[Review of] Ivo Mijnssen, The Quest for an Ideal Youth in Putin’s Russia I. Back to Our Future! History, Modernity and Patriotism According to Nashi, 2005–2012. Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, Stuttgart: Ibidem Verlag, 2012, 202pp., e 34.90 p/b

Victoria Hudson

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THE YOUTH MOVEMENT NASHI (OURS) WAS FOUNDED IN THE SPRING of 2005 against the backdrop of Ukraine’s ‘Orange Revolution’. Its aim was to stabilise Russia’s political system and take back the streets from opposition demonstrators. Personally loyal to Putin and taking its ideological orientation from Surkov’s concept of ‘sovereign democracy’, Nashi has sought to turn the tide on ‘defeatism’ and develop Russian youth into a patriotic new elite that ‘believes in the future of Russia’ (p. 15). Combining a wealth of empirical detail and the application of insights from discourse theory, Ivo Mijnssen analyses the organisation’s development between 2005 and 2012. His analysis focuses on three key moments—the organisation’s foundation, the apogee of its mobilisation around the Bronze Soldier dispute with Estonia, and the 2010 Seliger youth camp—to help understand Nashi’s organisation, purpose and ideational outlook as well as the limitations and challenges it faces. As such,the book is insightful both for those with an interest in post-Soviet Russian youth culture, and for scholars seeking a rounded understanding of the Kremlin’s initiatives to return a sense of identity and purpose to Russian national life.The first chapter, ‘Background and Context’, outlines the conceptual toolkit provided by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe to help make sense of developments on the terrain of identity politics. In their terms, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has experienced acute dislocation of its identity. With the tangible loss of great power status, Russian realities have become unfixed from a discourse enabling national life to be constructed, albeit inherently contingently, as meaningful. The lack of a Gramscian hegemonic discourse to provide a unifying national idea was securitised as an existential threat demanding special measures. Accordingly, the identification of those who are ‘notUs’ has been a recurrent theme of Nashi’s discourse and activity. With the victory in World War II held up as a foundational moment, a constitutive other is found in the notion of ‘unusual fascists’. This notion includes not just neo-Nazis, but reflects a chain of equivalence that expands to include a range of perceived enemies of Putin’s consolidation project such as oligarchs and pro-Western liberals.The empirical background is provided by the second chapter, ‘Russia’s Youth, the Orange Revolution, and Nashi’, which traces the emergence of Nashi amid the climate of political instability of 2004 and 2005. A particularly note-worthy aspect of Mijnssen’s work is the inclusion of citations from his interviews with Nashicommissars; the youth movement’s cadres. Although relatively few in number, such insider conversations provide insight into the ethos of Nashi’s organisation and the outlook of those who have pledged their involvement. Besides the discussion of Nashi’s manifesto, the reader thus gains insight into the motivations of some participants and behind-the-scenes details of Nashi’s activities in response to the perceived threat of anti-government protests. The third chapter, ‘Nashi’s Bronze Soldier’, charts Nashi’s role in elevating the removal of a World War II monument from downtown Tallinn into an international dispute over the interpretation of history. The events subsequent to this securitisation of memory are charted in detail, concluding that Nashi’s activities were ultimately unsuccessful as their demands received little official support.The fourth chapter, ‘Seliger: The Foundry of Modernisation’, presents a distinctive feature of Mijnssen’s study, namely his ethnographic account as a participant observer in the Youth International Forum at Seliger. In the early years of the camp (2005–2007), Russian participants received extensive training, including master classes in ‘methods of forestalling mass unrest’ (p. 131), and the camp served to foster a sense of group identity and purpose among activists. After 2009 the event was no longer officially run as a Nashi camp, and its role became that of a forum for the exchange of ideas about innovation, although camp spirit remained a central feature. In 2010 the camp welcomed international attendees for the first time. As one of about 700 international participants in that year the author provides a fascinating account based on fieldwork diaries.Despite the polemical nature of the topic, Mijnssen’s analysis remains even-handed, exemplified in his balanced assessment of the Seliger experience. While he details the frustrations and disappointments of the international participants with regard to the unaccustomed strict camp discipline, organisational and communication failures, and the controlled format of many discussions,he does not neglect to note the camp’s successes in generating a gratifying collective dynamic between the participants, even among the international attendees who spent only a week there.In addition to the useful bibliography, the book is back-ended by two appendices, which provide the reader with important Russian-language primary source materials. The first is Nashi’s ‘Unusual Fascism’ (Neobyknovennyi fashizm) brochure, and the second is the booklet entitled ‘Some Uncomfortable Questions to the Russian Authorities’ (Neskol’ko neudobnykh voprosov rossiiskoivlasti) which was provided to the Seliger 2010 instructors to guide them in responding to probing questions from foreign participants. Given that these are not readily publicly available even now, they constitute a useful resource from the historical perspective.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)847-848
Number of pages2
JournalEurope-Asia Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2014


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