By: Denis Sinyakov
Source: AFP/Getty Images, 2006.
About the Photographer: Denis Sinyakov is a contributing photographer for Agence France-Presse (AFP), the world's oldest established news agency, founded in 1835. The photograph is part of the collection at Getty Images, a worldwide provider of visual content materials to such communications groups as advertisers, broadcasters, designers, magazines, new media organizations, newspapers, and producers.
The young Russian man in the photograph is a member of the nationalist Russian youth group Nashi, which means "ours" or "our side" in Russian. He is handing out information leaflets on the Holocaust, the mass killing enterprise run by the Nazis during World War II that killed roughly ten million persons, including approximately six million Jews. The display and leaflets are evidently designed to counter Holocaust denial in Russia. Holocaust denial is the claim that the Holocaust did not really happen but is a product of Jewish propaganda. Holocaust denial is protected by the First Amendment in the United States, like other offensive speech, but is illegal in most of Europe. Since it is not illegal in Russia, many Holocaust deniers and other anti-Semites have recently taken refuge there, provoking counter-efforts such as that shown in the photograph.
Nashi has at least three thousand members. It was founded in the spring of 2005 and is funded by the Russian government.
See primary source image.
This photograph of a young Russian man passing out leaflets commemorating the Holocaust illustrates that in Russian politics, perhaps even more so than in the politics of other countries, things are not always what they seem. Nashi is not primarily a Holocaust memorial organization or human-rights organization; it is pro-Putin and pro-Kremlin. (Vladimir Putin, born 1952, has been President of the Russian Federation since 1999.) In the rhetoric of Nashi, most persons who oppose the Putin government in whatever political mode are "fascists," including the left-liberal party Yabloko; the group has declared its opposition to "the anti-Fatherland union of oligarchs, anti-Semites, Nazis, and liberals."
Nashi's anti-Holocaust-denial activities must therefore be read in the context of Russian politics. The Holocaust was the work of bona fide fascists, the Nazis, who were also the mortal enemies of Russia during World War II (during which Russia suffered twenty-one million dead). Therefore, insisting on the gravity of Nazi crimes tends to validate Nashi's claim to be anti-fascist. Yet Nazis are not the political opponents that Nashi actually faces: its real opposition consists primarily of reformist youth groups, left-liberal parties calling for democratization, and old-age pensioners angered by Putin's 2005 announcement that pension benefits dating to the Soviet era are to be terminated.
Nashi's promotion of accurate information about the Holocaust is therefore not a sufficient guide to the organization's political character. In the Russian political context, defending the reality of the Holocaust can (and here, does) serve as secondary propaganda designed to bolster the credibility of a group that wishes to credential itself as "anti-fascist" and therefore pro-Russian.
The rise of youth as a major political force in Russia is recent. A number of Russian youth groups have been formed to press for government reforms, including greater democracy. These are modeled on the "orange revolution" that took place in the neighboring country of Ukraine in 2004–2005, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians peacefully protested government corruption and assured the electoral victory of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Nashi was created by the Russian government expressly to counter these "orange" groups in the run-up to the Russian presidential elections of 2008.
Critics of Nashi say that its real purpose is to recruit ex-skinheads for street attacks on pro-democratization groups. Nashi leaders have called for "intimidation" of opposition parties and one of the founders of Nashi, Vasily Yakemenko, said in 2005 in an interview with a Russian newspaper that "It is necessary to make short work of traitors."
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