The Kremlin’s Red Guards

by Yuri Zarakhovich

What happens, when a person offers controversial views? In a civilized country, this leads to a debate, perhaps a heated one—but a debate nonetheless. In an uncivilized country, this leads to threats and intimidation by hoodlums, enticed and directed by the authorities.

Such was the case in the USSR in the 1930s, when teenagers demanded the execution of “enemies of the people” or in the 1950s, when ordinary Soviet citizens demanded that Boris Pasternak be exiled. The same took place in Maoist China, when the Red Guard began demanding that “dogs heads” be smashed.

Today in Russia the Kremlin-run Nashi youth movement has launched a vile persecution campaign against Alexander Podrabinek, a Soviet-era dissident and a critic of the Putin/Medvedev regime.

In an article published on September 21, Podrabinek suggested that those who identify themselves as “Soviet Veterans” are the veterans of the Soviet GULAG/KGB repressive system.

In fact, it doesn’t really matter what exactly Podrabinek said. Whoever disagrees with whatever another person says is free to offer their views on the matter.

Instead, what Podrabinek got by way of a reply was “The siege of his house, offensive phone calls, direct threats and other methods from the arsenal of criminal groups. The Nashi organization willingly acknowledges that they have one goal -to force Aleksandr Podrabinek to leave Russia,” comments the journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza.

This sounds familiar to people of my generation. The young Nashi hoodlums, drunk on Kremlin freebies, don’t have such historic memories. Nor are they aware that free cheese is served only in a mouse trap; that they will go the way of their predecessors—the Soviet chekists or Maoist Red Guards—once they have done what they are needed for—the way used condoms go, to cut the long story short.

Meanwhile, the Podrabinek case simply reflects the way things are in Russia.

No one doubts the reason why Podrabinek came under attack—he has long been a gadfly to the regime. He has taken part in distributing the book “The FSB Blows Up Russia,” and he canvassed for Vladimir Bukovsky during his attempt to run for Russia’s Presidency.

The persecution campaign against Podrabinek, says Kara-Murza, crosses the Rubicon that separates “an authoritarian regime from an openly bandit-style one.”

Another commentator, Irina Pavlova argues that the Kremlin arranged this case in order “to demonstrate the growing force of the process of re-Stalinization in the country.”

Podrabinek himself noted in an article published September 30, that “The situation possibly is worse than it may appear at first glance.” He had been given information from “reliable sources,” he wrote, that the orders to the Nashi originated from “quite high levels.”

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s vociferous spin doctors have spared no effort to present him to the world as a closet liberal, quite eager to dump the authoritarian Putin and go his own progressive way.

Some in the Western establishment are eager to embrace such a welcome notion. Don’t they always? Lenin was a Great Liberator; Stalin—a Great Vozhd; Brezhnev—basically a good fellow; Yeltsin—a Great (albeit not always sober) Reformer. Then the truth emerges which always happens to come too late.

If Medvedev is indeed a closet liberal, the closet he sits in is very deep. Not that his Senior President will ever let him out of there. Nor will Medvedev even try.