Kremlin preaches Putin's greatness at youth camp

At a lakeside camp, 10,000 young Russians are learning why President Vladimir Putin is such a brilliant leader.

Izvor: Reuters

Thursday, 19.07.2007.


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Kremlin preaches Putin's greatness at youth camp

The only exceptions to the general picture of neatness are two mucky, wooden shacks surrounded by broken glass—a mock settlement reserved for Other Russia supporters, vocal Kremlin opponents who accuse Putin of destroying democracy.

In the middle of the camp stand large portraits of Other Russia's leaders under the headline: "The Red Light Street."

Other Russia's three male leaders, including world Chess champion Garry Kasparov, are portrayed as prostitutes. In lurid colors they pout and pose in stockings, their faces frozen into feline grins.

"I didn't know who those people were until I came here," 20-year-old Lena from St Petersburg said as she walked past.

"Now I know they are fascists."

The two-week summer camp is run by Nashi, the biggest of several pro-Kremlin youth groups, and in Nashi's vocabulary Putin's enemies are fascists.

Nashi, which means "ours" and is funded by the Kremlin, was founded in the wake of popular demonstrations that toppled pro-Moscow leaders in Georgia and Ukraine. Its stated goal is to promote nationalist values for a greater Russia.

Western diplomats and critics say it appears aimed at giving the Kremlin a ready made mass movement to call on in times of trouble.

The group came to prominence last year when it hounded the British ambassador for months after he attended an anti-Kremlin conference. Since then, it has rallied in the streets of Moscow in support of Putin and protested against his enemies.

A spokeswoman said it had 100,000 members across Russia.

At Nashi's third annual summer camp at the Lake Seliger beauty spot many of the 10,000 Nashi activists wore red T-shirts with slogans proclaiming the greatness of Russia or Putin.

They start the day with mass exercise then head off to play volleyball, sail boats or cycle around quiet back roads.

Such summer camps, which declined after the fall of communism, are now making a comeback under the sponsorship of political groups.

There are lessons outlining Putin's foreign policies or economic initiatives, an army camp shows off Russia's military and a Nashi security service trains to work alongside police.

"We have to show how the policies of Putin have worked," Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko told the press on Tuesday.

Behind him a puppet-master prepared. Later, the Putin puppet would vanquish pro-Western presidents in Georgia and Ukraine, Russian exile Boris Berezovsky and Other Russia.

Drinking alcohol is banned in the camp, but other activities are encouraged. A display shows why the Woolly Mammoth died out—not enough sex. Russia is fighting to stop a fall in population as a result of alcohol abuse, AIDS and migration.

Alexander Zlatmenkov held hands with his fiancee Julia. They are both 23, and with 39 other couples will marry at the camp.

"It's important for us to set an example and it's fun and interesting," he said.

All the Nashi members Reuters spoke to were aged between 18 and 23, were at university or had just left and came from lower income families whose parents worked in jobs such as teachers and engineers.

Four girl friends from Smolensk walked arm-in-arm along the lake's shore to lessons on how to organize mass public protests.

They clutched copies of Nashi's latest glossy magazine. The top story was entitled "New Fuhrers" and was accompanied by pictures of the Other Russia leaders.

Activists said Nashi gave them pride in themselves and pride in Russia, directed them away from alcohol and drugs and gave them a summer holiday with friends. Most did not consider themselves political.

Andrei, 22, was more candid. He said Nashi's aim was political and that previous Nashi members were already making their way through government ranks and pro-Kremlin businesses.

"I think this camp is the Russian version of camps now being run in the West," he then said. "That's true, isn't it?"

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