ROAR: Youth at Seliger camp use Nazi symbols to portray ideological enemies

An installation at a youth camp that depicted Russian and foreign public figures and human rights activists wearing Nazi caps has triggered a political scandal.

The exhibition called “You are not welcome here” appeared at the end of the camp’s work. It included 13 impaled heads of public figures’ mannequins, covered with Nazi caps. On July 27, the photos of the “artwork” were published in media.

Youth activists at the Seliger summer camp mocked the leader of Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, journalist and member of the Public Chamber Nikolay Svanidze, former Yukos company head Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and opposition politicians Eduard Limonov, Valeria Novodvorskaya and Boris Nemtsov.

Among foreign “enemies” were Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, some Estonian parliamentarians, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and judges of the European Court who recognized Latvian WWII veteran Vasily Kononov as a war criminal.

The annual youth forum at Lake Seliger in the Tver Region has been held since 2005 and now has state status. This year, young people from 89 countries took part in the forum, which kicked off on July 2 and closed on July 28. President Dmitry Medvedev visited the Seliger 2010 National Youth Education Forum on July 8 to see innovative projects proposed by its participants.

At first nobody took responsibility for the idea of making the mannequins and sticking photos of public figures to them, Kommersant daily said. Now the little known Stal (Steel) youth organization is considered to be behind the action.

However, Oleg Sokolov, the leader of Stal, had previously mentioned members of the Nashi (Ours) movement as the authors of the project, the paper noted. Nashi supports the government’s policies and regularly conducts anti-opposition actions. “Such caricatures of the opposition appeared at the Seliger camp from time to time before 2008, when only Nashi were its organizers,” the daily said.

But on July 28, Sokolov himself had to apologize to Nikolay Svanidze. However, Svanidze, a well-known Russian TV journalist, who in 2008 interviewed Medvedev and his friends for a book about the new Russian president, did not accept the apology.

Sokolov said the aim of the installation was to tell the participants of the forum at Seliger about “anti-Russian activities and statements of renowned political figures,” Kommersant said.

Svanidze had been added to these figures “by accident,” Sokolov said. “Unfortunately, an unidentified person had staged a provocation against the journalist,” the Stal’s leader said. “In 40 minutes, the mistake was corrected,” he added.

“Lawyers who saw the installation said it violated both civil and criminal legislation, in particular article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences (propaganda and public demonstration of Nazi paraphernalia or symbols),” the daily noted.

The controversial installation has infuriated many politicians and public figures. “The [installation] was made by ill-bred children,” Svanidze said. “It is indecent and nasty to impale a portrait of a senior woman capped with Nazi symbols,” the Public Chamber’s website quoted him as saying. “Those who guide these people should be ashamed,” he noted.

“I absolutely do not accept any apologies [from the Stal movement],” Svanidze said. “The apologies seem to me as insulting as the installation itself,” he told Ekho Moskvy radio. The movement has apologized only to Svanidze.

Alekseeva has also explained the action at the youth camp by the “bad upbringing of its creators… If this entertains them, then they are very cruel and ill-bred,” she said. However, she will not appeal to court to defend herself. “Officials and public figures should not react painfully if they are offended,” she told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin has condemned the action at the Seliger camp. “It could have been ridiculous and stupid, if it was not so dangerous,” he told Interfax. Such actions cultivate “intolerance” and “a culture of hatred,” he said, comparing the installation to events of Cultural Revolution in China.

Pavel Gusev, the editor-in-chief of Moskovsky Komsomolets daily positively assessed the overall work of the forum at Seliger, but called on the Public Chamber to boycott it after the scandal.” The insults were aimed, among others, against Svanidze, a member of the Public Chamber, he noted.

Gusev himself heads the chamber’s commission for communications, information policy and freedom of speech in mass media. The organizers of the action were trying to create “a distorted picture of human right activists’ work, political struggle and the Public Chamber,” he noted.

“It is terrible that these guys may be coming to power in a number of years,” said the chairwoman of the Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights Council under the Russian president, Ella Pamfilova.

Alla Gerber, a member of the Public Chamber, said she was “deeply angered by the fact that our best human rights activists, renowned public figures – Lyudmila Alekseeva and Nikolay Svanidze are compared to Nazis.” The authors of this installation “are irresponsible hooligans… who do not know who the Nazis are,” she said.

Some observers, however, believe the critics of the installation are forgetting about the freedom of speech. Three years ago, Alekseeva and others sent a letter to Pamfilova defending the organizers of the Forbidden Art exhibition, Regnum news agency said. The organizers were accused of inciting religious hatred by putting controversial pictures on public display.

Meanwhile, many members of the Public Chamber have not supported the call to boycott the Seliger camp over the scandalous installation. Young people should be able “to express their opinions in the form of installations, musical compositions and verses,” believes a chamber’s member Lyubov Dukhanina.

“I think the task of authoritative figures, in particular, members of the Public Chamber, is to teach young people how to conduct a dialogue, she said. In this sense, Seliger is “a very appropriate place,” Dukhanina added.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT