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Can Authoritarian Regimes Breed Loyalty? The Case of Nashi

In: Russian Politics
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An important literature on Russian civil society discusses its evolution, challenges, and prospects under Vladimir Putin. In particular, scholars show how the regime skillfully uses a mixture of coercive and channeling strategies to direct civil society into the ‘right path’, namely in the service of the regime. Perhaps the most glaring example of channeling strategies is the direct creation of CSOs from above, such as pro-regime youth groups. These groups are mean to orient public participation into accepted limits fixed by the state, often mimicking and duplicating grassroot organizations. But to what extent have they been effective in creating loyalty for the regime? In this paper, I focus on the little success that one of the most famous pro-regime youth groups, Nashi (Ours), paradoxically achieved in channeling civil society. While Nashi undeniably brought important benefits to some participants at the individual level, its effects at the societal level are significantly more limited. This is because, I argue, Nashi’s fate, just like many other state-projects, depended primarily on internal competition among self-interested elites. Instead of representing a coherent state strategy toward the youth and civil society, Nashi was mirroring the influence of power-maximizing individuals. The arguments of this paper are drawn from participant observations and from interviews with (then) current and former Nashi activists, as well as with other civil society experts

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