United Russia Deploys a Youth Wing
VORONEZH -- The increasingly crowded field
of political youth movements gained a new member -- or at least
a new name -- as the United Russia party's Young Guard wrapped
up its founding congress with a rally full of razzmatazz that
invited comparisons with its kissing cousin, the equally pro-Kremlin
youth group Nashi.
About 2,000 young people were brought in from
different regions for the rally, held in an aircraft hangar
on the outskirts of Voronezh. The choice of Voronezh, where
last month a Peruvian student was knifed to death, was "no
accident," said Boris Gryzlov, the State Duma speaker and
United Russia party leader.
Taking the stage with a lineup of film stars
and musical acts as the nose of a half-built airplane loomed
behind him, Gryzlov invoked the congress' central themes of
hope and unity, and told the crowd, "The future is in your
In comments to reporters later, Gryzlov said
that one of Young Guard's responsibilities was to combat "fascist
youth movements that seek to destabilize society and win foreign
United Russia condemned "all possible
racist, nationalist and fascist escapades," he said, adding
that the authorities should not bow to racism, but rather "create
normal conditions for the education of foreigners." There
have been a series of attacks on foreign students in Voronezh.
Gryzlov's comments appeared to be aimed at
quelling disquiet about racially motivated attacks -- and racist
slogans by nationalist groups, such as those used on a march
through Moscow earlier this month on People's Unity Day.
The strongly anti-racist line appeared to distinguish
Young Guard from Nashi, which has vaguely described itself as
an anti-fascist movement. Nashi leaders' definition of "fascists"
has on occasion been extended to include some liberal politicians.
The Voronezh congress was largely a renaming
congress, as Young Guard is a new incarnation of the pro-Putin
Youth Unity movement formed in 2000.
Many of the young people gathered in the aircraft
hangar wore T-shirts with the slogan "I've Been Called,"
yet seemed unsure who had called them, or to what purpose.
In addition to a new moniker, the group has
new 40-something celebrity leaders, including television anchor
Ivan Demidov, 42, and film director Fyodor Bondarchuk, 41.
Young Guard's main task "is not only to
politicize youth, but to give them a path to power to preserve
the current government order after 2008. We don't hide the fact
that the current authorities more than suit us," Demidov
said Wednesday, over the noise of a booming sound system in
the aircraft hangar.
Demidov also said that Young Guard's proximity
to power -- with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party holding
a large majority in the Duma -- meant the group could have "a
real influence" on the country's political life.