi to divide into groups and visit different Moscow neighbourhoods to show people their enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin.

I am a patriot

The group I join has a different plan: it moves to the Estonian embassy to show solidarity with Nashi colleague Kostya Goloskokov, who has been there on hunger-strike for a week in protest against the Estonian authorities' refusal to give him a visa.

Kostya, who is 21, is clearly tired by living in a tent in the middle of the city. He has to switch off his cellphone to be able to talk to me; almost every moment his phone rings or he is sent an SMS message. "So many people want to express their solidarity", he says proudly. He has heard too that the Russian internet is full of declarations of support.

He is here in order to show to the Estonian authorities that Nashi did not agree with their decision to remove the monument of the Soviet soldier from the capital, Tallinn's, city centre. His hunger-strike had not attracted the media's attention on the same scale as that given to Nashi's protests in April 2007 when (following the monument's removal) they blocked the Estonian embassy for several days. In September, Kostya had submitted his application for an Estonian visa; his papers were all in order, all travel arrangements properly taken care of. But when the Estonians asked him the purpose of his visit, Kostya said openly that he planned to wear a Soviet military uniform and stage a protest at the removed monument's site. This way, he said, he wanted to pay tribute to the more than 250,000 Soviet soldiers who died liberating Estonia.

Kostya is not surprised to be refused a visa, but he still feels offended by the Estonian authorities' unwillingness to give legal reasons for their decision, and to talk to him during his hunger-strike. He is proud that the Estonian media said that ignoring him had worse political consequences than allowing him to go to Tallinn and do what he wanted.

Kostya has been with Nashi from April 2005, a month after its foundation. What surprises me is that he is a student at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, where many lecturers are well-known critics of Putin's regime. He regrets that only a few colleagues at the school share his political views.

"I am a patriot", he declares. He accepts that many young people now do not care about Russia. They believe it is the state which owes them: education, healthcare, housing, jobs, holidays. Kostya wants to serve Russia, and doesn't expect anything in exchange. This is what he thinks unites him with the patriots of the 1940s, willing to sacrifice their life for the motherland. For Kostya, patriotism is the ability to respond when the state says, "we need you".

The side-street where the Estonian embassy stands has remained quiet for most of Kostya's strike. But not today. Before the Nashi group arrives to greet him, a special unit of the Russian militia (Omon) is deployed to block its access to the embassy and to Kostya himself. But the communication between the group leaders and the militia chiefs is friendly. While Nashi members chant "Let us visit Kostya" or "Give a visa to Kostya" a compromise is negotiated: up to ten of them at a time are allowed to enter the fenced-off zone. The ones who pass through are mostly young girls in their late teens. Many bring Kostya flowers, and they hug him; in their eyes he is a real hero.

A movement's seeds

Nashi was founded in March 2005. Three years on the organisation has at least 100,000 members, activists and supporters. The average age of its commissars is 19.5 years. By most standards this is a remarkable success story. How has it happened?

It is believed that the initiative to create Nashi came from Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration in the Kremlin. A former public-relations executive at the Yukos oil company of the now-imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Surkov moved to the Kremlin and became Putin's chief ideologist and architect of the influential "sovereign democracy" theory.

The Russian journalist Yelena Tregubova - former Kremlin correspondent of Moscow's Kommersant daily, and now a political refugee in Britain - relates her conversations with Surkov in her book Tales of the Kremlin Digger. Surkov, she says, tried to present himself as a liberal in a presidential administration otherwise controlled by hardline former special-services employees. But his efforts to convince her that he represented a "lesser evil" ended with the series of "colour revolutions" in former Soviet states such as Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.

Surkov and his associates - including the one-time Soviet dissident turned loyal Kremlin political spin-doctor Gleb Pavlovsky - started to consider ways of discouraging young Russians from following the democratic slogans promoted by the anti-Putin democratic opposition. The task of creating a mass pro- Putin youth movement was entrusted to Vassily Yakemenko, an ex-presidential-administration official responsible for state charity work. He had quit the Kremlin as early as 2002 in a first attempt to mobilise young people to support Vladimir Putin. But Yakemenko's first creation - "Walking Together" - was not persuasive enough as a response to the challenge represented by the "colour revolutions".

