Documentary Series Depicts Russian Youth under Putin's Regime

On Monday, April 9th, Images Cinema on Spring Street showed the 2012 Danish film Putin’s Kiss as a part of its series on Russia under Putin’s regime. The Williams German and Russian Department sponsored the event, which was free and open to the public.

Because of media censorship by the Russian government, no Western-minded Russian film-makers have been able to create films documenting Putin’s regime. Putin’s Kiss is thus unique: directed by Danish film-maker Lise Berk Pedersen, the film gives insider views of the pro-Putin youth group Nashi, which has been compared to Hitler Youth and the Soviet Komsomol.

Drokova with Russian President Vladimir Putin

Nashi, whose name means “ours” in Russian, was formed in 2005 by Vasily Yakemenko, a high-ranking official in Putin’s regime. Nashi declares itself to be democratic, anti-fascist, and anti-oligarchic-capitalist, although in reality the group retains close ties with the Kremlin and wholeheartedly supports the Putin regime. The group, whose main political actions include staging protests against  liberal journalists and Western influence in Russia, attempts to inculcate Putin’s political beliefs in the minds of Russian youths, and has been remarkably successful among Russian young people aged 16-25. This age group, the first to grow up in the post-Soviet era, feels that Putin has brought economic stability to Russia, has modernized the country, and will soon return Russia to her former power on the global scene.

Nashi has come under fire in recent years for its involvement in violent attacks on liberal journalists and on rival youth groups. Many Westerners have also accused the group of racism against minority groups such as Chechens in Russia.

Putin’s Kiss focused on Masha Drokova, a young Russian woman who joined the movement at age 15 and quickly rose to become a spokesperson and pro-Putin TV host. The organization soon began paying for her car, her apartment, and her university education, and she became close to Yakamenko. In the film, however, Drakova reported feeling increasingly nervous about the amount of control Yakemenko exercised both over the movement and over her own life, and after a few years on the inside of the movement, she began to find that her own opinions about the movement differed widely from Yakamenko’s.

Oleg Kashin, liberal Russian journalist and friend to Drokova, was attacked and beaten in 2010 by Nashi activists.

Over time, Masha fell in with a group of liberal journalists, and began to question whether her own political ideals matched up with Nashi’s underhanded support of illegal and violent activities. When her friend Oleg Kashin, an outspoken critic of the Putin regime, was beaten and nearly killed by youths linked to Nashi, movement officials forced her to make a choice: either she could offer a complete apology for her affiliation with the journalists and continue at her well-paying job in the inner-circles of Nashi, or she could support Kashin, who had been completely paralyzed by the attacks. She left the group in 2010, but she continues today to deny Nashi’s involvement in the beatings and to support Putin’s regime.

The film won the 2012 World Cinematography Award at the annual Sundance Film Festival.

To watch a trailer of Putin’s Kiss, click here: