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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 March, 2005, 18:35 GMT
Russian youth on political barricades
By Leonid Ragozin

After peaceful democratic revolutions swept away old regimes in Ukraine and Georgia, there has been much speculation about whether the same could happen in Russia.

In both revolutions, as well as earlier in Serbia, youth movements played a vital role - and attempts are now being made in Russia to set up a similar group for young people who want political reform.

Ilya Yashin
Nashi will serve as a cover for storm brigades that will use violence against democratic organisations
Liberal youth leader, Ilya Yashin
But the Kremlin is alert to these plans, and as a counter-measure, it has blessed the creation of the Nashi ("Ours") youth organisation, to enter the battle for hearts and minds.

One liberal youth activist has alleged that Nashi is preparing brigades of thugs to deter young people from joining pro-democracy groups.

A pro-Kremlin youth leader who describes himself as Nashi's ideologist has vigorously rejected the accusation.

But with each side already branding the other "fascist", the prospects for peaceful coexistence are not encouraging.

Meanwhile, an anti-establishment leader with a strong youth following - Eduard Limonov, head of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) - told the BBC openly that his supporters would meet violence with violence.


The word Nashi, which can be used to describe "our side" in a team sport or a war, has clear nationalist connotations - it harks back to a 1991 TV documentary, which glorified police violence in Lithuania and Latvia, which were at that time struggling for independence.

America is not going to fool us
Vasily Yakemenko, pro-Kremlin youth leader
The leader of the liberal Yabloko party's youth wing, Ilya Yashin, claims he counted about 30 "skinhead thugs" acting as guards at the Nashi conference, which was held behind closed doors in a countryside resort near Moscow.

He infiltrated the conference with a newspaper correspondent but was unmasked. Then, he says, he was beaten and had his face rubbed in the snow.

"Our suspicions are being confirmed that Nashi will serve as a cover for storm brigades that will use violence against democratic organisations," Mr Yashin told the BBC.

Mr Yashin is involved in attempts to create a Russian version of the Ukrainian pro-democracy youth movement Pora and says it will take another couple of months to materialise.

Our country begins to resemble the Berlin of the 1920s and 1930s when fascists were attacking communists
Eduard Limonov, National Bolshevik Party leader
But Russia's political terrain could provide less fertile ground for such a movement than Ukraine's, Georgia's or Serbia's.

Mr Yashin's own ideology is similar to that of the Serbian Otpor, but the organisation with strongest support among anti-government youth - the National Bolshevik Party - has radical and anarchist tendencies.

It combines references to both Nazi and the Communist ideology in its name and symbols. And althought its leaders are less blatantly extreme as they were some years ago, they could hardly be described as liberal or pro-Western.

'Unnatural union'

From Nashi's perspective, it is the youth groups that hope to lead a "velvet" revolution that are "fascists".

A man widely regarded as one of the masterminds behind Nashi, Vasiliy Yakemenko, says that it is aimed against those who "have gathered under Hitler's banners of national-socialism".

He includes in this category members of the Committee-2008 group, which unites pretty much all major pro-Western liberals.

Eduard Limonov in prison
Mr Limonov has served a prison sentence for possessing firearms
"We will put an end to the unnatural union of oligarchs and anti-Semites, liberals and Nazis," Mr Yakemenko said in a recent statement announcing the creation of Nashi.

But Mr Yakemenko, who says he has played only an "ideological role" in the creation of Nashi, dismisses suggestions that it is a response to fears of a velvet revolution.

Such a revolution, he says, would be impossible in Russia.

"America is not going to fool us," he told the BBC.

For his part, Mr Yashin refuses to comment on whether liberal youth groups will form an alliance with the NBP in a struggle against the government of President Vladimir Putin.

But NBP leader Eduard Limonov told the BBC his supporters would join any velvet revolution in Russia.

Like Mr Yashin, he is deeply sceptical about Nashi, but unlike him he says the NBP is ready to respond to violence with violence.

"It is an invitation to a civil war. Such organisations are characteristic of a fascist state. Our country begins to resemble the Berlin of the 1920s and 1930s when fascists were attacking communists," he said.

"But we are not afraid of this. If the authorities want such clashes then we will provide for adequate resistance. We will be happy, because we can't fight with police, but with them - we can."

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