from the February 26, 2008 edition
Pavel Elizarov is just the kind of teen President Vladimir Putin’s government started worrying about a few years ago.
“I was never political until I was 18. But in 2004, I was in Ukraine on a tourist trip with my friends, and I saw happy people who were protesting,” says Mr. Elizarov, referring to the Orange Revolution, which brought hundreds of thousands into the streets to protest fraudulent elections. “They were all together, and I thought that they were capable of changing something in their country.”
Indeed, Ukraine’s new pro-Russia president was forced to hold fresh elections, which his West-leaning opponent won. Such revolutions buffeted other post-Soviet states – Georgia in 2003 and Kyrgyzstan in 2005.
Keen to avoid such upheavals, political forces close to Mr. Putin quickly backed two pro-Kremlin youth groups: Nashi and the Young Guard. Today, both claim roughly 100,000 members each, who engage in social programs as well as political events. But their approaches are decidedly different.
Nashi’s federal headquarters lurks beneath dim streetlights in northwest Moscow. Its windows are barred, its door unmarked. Inside, youths with nose piercings and tousled hair mingle in hallways plastered with vibrant magazine photos of Nashi activists. Here, they plan their “actions” – anything from picketing stores that sell tobacco to underage teens to massive pre-election demonstrations to encourage citizens to vote – for Putin’s party, of course.
“My grandfather was a state official, my father was a state official; I want to be useful for my state,” says Maria Drokova. An 18-year-old commissar, she speaks excellent English and credits Putin with stopping the war in Chechnya, raising salaries, and paying off Russia’s Soviet-era debt.
The Young Guard, meanwhile, is sheltered within the massive headquarters of Putin’s United Russia party. At a recent strategy meeting, Kirill Shchitov (see story, left), who manages public relations, sat in the middle of a large modern office at the head of a wooden table, surrounded by stylish colleagues who listened attentively. His party recently introduced a 20 percent youth quota and has a candidate running for municipal office in every one of Moscow’s 125 districts on March 2.
“We are meant to prepare our young people to become young, professional politicians,” says Ivan Demidov, a former TV producer recruited in 2005 to turn the Young Guard into a political movement.
Ms. Drokova describes Nashi’s ideology as “freedom and justice”; Mr. Demidov says United Russia is “for all things good against all things bad,” adding that the unifying theme is support for Putin’s policies. The Young Guard focuses on getting people in office, while Nashi emphasizes upward mobility, holding out government and business posts as carrots for promising members.
Not everyone is impressed with the groups. “Nashi is organized by people whose only religion is success and mimicry,” argues Andrei Zolotov, editor of the state-funded Russia Profile magazine. “There has to be a kind of moral foundation in a real youth movement.”
Others harp on the government’s support of Nashi, the most well-known of Russia’s numerous youth groups, which counts state-run energy giant Gazprom among its donors.
But Demidov rebuffs such criticism. “In the ’90s, the only public institutions were bandits – they taught [young people], selected them, gave them jobs. Of course, young people paid for all that with their lives…. It’s good that the state is at least doing something.”
McCain protests NBC coverage
|Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) campaign manager Rick Davis asked Sunday for a meeting with Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, to protest what the campaign called signs that the network is “abandoning non-partisan coverage of the presidential race.”
Davis made the request Sunday in a letter that is part of an aggressive effort by McCain to counter news coverage he considers critical.
In this case, the campaign is objecting to a statement by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on “Meet the Press” questioning whether McCain might have gotten a heads-up on some of the questions that were asked of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who was the first candidate to be interviewed Saturday night by Pastor Rick Warren at a presidential forum on faith.
Warren told the audience that McCain was being held in “a cone of silence” so he wouldn’t hear the questions, which were similar for both candidates.
Warren referred again to “the cone of silence” when McCain came onstage, and the senator joked: “I was trying to hear through the wall.”
Mitchell reported that some “Obama people” were suggesting “that McCain may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama. He seemed so well prepared.”
A McCain aide said that is not the case: “Senator McCain was in a motorcade led by the United States Secret Service and held in a green room with no broadcast feed.”
Mitchell made the comment in the context of saying McCain did better, and that the Obama camp was defensive. In response to the campaign’s letter, she pointed out that journalists get criticism from both sides.
“I wasn’t expressing an opinion,” Mitchell said. “I was reporting what they were saying.”
Here is the text of the letter:
August 17, 2008
We are extremely disappointed to see that the level of objectivity at NBC News has fallen so low that reporters are now giving voice to unsubstantiated, partisan claims in order to undercut John McCain.
Nowhere was this more evident than with NBC chief correspondent Andrea Mitchell’s comments on “Meet the Press” this morning. In analyzing last night’s presidential forum at Saddleback Church, Mitchell expressed the Obama campaign spin that John McCain could only have done so well last night because he “may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama.” Here are Andrea Mitchell’s comments in full:
Mitchell: “The Obama people must feel that he didn’t do quite as well as they might have wanted to in that context, because what they are putting out privately is that McCain may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama. He seemed so well-prepared.” (NBC’s “Meet The Press,” 8/17/08)
Make no mistake: This is a serious charge. Andrea Mitchell is repeating, uncritically, a completely unsubstantiated Obama campaign claim that John McCain somehow cheated in last night’s forum at Saddleback Church. Instead of trying to substantiate this blatant falsehood in any way, Andrea Mitchell felt that she needed to repeat it on air to millions of “Meet the Press” viewers with no indication that 1.) There’s not one shred of evidence that it’s true; 2.) In his official correspondence to both campaigns, Pastor Rick Warren provided both candidates with information regarding the topic areas to be covered, which Barack Obama acknowledged during the forum when asked about Pastor Warren’s idea of an emergency plan for orphans and Obama said, “I cheated a little bit. I actually looked at this idea ahead of time, and I think it is a great idea;” 3.) John McCain actually requested that he and Barack Obama do the forum together on stage at the same time, making these kinds of after-the-fact complaints moot.
Indeed, instead of taking a critical journalistic approach to this spin, Andrea Mitchell did what has become a pattern for her of simply repeating Obama campaign talking points.
This is irresponsible journalism and sadly, indicative of the level of objectivity we have witnessed at NBC News this election cycle. Instead of examining the Obama campaign’s spin for truth before reporting it to more than 3 million NBC News viewers, Andrea Mitchell simply passed along Obama campaign conspiracy theories. The fact is that during Senator Obama’s segment at Saddleback last night, Senator McCain was in a motorcade to the event and then held in a green room with no broadcast feed. In the forum, John McCain clearly demonstrated to the American people that he is prepared to be our next President…..
We are concerned that your News Division is following MSNBC’s lead in abandoning non-partisan coverage of the Presidential race. We would like to request a meeting with you as soon as possible to discuss our deep concerns about the news standards and level of objectivity at NBC.