Surkov and colleagues felt they had to act urgently. Each year Russian 1.5 million school pupils graduate; young people aged 16-28 years old compose 20% of the Russian population. In short, millions of first-time voters would be eligible to vote in the parliamentary and presidential elections of December 2007 and March 2008. The Kremlin's strategists believed that they needed to win this generation to its side, counter the possibility of seeing it drift towards sympathy with any emerging opposition, and - in case of emergency - create loyal paramilitary youth units able to cope with dissident movements and demonstrations.

The founders of Nashi described it as a "democratic, anti-fascist youth movement". Its manifesto - which is now used to test the knowledge of all new members - says that Russia should become a global leader in the 21st century, be able to organise its life independently and reject attempts by the United States and Europe to impose their values on Russia. At the same time, Nashi founders well understood that to communicate with the generation of hip-hop and the internet, the language of the movement's official documents would not be enough. For teenagers especially, role-playing games, rap and fitness exercises, summer camps and access to modern computer labs were important parts of the project.

Kremlin PR specialists like Vladislav Surkov knew that post-Soviet generations of young Russians have limited knowledge of their country's history and barely understand such terms as gulag, collectivisation and censorship. But many of them had childhood memories of the hardships of the 1990s, after the Soviet Union's collapse, when members of their parents' and grandparents' generation lost their life-savings. "Nashi rap" say a lot about the deprivations of those years: the unpaid wages and pensions, the mafia wars, the wild privatisations. But Russia wasn't always like this, it has had its glorious moments. So the youngsters sing too about cosmonauts circling the earth and the heroism of soldiers in the "great patriotic war" against Nazism.

This was part of the fertile soil the Nashi movement cultivated, especially in the provinces. Here was a formula that explained who was responsible for the trauma, misery and sufferings of the youngsters' mums and dads; and offered a guide towards the promised land of welfare and prosperity. President Vladimir Putin, the sage in the Kremlin, became their supreme idol.

All who care about Russia, help us

When we arrive in Vladimir, Alissa Askalina takes us to the local Nashi headquarters at Lunacharsky Street. It is a new three-storey building, still under construction. But the scene inside is one of tiled floors, modern computer equipment, clean office furniture, and abundant storage space, filled with the smells of fresh paint. Where did they get money to build something like this?

"Companies and business managers who care about Russia help us", is Alissa's answer. Nashi's critics and opponents would prefer to speak about phone-calls from Kremlin instructing Russian corporations and businessmen to pay money to the friendly youth organisation, an offer they would find it difficult to refuse.

It is 6 p.m. and nearly every room in the building is full of young people. In one, on the first floor, more than six girls are engaged in lively discussion with an African student from the Central African Republic. He, like his fellow African students in Vladimir and across Russia, are now concerned about their safety. Racist groups in Russia have attacked dark-skinned people many times.

Nashi's "Antifa" department, driven by its members' idealistic feelings, is ready to help these African colleagues. "In Russian politics", says Anya, "our motivation is the same. We support forces of good, we fight forces of evil."

In a room on the second floor the entire local Nashi group of computer-science students are busy bringing up to date the section of their website (www.nashi.su) related to their activities in Vladimir. This is great, one tells me: she can practice here all the theoretical things she studies at university.

In nearly every room, Vladimir Putin's photos hang on the walls.

The weather on the next day, Saturday, is extremely bad, but Vladimir's Nashi cohort do not cancel their action - entitled "Double Standards" - in the city's main square. Well in advance the activists prepared more than ten stands with large photos illustrating their main idea: that the western media apply double standards when they present the situation in Russia and in their own countries.

Alissa's two colleagues have been busy repairing and polishing one of the exhibitions. "You have the photo of Saddam Hussein here", explains Alissa; he was sentenced and executed for murdering fewer than 150 people, she says, yet George W Bush is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands in Iraq.

Alissa gives other examples of western hypocrisy. The oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed for obvious financial irregularities: theft, corruption, tax avoidance. Yet the west claims that he is the victim of political repression, and mobilises human-rights organisation in his defence. Then there is Abu Ghraib; the illegal arrest of 17-year-old Mark Syrik in Estonia while defending the soldiers' monument; the distorted portrait of Chechnya in the western media.

If the exhibition attracts little interest from passers-by, Nashi members approach those waiting at the nearest bus stop and try to engage them in political discussion. "I am shy", says Alissa, "and so are the other girls. For some of them it is not so easy to stop strangers on the street. But we take special training for this, we learn how to talk to people."

