Sunday, 27 May 2007

Итак, товарищ, что за цветную геометрическую фигуру вы хотите на меня надеть?

The title of this post translates as: "So, comrade, just what sort of brightly-coloured, geometric shape would you like me to wear?"

In a brief diversion from matters political in Ukraine, I wanted to share - and I realise I am so not the first to do this - my mounting unease over Nashi; the "pro-Kremlin" Youth group whose antics recently have begun to get a little out-of-control. [I would have given you the link to Nashi's own site but, incredibly, it is usually blocked for access outside Russia].

First, it was picketing the British Ambassador in punishment for his attending the the not-the-G8 Summit last year, held by 'The Other Russia'. Not, IMHO, the wisest actions unless he set out to deliberate provoke VVP and friends.

Then we had all this demonstrating outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow. Now, let me be clear, I think the Estonians ought to be ashamed of themselves -like most the other Baltics states actually - for what they been doing to the ethnic Russians 'left behind' in their countries after the collapse of the USSR. Their latest action - de facto comparing the Soviet troops, who extraordinary sacrifice really won WWII, to the Nazis with whom many Balts collaborated - was truly outrageous.

And that is the cleft stick I find myself in: Russia was right to be furious at the way the EU allows the Baltic states to dick around with the human rights of the ethnic Russians in their country. As an EU citizen, I am ashamed at our selective approach to human rights in this area. But, it is the way a minority of the Russian political establishment goes about reacting to these provocations that often times does more harm than good.

The latest thing, of course, has seen Nashi been picketing the European Commission's 'Embassy'(sic) in Moscow; demanding the release from an Estonian prison of some young Nashi thug who - quite rightly - was arrested in Tallinn after committing violent affray there on 9th May.

Technically, Nashi is not the Kremlin - we must remember that - and I remind myself of it each time they ratchet up the nastiness. Nastiness? "Surely," say the Russophiles, "that's a bit harsh old thing."

Well, no, I don't think it is. Until recently, on LiveJournal, there was a translation of a Nashi recruitment brochure. Very scary: very lets-bring-back-the-cold-war. The blogger has protected his post now, so you can't see it: attacking Nashi can be a dangerous thing to do in Russia.

For the first time in three and a half years several of my expat friends are beginning to get anxious in Russia. Through new visa rules, visa registration procedures with the local police, absurd medical tests for residency renewal, more police checks etc - even I am beginning to think that Russians truly dislike us foreigners and want. us. out. Not that, I hasten to add, the Russians I know and deal with are like this at all: but, they tend not to be the ones demonstrating in the street, with State approval.

All joking aside, I have even begun to consider, if it came to it, what stuff I would abandon and what stuff I would want to get out of the country and how quickly it could be done. In Haiti we all had 'one small bag' packed on standby. It is not, I think, going to come to that (God, I hope not); but how would I achieve one-week-notice extraction? The trick, my friends, is in the planning. 'Cos, you know, waiting 'til the brown stuff hits the proverbial fan? Too late then...

Now, this was one of those posts I was really planning to upload during my blogging here it is

This 9th May I was taking a very pleasant day off. Usually, I work Russian public holidays, because in the UK and USA people are working and, as I have posted before, a day off email is a nightmare because of the backlog one returns to...

However - and this is happening more and more as we enter the tense political season, in prelude to Federal elections to the Duma in December and, of course, the Presidential elections next March - central Moscow where I live was sealed off tight. Roads and even some Metro stations are closed in and out. This means I really cannot easily get from my flat to any of our two offices in Moscow: one is on Kadashevskaya Naberezhnaya, close by the famous Baltchug Hotel (and newly infamous GQ Bar); while our main office is in the up-and-coming, soon-to-be-hip (read: still pretty grim) Paveletskaya area.

So, being sort of 'imprisoned' in my enclave of expats, New wealthy Russians, soldiers and some veterans, I decide to hang out. In any case, I had tickets for STOMP! which was, BTW, more exhilarating fun I've had in a theatre for years.

So, pre-theatre, I was hanging out in my third favourite Novikov restaurant, Peperoni [that's how they spell it!]. It's pretty good Italian food - I am half Italian, OK?, I need my regular 'fix' - and is about the only place in Moscow that can make acceptable ravioli. Sitting upstairs, in the window that overlooks the Moscow City Duma (parliament), I am Skype texting on my PDA when I notice a police escort for a bus, and then another bus, and then another and another. 14 buses in all.

Each filled with young Nashi members - no doubt being bused into a rally on Red Square - it was the creepiest thing. They were all wearing identical red t-shirts with their white symbols emblazoned across their chests.

Some looked surly, a lot looked bored (rumour pretty much has pinned down that many Nashi members join up to get paid to rally and protest, as well as, allegedly, get preferment at university: if you're a guy dodging conscription through one of the shrinking legal means, joining Nashi can cover your ass with some authorities). Some had clearly coupled up, and looked like a school busload of teens would anywhere else in the world, except this lot had a police escort, were being driven through Moscow streets closed to the traffic of ordinary civilians and, of course, and were all wearing their uniforms.

Perhaps because it was 9th of May (Victory Day) - and the streets were full of WWII veterans - but God forgive me, this was literally the first thought that entered my head as I watched this sinister cavalcade...

So, you see, in rightly wanting to stamp out the first, frankly tiny, signs of Nazi extremism in Russia, and have a vehicle for young Russians to express the pride they rightly should have in their country - and, yes, celebrate much of the good VVP has done - it all gets gnarled up and they risk becomming the thing Nashi's founders profess to loathe and want to prevent.

I just fear the next twelve months in Russia could be be pretty hairy for us foreigners at times...

On a lighter note, I'll sign off with some STOMP! for you to enjoy:

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