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Be Prepared! Always Prepared! Putin Decrees New Komsomol-Type Youth Group

  • Mike Eckel

Young Pioneers greeting Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in Moscow in May 1935

Young Pioneers greeting Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in Moscow in May 1935

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the creation of a new national youth organization, the latest in a long line of Kremlin-backed youth movements that stretch back to the Komsomol and Pioneers groups of the Soviet Union.

A decree signed by Putin and published October 29 directs the Federal Agency on Youth Affairs to set up the organization, formally to be called the All-Russian Social-State Child-Youth Organization Russian Movement of Students.

According to the decree, the goal of the new organization is the “betterment of state policies in the realm of the upbringing of the rising generation.”

Many Russian commentators noted that October 29 is the anniversary of the creation of the Komsomol, set up in 1918 by the Communist Party. With its red ties, white shirts, campfire songs, and camping trips, the Komsomol, and its later creation, the Young Pioneers, served as a stepping stone for generations of Soviets who went on to join the party.

The Young Pioneers was for younger children, from around age 10 until 15, when they could then join Komsomol. The Kremlin decree issued October 29 did not specify any ages for the group.

The Komsomol itself was dissolved shortly before the Soviet collapse in 1991. Among its leaders in the later days of the Soviet Union was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who parlayed his Komsomol connections to build an oil-and-gas empire in the 1990s. He later fell afoul of the Kremlin and was imprisoned for eight years.

The Kremlin has backed analogous youth organizations since Putin’s rise to the presidency in 2000, including groups such as Walking Together, Nashi, and Molodaya Gvardiya. Another, called Network, emerged last year though its financing was unclear.

The rise of these organizations was widely seen as the Russian leadership’s response to the role that youth activists played in mass antigovernment demonstrations in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine in the early 2000s.

The often murky financing of these groups came from Kremlin-loyal businesspeople as well as state-connected entities, but these organizations were never official creations of the Russian state.

Over the years, Nashi and its kindred organizations have been involved in various public political events, including book burnings and protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

An annual summer camp organized by Nashi and held at Lake Seliger north of Moscow attracts hundreds of young Russians from across the country, but has also hosted controversial events in past years. In 2010, the camp included an exhibition with faces of foreign politicians -- including former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- wearing hats with Nazi symbols, accompanied by a banner reading “You Are Not Welcome Here.”

Ivan Melnikov, a top official with the Russian Communist Party, dismissed the parallels with Komsomol, but told the Interfax news agency he supported the concept.

“Any organization, organized along the goals of rearing children, this is good," he was quoted as saying. "It’s an element of education, what is life, what is the collective, what is responsibility.

“The new generations needs a shot against ultra-egoism that many of today’s 20-year-olds are growing up with,” he added.

During his 15 years in power, Putin has revived symbols of the Soviet past, including restoring the red star to military flags and bringing back the Soviet national anthem, albeit with new lyrics.

Last year, he restored both the communist-era name of an elite police unit named for Soviet secret-police founder Feliks Dzerzhinsky and the Soviet-era name of the TASS news agency.