Unreported World: Vlad's Army, Channel 4 | TV reviews, news & interviews
Unreported World: Vlad's Army, Channel 4
Did this dark little film about Putin's youth movement glimpse the future of modern Russia?
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.
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