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United Russia Deploys a Youth Wing

VORONEZH -- The increasingly crowded field of political youth movements gained a new member -- or at least a new name -- as the United Russia party's Young Guard wrapped up its founding congress with a rally full of razzmatazz that invited comparisons with its kissing cousin, the equally pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi.

About 2,000 young people were brought in from different regions for the rally, held in an aircraft hangar on the outskirts of Voronezh. The choice of Voronezh, where last month a Peruvian student was knifed to death, was "no accident," said Boris Gryzlov, the State Duma speaker and United Russia party leader.

Taking the stage with a lineup of film stars and musical acts as the nose of a half-built airplane loomed behind him, Gryzlov invoked the congress' central themes of hope and unity, and told the crowd, "The future is in your hands."

In comments to reporters later, Gryzlov said that one of Young Guard's responsibilities was to combat "fascist youth movements that seek to destabilize society and win foreign funding."

United Russia condemned "all possible racist, nationalist and fascist escapades," he said, adding that the authorities should not bow to racism, but rather "create normal conditions for the education of foreigners." There have been a series of attacks on foreign students in Voronezh.

Gryzlov's comments appeared to be aimed at quelling disquiet about racially motivated attacks -- and racist slogans by nationalist groups, such as those used on a march through Moscow earlier this month on People's Unity Day.

The strongly anti-racist line appeared to distinguish Young Guard from Nashi, which has vaguely described itself as an anti-fascist movement. Nashi leaders' definition of "fascists" has on occasion been extended to include some liberal politicians.

The Voronezh congress was largely a renaming congress, as Young Guard is a new incarnation of the pro-Putin Youth Unity movement formed in 2000.

Many of the young people gathered in the aircraft hangar wore T-shirts with the slogan "I've Been Called," yet seemed unsure who had called them, or to what purpose.

In addition to a new moniker, the group has new 40-something celebrity leaders, including television anchor Ivan Demidov, 42, and film director Fyodor Bondarchuk, 41.

Young Guard's main task "is not only to politicize youth, but to give them a path to power to preserve the current government order after 2008. We don't hide the fact that the current authorities more than suit us," Demidov said Wednesday, over the noise of a booming sound system in the aircraft hangar.

Demidov also said that Young Guard's proximity to power -- with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party holding a large majority in the Duma -- meant the group could have "a real influence" on the country's political life.

Source: The Moscow Times

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