Summer camps are becoming popular with all kinds of youth movements

Summer camps organized by youth movements are the hit of the season: an odd mixture of children’s summer camps, party indoctrination courses, and even saboteur training centers. This article is a survey of this new trend in youth party politics.

This year, just about every self-respecting party has rushed to establish its own version of the Komosomol (Communist Youth League). Summer camps organized by youth movements are the hit of the season: an odd mixture of children’s summer camps, party indoctrination courses, and even saboteur training centers. This article is a survey of this new trend in youth party politics.

The camp organized by the Our Own (Nashi) movement has received the most publicity; it gathered 3,000 “commissars” (as Our Own calls its activists) on Lake Seliger (Tver region). Our Own was the first to announce its intention to organize a political summer camp for young people. To be honest, however, Our Own borrowed the political summer camp idea from skinhead youth gangs.

As far back as three years ago, some Moscow newspapers reported how young skinheads were being trained at an OMON (riot police) base. At the time, police officials maintained that their sports bases were established for children, including problem teens.

Meanwhile, the problem teens themselves said that police instructors would teach ethnic Russian boys to give non-Russians and non-whites “proper” beatings. And Alexander Ivanov-Sukharevsky, leader of an extremist group called the People’s Nationalist Party, said straight out: “The police are helping us: officers explain how to behave and what to do in various circumstances.” He added: “Not like in Tsaritsyn! That’s just ridiculous!”

That was a reference to the pogrom at a marketplace in the city of Tsaritsyn three years ago, when market stalls owned by vendors of Caucasus ethnic groups were wrecked, and the vendors were assaulted. Three people were killed.

The skinheads became more cautious after that scandal. Still, they haven’t given up their summer gatherings. These are usually held at former Pioneer children’s camp sites, leased from local governments by organizers of holiday events for young people.

One of these former Pioneer sites now resembles a military base: the camp’s territory is surrounded by a two-meter metal fence topped by barbed wire. And what takes place behind the fence can hardly be described as a holiday. The teens are trained in hand-to-hand fighting; single combat leads to blood being spilled.

Besides learning unarmed combat, the skinheads have an opportunity to attend theory lectures that include overtly neo-fascist content. These are delivered by the camp owner himself, Andrei Sobolchuk, who maintains that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the camp from the legal standpoint. “Everyone here is authorized to be here. People have come for a vacation in the country – what’s wrong with that? The authorities don’t have the slightest grounds for finding any fault with us. Believe me, if that wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t be here. Besides, we’re not the only ones, by any means. There are almost a dozen such camps in the Moscow region. Elsewhere in Russia there are more.”

Inspired by the skinheads’ example, Our Own movement leader Vasili Yakemenko organized two camps this summer: one on Lake Seliger, the other on Lake Vuoksa. The first camp was for anyone who wished to find out about the movement’s ideals. Moreover, as we reported earlier, Yakemenko even called on the skinheads to join Our Own; but the skinheads didn’t respond to the call.

The second camp was for the “eggheads” – an intellectual club for the movement’s ideologues.

The intellectuals gathered on a grand scale. According to some estimates, $500-600 was spent on each person. Given that around 3,000 “commissars” came to Lake Seliger, the entire exercise must have cost around $1.5-2 million.

The camp run by Yakemenko’s movement followed a program similar to that of skinheads: physical training (although without martial arts) and theory lectures. On this item of the program, Our Own spared no expense. This was not surprising, since Yakemenko seems determine to quickly train the “commissars” to replace the entire present generation of state officials in Russia – who are, in his opinion, talentless defeatists. Implementing this ambitious program, Our Own activists heard 87 hours of lectures in two weeks.

A number of leading thinkers, political scientists and religious leaders shared experience with the “commissars” (Gleb Pavlovsky, Sergei Markov, Vyacheslav Nikonov, Vyacheslav Igrunov, Alexander Tsipko, Andrei Parshev, priest Vsevolod Chaplin, Sheikh Mukhammad Karachai). There were even top-ranking state officials among them (Vladislav Surkov, Dmitri Zelenin, Alexander Tkachev, Andrei Kokoshin, Mikhail Margelov).

Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska said that Our Own resembles a prison camp “where an attempt is made to force people to live according to regulations.” Sliska also says that she does not understand “ideology of Yakemenko, who believes that his young people are better than many talented state officials serving at present.”

This year these were not skinheads or Our Own who had the most scandalous leisure with political inclination. Youth Leftist Front headed by Ilya Ponomarev organized about ten summer camps for radical Marxists in most diverse parts of Russia.

Youth Leftist Front partially borrowed experience of skinheads and staked on combat training in their camps. However, unlike the skinheads the leftists were preparing to beat not Azerbaijanis or Africans but policemen.

Incidentally, the training program of the leftists became public after a group of Kuban TV from the Krasnodar territory arrived to Che Guevara camp on the Black Sea coast. The journalists were not interested in seminars and discussions. Their attention was attracted by the lessons of neutralization of OMON police in circumstances of combat on urban terrain. Naturally, the sensational report of the local television was noticed by the authorities.

The leftists said that the report broadcast by Kuban TV was only a pretext for discrediting of their movement. They said that there was only one lesson including demonstration of methods of modern fighting. The young radicals said that there was no course of combat training. However, members of Youth Leftist Front are convinced that there is a need for such knowledge because during dispersing of mass rallies police uses very violent methods like clubs and twisting of hands. They said, “People should know at least how to dodge the blows of the police.”

Besides these camps, there were also some others most of radical leftist direction but at closer look they were rather mass picnics of friends and common-thinkers and their activities were confined mostly to consumption of alcohol.

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