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Kyrgyz Question Presence At Russian Pro-Kremlin Camp

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (center) visiting the Seliger-2010 forum a year ago.
BISHKEK -- Several Kyrgyz journalists and civil activists are criticizing a decision by the government to send seven students to the Kremlin-sponsored international youth forum called Seliger, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

Critics of the decision say that the forum is being used by Moscow to indoctrinate young people with pro-Russian propaganda.

The event -- which began in 2005 as a camp for the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi -- kicked off on July 1 and continues until July 9 at Russia's Lake Seliger, near the city of Tver. Some 20,000 young people are taking part.

Freelance journalist Ilia Lukash said in a blog that the Seliger forum gathers the "most radical and loyal supporters" of the Kremlin's policies. He added that the decision by Kyrgyzstan's Youth Affairs Ministry to send young people to the forum is controversial.

Lukash said it also demonstrates Bishkek's open support of the Russian government.

Mirsulzhan Namazaliyev, director of the Central Asia Free Market Institute, said he considers the Seliger forum a political tool of the Russian government, used for propaganda not only among Russian youth but young people also from former Soviet republics.

The Kyrgyz participating in the forum could not be reached for comment directly.

A Twitter user identified as Farido4ka wrote in response to Lukash's criticism that a visit to Seliger does not necessarily signify support for Russian policies.

Apart from the beautiful nature at Seliger Lake, Farido4ka said, there is not much of interest at the forum and most people are participating in sports and other outdoor activities.

Nurzhan Nayzabekova, a spokeswoman for the Youth Affairs Ministry, told RFE/RL that the visit by the Kyrgyz youth to the forum should not be politicized.

She said Russian authorities asked the ministry to send several people to Seliger and they agreed to the request.

Nayzabekova said a special ministry committee selected seven candidates from among student activists and representatives of Kyrgyz youth groups.

She said all expenses for the camp are covered by the organizers.

Opponents of the forum held their own protest event from June 17-20 under the title "Anti-Seliger." It was organized by the movement Defenders of the Khimki Forest and held outside of Moscow.