In Vladimir, there is Nashi-organised public event almost every day. These involve community-service work as well as politics. For example, members visit war veterans and help them to cook and clean their flats, or promote blood donations. In the local orphanage on Lenin street its director is enthusiastic about Nashi help. "Girls come here to play with the kids, they bring them toys and candy. A few months ago they brought a truckload of disposable diapers, which will last for several months and save the staff time and effort."

Vladimir's mayor Alexander Rybakov is very happy to see Nashi activists picketing shops found to have sold alcohol to adolescents.

A roundtable discussion

I accompany Alissa to a meeting of Nashi's ideological department, and her colleagues allow me to observe their roundtable discussion. I want to hear what they have to say about their ideas, plans for the future, contemporary Russia, President Putin, the United States, patriotic values. When my questions seem too predictable, such as might be expected from a biased western visitor, they can only laugh.

Artur, the head of Vladimir's Nashi section, explains why Russia should oppose America. "I have nothing personal against the United States. But a unilateral world would be too dangerous." But Artur thinks that Russians could learn from Americans how to respect their own country and their national flag.

Makar remembers the dreadful 1990s when Russian citizens failed even to stand up when their own national anthem was played. Igor thinks the western media should stop lying about Vladimir Putin, and instead pay attention to what he has done for Russia.

Nastya, who has journalistic ambitions, thinks their generation has a unique chance to have an impact on history. "Nobody uses us", she says with genuine anger. "We want to help Putin. When he took over the presidency, Russia was in a state of decay, it was falling apart. He alone turned history around."

"Every country is ruled by 5,000 people", says Artur - the elite which makes the crucial decisions. "Nashi is preparing people to be future leaders. Perhaps not all 5,000, but at least 2,000 for sure."

Indeed, Nashi offers its most talented members free education at the Moscow High School of Management, which the organisation sponsors. They can attend rhetorics classes in order to learn discussion skills. The best students get internships with Russia's largest corporations or state structures at different levels; some could even work in the Kremlin's or Duma's administration.

At home with Alissa

On the last day of our stay in Vladimir, we drive to Alissa's home. She lives with her parents and brother in a tiny flat in an old, cramped Soviet-built apartment block far from the centre. Alissa sleeps on the couch in the living room; her mother, father and younger brother sleep together in the even smaller adjacent room. Alissa's mother is a professional musician, but she changed careers in the 1990s in order to make ends meet. Now she works in the human-resources department of a Vladimir company. Alissa's father is another survivor of the dark decade: unemployed then, he now runs a small auto service with a few friends.

"Our life is better now", says Alissa's mother Irina, offering a cup of tea. "Hopefully, their life" - she points to Alissa and Stas sitting on the couch - "will be more prosperous". Alissa agrees: "In the 1990s we had a weak leader and a bad economy. That is why foreigners could control us. Now our leader is a strong man, has his own view and vision of the Russia's future."

Stas is more pragmatic: "Nashi will pave the way for our generation to take over high government positions, to lead the country in the future. We will be prepared, we'll have skills, be trained to cope with problems."

Irina was at first sceptical about her daughter's membership of Nashi. She believed education should be her daughter's priority, and that Alissa's visit to France as an exchange student two years ago might expand her daughter's horizons. Irina remembered the times when every young person had to join the Soviet-era Komsomol, and feared that Nashi would equally prove a waste of time. But she soon realised Nashi were different, and came to support her daughter's choice.

There is no problem

Nashi's federal headquarters are located in Moscow's Yamskogo Polya street, close to the Byelorusskaya railway station. The building is a disappointment compared to the organisation's local offices in Vladimir and Tula: the building is small and cramped, with a musty Soviet aroma. Several large military tents in the courtyard are available for use by people visiting the capital from the provinces, Nikita Borovikov tells me.

Borovikov is one of Nashi's top federal commissars. A 26-year-old lawyer himself, and son of a lawyer who is a native of Vladimir, is the oldest Nashi member I met. He leads me to his personal office, whose chaotic appearance made it resemble an avant-garde artist's workshop. Nikita is a contender for the organisation's top job, now that its founder and president Vasily Yakemenko has moved on to become federal minister responsible for Russian youth problems. At the annual summer camp at Lake Seliger in the region of Tver in 2007 - Nashi's most important event - Borovikov received the largest number of votes in an election supposed to find the organisation's new leader. A day later, Yakemenko, said that the vote was just a game. But Borovikov, who is reported to enjoy the support of Vladislav Surkov, was elected Nashi chief at the movement's congress at the end of December 2007.

