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Summer camp plays with idea of political openness
Question of the Day
At the start of each day, bleary-eyed campers flocked around a central stage to do fist-pumping aerobics. Some wore white ribbons — the opposition’s symbol — while others were dressed in T-shirts showing the yellow-black-and-white stripes of a 19th century Russian flag that is now a popular image for nationalists.
One recent morning, two men dressed as Cossacks, who symbolized fidelity to the Kremlin in imperial Russia, came to the stage and began cracking whips at each other, a characteristic demonstration of Cossack prowess.
Then up stepped Dmitri Ternovsky, a blogger and sometime opposition activist, who was chosen to direct Seliger this year.
“Occupy Seliger,” the name of this year’s session, is Mr. Ternovsky’s brainchild. His goal this year was to attract new participants to the camp, the same young people who flocked to the protests that arose after December’s fraud-tainted parliamentary election.
The skinny 31-year-old was greeted with applause and started to announce the day’s events. But as soon as he whispered a few words about a discussion of electoral fraud, many in the audience started to boo.
And for all his efforts, attracting the opposition to a place with such a pro-Putin reputation was a tough sell.
Alexei Navalny, anti-corruption blogger and prominent face of the opposition, immediately refused, as did most other pro-democracy activists.
“Seliger is firmly, hopelessly associated with the Nashi movement, which has been completely discredited both in the eyes of opposition activists and by society,” pro-democracy activist Ilya Yashin told the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
Politics and other matters
One of the few anti-Kremlin guests to give a lecture at the camp this year was Ilya Ponomarev, opposition member of parliament and a leading figure of the street protest movement.
“Nashi members all know me because a few years ago my picture was hung on a pine tree to have darts shot at it,” he said.
But Mr. Ponomarev said he was eager to attend the camp because he believed that the young, politically active members were ripe for genuine political discussion.
“I don’t see a difference between opposition activists and activists for Nashi, except for the fact that those who are in Nashi fell into the wrong hands and have had a bunch of garbage beaten into their heads,” he said.
Many young people have been attracted to the Nashi movement less out of ideological conviction than out of ambition, and Seliger provides a platform for young people to network and climb up the economic ladder.
Elena Suchkova, 21, said she supported Mr. Putin because he brought “stability” to the country. But the young biochemistry student said she was at Seliger less for political reasons than to make “business connections, which you need for self-realization.”
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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