- Associated Press - Sunday, August 12, 2012

LAKE SELIGER, Russia — The spirit of rebellion roiling Russia this year stretches even into the Seliger youth camp, an annual Kremlin-funded event that has long been seen as a training ground for truculent Putin loyalists.

This year’s camp struck a different chord. Organizers encouraged opposition activists to take part, and cultivated an edgy vibe symbolized by a new logo designed by graffiti artist Banksy.

But many question whether Seliger’s makeover is an attempt to constructively engage the opposition or co-opt a movement that severely rattled President Vladimir Putin with a wave of massive demonstrations over the past year.

Recently passed measures such as an astronomical increase in fines for taking part in an unauthorized demonstration may do little to discourage protesters — and even encourage more people to support the opposition.

And Mr. Putin has shown tentative signs of trying to mollify the opposition without actually giving ground.

Whether that thinking underlies the Seliger camp’s new image is unclear — but the changes this year were striking.

Poster children

Inaugurated in 2005, the Seliger summer session for years were open only to members of Nashi, the pro-Kremlin youth group noted for its vehement devotion to those in power, and affiliated groups.

The camp, located 220 miles northwest of Moscow, long had an iconography that some have likened to a neo-Soviet personality cult.

“Last year, there were only two portraits hanging on the stage: Putin and [then-President Dmitry] Medvedev,” said Margaret Drimluzhenko, 21, who attended her first session in 2011.

Just one year earlier, in 2010, a group of campers pasted images of opposition leaders or human rights activists to Nazi hats under a sign that read: “You’re Not Welcome Here.”

But this year the banners glorifying president and party were gone, as were anti-opposition antics.

Instead, the campground was dotted with the Banksy image of a young man preparing to toss a bouquet of flowers. The logo was painted in Mr. Putin’s least favorite color — orange, the emblematic color of the 2004 Ukrainian demonstrations that rattled nerves in the Kremlin.

“This year they got rid of everything [from before], so there weren’t even any hints,” said Ms. Drimluzhenko. “I don’t think it’s politicized. It’s just a possibility to come and discuss, to make friends and go somewhere from there.”

‘Occupy Seliger’

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