tue 25/10/2016

Unreported World: Vlad's Army, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Unreported World: Vlad's Army, Channel 4

Unreported World: Vlad's Army, Channel 4

Did this dark little film about Putin's youth movement glimpse the future of modern Russia?

Peter Oborne in Moscow, hot on the heels of the Nashi

The next time you find yourself mumbling unkind words about the apathetic youth of today, or else deriding the muddle-headed protests of twonkish Charlie Gilmour types, stop and think about the Nashi. A right-wing Russian youth organisation bankrolled by Vladimir Putin’s shady regime and various big business interests, they practically make you want to raise a statue to any teenager who chooses to spend their daylight hours idling beneath a duvet or playing Robin Hood in the City.

The astonishing opening scene of this latest instalment in the ever excellent Unreported World series showed members of the Nashi (it means “our people” and, yes, it is a little too close to you-know-what for comfort) spraying slogans outside the US Embassy in Moscow. Instead of being bashed about by the notoriously uncompromising local police, the Nashi instead intimidated the forces of law and order, shouting in their faces, shoving their chests, filming them and asking for their papers. Eventually, cowed, the policemen slunk off. Looking on, presenter Peter Oborne asked: “Who is really in control?”

The Nashi have serious back-up. Most democratic countries have a handful of sinister extremist movements lurking in the closet; few are sanctioned by the state and tacitly endorsed by the leader. Set up by Russia's Ministry of Youth, the Nashi are Putin’s young disciples, enforcing his power base. They have over 100,000 members throughout Russia and their HQ is a swanky five-floor building in central Moscow worth over $20 million and funded by the state and a number of unnamed businessmen.

One Nashi puppet babbled about Putin’s heroic acts being 'signs', while their HQ is a Soviet-style shrine to the great leader

From this base we saw them organising “actions”, extraordinarily charged flash mobs in which these young, brash, brightly dressed kids behaved like thuggish racketeers, intimidating their fellow Russians, ordinary men and women twice their age who looked frightened, furious and ashamed. The Nashi have official papers giving them the right to check documents and to make arrests. One environmentalist who tangled with the group compared them to the Hitler Youth. They have been accused of stalking political opponents and of badly beating up one anti-Putin journalist.

Led by “commissar” Masha Kislitsnya, a real piece of work, these are not the children of privilege but of poverty, whose hard-line views have been forged by the memory of the post-Glasnost period when Russia seemed cowed, weakened and in hock to the West. No longer. For them, Putin is a symbol of renewed national strength, a bare-chested warrior with mystical powers who belongs to a lineage of great Soviet supermen. The cult of personality surrounding him was as powerful as it was troubling. Many of the Nashi are self-proclaimed “fanatics” – one puppet babbled about Putin’s regular (and staged) heroic acts being “signs”, while their HQ is a Soviet-style shrine to the great leader. They sang cheesy songs extolling his manliness and filmed their “actions”, posting them on YouTube overlaid with the sound of old Soviet anthems. Their anti-West sentiments spilled over into overt racism, with dubious double entendres – and worse – regarding America’s black culture.

At 25 minutes Unreported World never has time to mess about, which is both a strength and a weakness. It is excellent at offering direct, waffle-free journalism of the kind you rarely see on television any more, but sometimes you wish it had the space to delve deeper. This week’s presenter Peter Oborne is a pro, of course, even if at points he seemed to be channelling Ted Maul, Chris Morris's bellowing TV hack from Brass Eye. He made a wry and emotionally engaged tour guide, especially when raising an eyebrow at Putin’s miraculous – and conveniently public – recovery of two historic vases from the sea bed.

oborneAlthough the film offered only a snapshot in close-up, it found time towards the end to pan out to reveal glimpses of the bigger picture. We were told how the FSB – Russia's security service; the KGB in old money – constantly interfered in business matters. Oborne interviewed Olga Romanova (pictured above with Oborne), a financial journalist whose husband had been imprisoned for fraud after she ran an article exposing the business practices of a close Putin ally. Shortly after the piece ran Mr Romanov had received a phone call offering him a choice: divorce your wife or face the consequences. For the last three years Olga’s husband had been doing the latter in a Siberian jail until, in a piece of blue-sky propaganda that seemed to have been staged partly for the benefit of the cameras, he was suddenly cleared by the Supreme Court of any wrongdoing and allowed to go free.

