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Russia: Nashi Celebrates Victory; Public Steers Clear

  • Chloe Arnold --> Nashi activists celebrate the election results in front of the Kremlin (epa) MOSCOW, December 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) --About 5,000 members of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi gathered at Vasilievsky Spusk beneath Red Square in Moscow this morning to celebrate the landslide victory claimed by the Unified Russia party and President Vladimir Putin, who was running as its top candidate.

With ballots from nearly 98 percent of precincts counted, Unified Russia has won 64.1 percent of the vote, with the Communist Party in second place with 11.6 percent. The outcome all but assures that President Putin will continue to dominate Russian politics.

Nashi activists, celebrating the results, marched across the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge toward the Kremlin, gripping flags and chanting "Putin! Russia!" Dressed in identical red capes emblazoned with the president’s face and the words "We won’t give Russia to traitors," the Nashi activists looked like a zealous mechanized army bearing down on the capital.

Once they reached the tip of Red Square, they were marshaled into orderly lines by hundreds of organizers wearing white versions of the same capes. Then they marched through a line of metal detectors and were directed to stand in front of a stage, where a senior Nashi figure was extolling the president’s many virtues.

The Nashi (Ours) movement, which is funded by the Kremlin, has snowballed in recent months in the run-up to the December 3 parliamentary elections and the presidential vote next spring. It has been compared to the Komsomol, the youth league of the Communist Party during the Soviet era, organizing concerts, summer camps, and fun days out, but with an underlying message that members must dedicate themselves to Unified Russia, and to Putin.

Many of the participants in today's Nashi rallies came from far outside Moscow. Aleksei, who had traveled overnight on a bus from Uglich in Yaroslavl Oblast, said he had come to celebrate Putin’s victory -- though at 17 he was too young to have voted himself. He told RFE/RL he wasn’t sure whether today’s rally was similar to events staged by the Komsomol in the Soviet Union.

“I haven’t a clue -- I wasn’t alive in the Soviet Union. I haven’t even seen it on television,” he said.

Pavel, a 22-year-old law student from Tambov, was also unsure. “Yes, it does feel a little bit similar," he said. "In some ways that’s good, but in other ways it’s bad -- because they’re almost the same.”

But Maksim, a seasoned member of Nashi, said there was no question that the rally resembled anything from the Soviet era, because he was certain everyone had come with the same aim.

“I’ve come here to support Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and to be happy for his victory," Maksim said. "I’ve come to express my opinion as a citizen that we need to continue on the course of stability, a course that should make young people aware of what they are doing. Because it is the youth of Russia who are responsible for our country’s future. Everything lies in our hands -- the future of Nashi, and the future of our children.”

Though as many as 5,000 young people joined the rally, ordinary Muscovites steered clear. Dozens of Interior Ministry troops brought in for the occasion were only allowing caped members of Nashi and journalists into the cordoned-off area at the bottom of Red Square.

As the rally drew to a close, the man on the stage indicated a dozen cardboard cartons painted red to look like post boxes. He urged the crowd to post the handwritten letters each of them clutched in their hands to their leader. “He’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t read that you are part of his team! It will be a great shame if you are left on the sidelines!” the speaker said.

As he left the stage, a rap song written especially for Nashi was blasted through the speakers. “People of Russia," it went, "let’s face the future with all our might! The Nashi movement will spread goodness and light across the land!”

An hour after they had begun, most of the young people were marched back to their buses on the other side of the bridge. A few managed to slip away and headed further into town to spend the afternoon looking around a capital city they don’t get to see very often.

But for all the back-slapping they had received at the rally, most Muscovites gave them a wide berth. On one metro car a group of 12 Nashi supporters in matching red anoraks appeared to be regarded with a mixture of bemusement, embarrassment, and pity.

RFE/RL Russia Report

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