Now, Borovikov says, his major concern is to make Russia to pass through the election season without turbulence of the Ukrainian kind. Nor does he see anything wrong or embarrassing about Nashi's connection to the Kremlin. "The whole history of Russia shows that our government has been strong and has been fulfilling the interests of the people only when there was a strong government mechanism. And always the person who was succesful was the one who was directly connected with the government."

In the parliamentary elections of 2 December 2007, Nashi was strongly allied with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. Its many commissars were members of the election commissions, and it sent thousands of well-trained election monitors to conduct exit polls. Nikita Borovikov had witnessed a dangerous pattern at key moments in the "colour revolution" countries: those who conducted exit polls there charged that the official results of national elections had been forged. This helped to spark the collective anger that led to the overthrow of the old regimes. In Russia, partly thanks to Nashi, the opposition had no chance.

The Putinjugend

In mid-January 2008, midway between the two election rounds, democratic Russia is still outraged by the heavy-handed parliamentary campaign of the pro-Vladimir Putin forces. The language used by the Putin propaganda machine has not been heard here since Soviet times. From the Mikhail Gorbachev era of perestroika onwards, only conservative pro-communist dinosaurs accused democratic groups and activists or human-rights organisations of serving American interests or being western puppets. Now, even the main television channels recycle such formulae. It is another Nashi victory.

Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Russian prime minister, has been targeted by a Nashi harassment campaign for months. "I feel physical pressure from pro-Kremlin youth organisations. They follow me, even try to force me into a car accident. They do not follow any original ideology. They have only one task, to support President Putin."

Masha Lipman, an analyst from the Moscow Carnegie Center, thinks that Nashi is more than a bunch of young people organising themselves to be politically active. "This is an organisation masterminded by the Kremlin and its loyalists, it is financed by sources loyal to the Kremlin and its activities are in large part guided by presidential administration officials." She even implies that young activists are brainwashed by the Kremlin's propagandists. "They are Putin's youth, that is what they call themselves."

After the December parliamentary election, Nashi joyfully celebrated the results on the streets of Moscow. Their presence also meant they were ready to react against any opposition public protests. They even mobilised "Mishkas", 8-to-15 year-olds led by Nashi sponsors.

But some Nashi activists' glee turned to astonishment at Vladimir Putin's decision to promote the Kremlin deputy prime minister Dmitry Medvedev - a decade younger than their idol and lacking his charisma - as his favoured candidate to succeed him as president. They find it hard to imagine Putin as subordinate to the head of state.

Natalia, author of the live journal blog, is one. She is a Nashi veteran, always loyal to Putin, who now feels cheated by the unexpected nomination of Dmitry Medvedev as United Russia's presidential candidate: "I was a member of Putin's fan club and I will remain like that. Let's elect Putin for a third term".

Natalia and her Nashi friends must be aware of the backroom political intrigues among the Kremlin's various factions. For the first time, talking to some Nashi contacts on the phone from Warsaw after my trip, I feel a sense of worry about the future. Their instincts tell them that perhaps the new political set-up emerging in Russia doesn't equate to a straightforward continuation of Putinism.

We are more than a product

Nashi activists seem unconcerned at the kind of criticism they receive from opposition activists or independent analysts. They have heard it all before. Kostya Goloskokov, the hero of the hunger-strike in front of the Estonian embassy, believes many people are simply afraid of the mass youth movement. He laughs at the concept of Nashi being only the Kremlin's project: "We have more than 100,000 members. Such a big organisation cannot be created just by PR specialists. PR creates artificial beings. And we are real. Even if power in Russia would change we would not vanish."

Alexei Levinson is a highly respected sociologist from Moscow's Levada Centre, who has studied Russian society for decades. He is concerned by the gradual elimination of democratic values from Russian life and politics. Yet to some degree his view of Nashi's future is similar to those of hunger-striker Kostya Goloskokov. He too thinks that even after the election season Nashi will not simply vanish. What worries him most is that nobody seems concerned about the movement's future. "(Nashi) is an important vehicle for the current administration to win the 2008 election. What will be its role and function in the future I don't know."

Levinson think that Nashi members are like soldiers: they can't just train, march and rehearse for months and end up inactive. "If you have thousands of people who are on alert to do something for years and then find they have no task to perform, it's dangerous. They have their roles, their positions, they are already organised. Nobody can just say to them, 'goodbye Nashi, thank you very much, perhaps we'll see you next time."

If Alexei Levinson is right - and many Nashi supporters would agree - the future of this movement may hold a surprise or two.

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