The wider inference, then, of this dark little film was that the Nashi is just a small strand in Russia’s hugely complex tapestry of corrupt, degraded democracy. Their true significance may not become wholly apparent for another decade. If, as seems almost certain, Putin returns to become President for the third time next year, the film hypothesised about the beginning of a “new dark age” for Russia, one in which the leading lights of the Nashi would be groomed to become the elite of the next political generation. As you watched the utterly charmless “commissar” Masha Kislitsnya bullying a man twice her age and barking that she “pitied him”, you couldn’t help but shudder at the prospect.  


Criticize all they can. What's the difference between Thomson and young people about whom he writes? His boss pays him (Thomson) money for what he boss wants to hear.

Who the fuck is Thomson?

Thank you Marina Aitova (Nashist)

Ahh.... The follies of youth. Like the rest of her 'pals', Masha Klislitsnya is clearly no historian nor psychologist and consequently does terribly limited, old-fashioned thinking; she's the blind leading the blind. Methinks the type of 'sign' the Nashi really should be watching out for, are warning signs of a terrible history of Purges repeating itself. Masha, (I'm guessing you'll read this) for goodness sake, instead of charging around bulling people and showing off to a bunch of kids, calm down...Broaden your mind..read some Dostoyevsky or some of your other great Russian literature; go see a psychotherapist if you have to. Just stop punishing people just because you had it tough as a kid. Work out who the real culprits were..certainly not small garage owners. I hope you realise that after that documentary you and your Nashi 'pals' are now an embarrassment to Putin..or should be, publicly at least ..he knows his History. Do you think he wants to be seen as a Great Leader who needs to be encouraging a mob of power-crazed teenage thugs to help him keep control? What sort of Leader lets immature kids to do his dirty work? I hope the documentary was a mirror to you, so you can see just how childish Nashi looks from the outside and also how dangerous you all are to yourselves, to your own futures, to Russia's future and to others..and most immediately, to Putin's credibility as Great Leader. Nashi makes him into a joke over here and I hope he found your antics ('actions') as embarrassing as I did and cleans up Nashi's image. Have you read Lord of the Flies by William Golding?

Good points (and glad I'm no longer there too), but isn't Putin already a very sinister joke without the Nashist kids? Of course more terrifying than Berlusconi, who's no harmless clown either...still, a ridiculous man. But then I suppose Stalin seemed so too, and Hitler, despite all those reports about how compelling the laughable speeches seemed to those present. Banality of evil all over again...

What strange comments. Here's a perfectly balanced review about one of the many horrors of modern Russia - and this is what it gets. Scary.

Marina Aitova may be shocked to realise that Mr Thomson has no boss, as theartsdesk is a collectively run operation and he can say what the hell he wants. Within reason and libel laws. As to Ronnie Spraggs' (who he?) charming query of who he is, he has written, among other things, at least four well-received books.

Nashists had been created specifically to suppress 'orange revolution' in a case this happens in Russia. It hadn't. But there were already several dozen thousands, I believe, of youngsters ready, lured by false (yep, false) promises of becoming 'future elite'. All that they gained so far is an illusionary right to bully police, attack opposition activists, etc., yet sometimes it ends like this - http://scandalim.ru/uploads/260911/face_3.jpg Currently there are few things Nashists are known for: little mean tricks just like those shown in the film and this article, petty, yet dirty provocations against opposition and large-scale, Third Reich-styled mass demonstrations late Lenni Riefenstahl would become really excited and fascinated with. However, those demonstrations are spectacles with crowds consisting mostly of students brought (without their consent, sometimes) from near-Moscow colleges. Also, 'Nashi' do a lot of political trolling on Internet, mostly facing despise and curses, however, since their style is pretty uniform, outright stupid and most of the time - disturbingly tasteless. What is really sad about this all - is the number of young people ready and even eager to put aside their conscience and shame in order to feel themselves involved in some big thing, to feel illusion of power (of numbers), and impunity (which doesn't seem to be perpetual already). Nashists are not the forebearers of a new 'dark age', they are its product, because the 'dark age' is already upon us for 15 years, with general decline everywhere, most of all - culture. There used to be a great one, now its either dormant or invisible. For now, I hope.

I am very glad to read this telling comment. One of the best explanations of this phenomenon I have heard came from the Russian-Georgian novelist Boris Akunin (Grigory Chkhartishvili). For him, Putin has the attitudes of an adolescent, in terms of his over-asserting on issues, and tendency to confrontation. However, for Akunin, Putin is also the reflection of an adolescent nation. So when the nation grows up, so will its leaders change. We can only wonder in which direction it will grow up. As for Russian culture, I think reports of its decline are often much exaggerated.

Seconded, RTB. We need as much psychological insight into this curious pathology state as we can get. It's not a comforting picture but we can only hope it becomes a marginal one.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters