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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Youth for Beria

Hitler stole a landmine and Coca-Cola makes you sterile. Anna Badkhen spends time among the young in Volgograd.


The revolutionaries are sitting and standing around the table in a small, crowded kitchen. One has put his elbows on the kitchen table and speaks with authority. Another listens intently, nodding whenever his comrade utters words like "Molotov cocktail," "bourgeoisie" or "the working class." Yet another sits cross-legged on a small bench and absentmindedly bites his nails.

The revolutionaries call themselves Young Beria Followers, after Lavrenty Beria, the infamous chief of Josef Stalin's secret police. The oldest of the revolutionaries is 17. The youngest is 9.

"We want to rid our country of democracy," says Sasha Ganzerov, an outspoken and stocky 9-year-old, his head wrapped in a red bandanna emblazoned with a hammer and sickle, the symbol used by the 8,500-member extremist National Bolshevik Party, or NBP. The same symbol decorates the sleeve of his hand-me-down jacket. "I, personally, would like to start with the bourgeois, throw some Molotov cocktails in their windows."

Sasha does not know yet how to make a Molotov cocktail. He does know how to shoot a hunting rifle. But hunting rifles will be of no use in the upcoming revolution, and Sasha would very much like to learn to shoot a pistol, and a machine gun.

"They are just kids, but I have faith in them," says Maxim Anokhin, 26, leader of the Volgograd branch of NBP, who oversees the 20-strong and growing Young Beria Followers.

"They are ideologically different from other children, whose consciousness is being littered with Snickers [candy bars] and Chupa Chups [lollipops] on purpose, so that they grow up to be broiler chickens in baseball hats and on roller blades, not normal men," Anokhin says. "The Young Beria Followers will grow up to be normal men."

'Putin Is an Infiltrator'

It all started on Nov. 23, 1999, when some 20 members of the NBP joined Communists and nationalists in an annual demonstration in downtown Volgograd to mark the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The National Bolsheviks, clad in black and camouflage and led by Anokhin, were holding their red flags with hammers and sickles, and caught the attention of a group of pre-teen boys.

Alexander, a somber 12-year-old who asked that his last name not be used, said he and his friends were intrigued by the uniforms and by Anokhin's ardent descriptions of the party and of the revolution to come f during which all bourgeois will be killed and their "allies" jailed in camps. The boys asked if they, too, could join the party. Anokhin told them that no one under 18 could be accepted, but he suggested the boys form their own youth group, which would be tutored and overseen by the NBP.

They did. Today, the Young Beria Followers f or Yunye Beriyevtsy in Russian f unite more than 20 kids from Volgograd and the Volgograd region. Every week, they gather in Anokhin's apartment by the Volga River, throw their fists up in a greeting, pledge allegiance to the hammer-and-sickle flag, and absorb whatever Anokhin and other NBP members have to say about Beria, Stalin, the Motherland and the hateful bourgeois, who are led by President Vladimir Putin and "the family" f an amorphous and constantly changing circle of Kremlin insiders that at times included former President Boris Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, oil and media mogul Boris Berezovsky and Kremlin Chief of Staff Alexander Voloshin.

"Putin is not a leader," says 17-year-old Kirill, who did not give his last name. "Putin is a Western infiltrator."

Dueling Genocides

Almost entirely destroyed during World War II, Volgograd still can't overcome its past. Fifty-seven years ago, the pivotal, 200-daylong battle for the city between Nazi troops and the Red Army turned Stalingrad f as it was called from 1925 to 1961 f into ruins. The only things spared were a single tree and five buildings: two apartment buildings, a flour mill and the city's two synagogues.

Today, the city of more than 1 million on the Volga River is a huge memorial to that heroic battle. High school boys and girls, dressed in military garb and carrying discharged Kalashnikov automatic rifles, take turns standing guard at the eternal flame that commemorates the Unknown Soldier on the city's main square f seven days a week, eight hours a day. Numerous monuments to the battle for Stalingrad are always decorated with fresh flowers; the 85-meter concrete statue of Mother Russia urges the Red Army soldiers onward as it rises from the highest hill in town, Mamayev Kurgan, or Mamayev Hill.

The sandy grounds of the hill are themselves a mass grave for about 36,000 Red Army soldiers whose remains were buried in empty artillery boxes during the monument's construction in the 1960s. Although historians still debate the number of soldiers who died during the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-43, in his 1998 book "Stalingrad," British historian Antony Beevor estimated the German losses at between 200,000 and 290,000 soldiers. The Red Army, he said, lost more than 485,700 soldiers, with about 615,000 wounded.

At Mamayev Kurgan, Anokhin f a World War II enthusiast who also works as a history consultant in the city's culture committee f urges his wards uphill, all the while declaiming to the boys about the glorious battle of Stalingrad, which convinced Hitler to turn his troops around and stop the genocide of the Russians.

Anokhin does not tell the Young Beria Followers of other genocides f those carried out by Stalin's secret police under Beria. Less-than-heroic affairs directed by Beria in his day included the so-called Doctor's Plot, when Jewish doctors were arrested and executed for supposedly plotting against Stalin; mass deportations of entire ethnic groups from the Caucasus, most notably of the Chechens, in which hundreds of thousands died; and the deportation and execution of thousands in the Baltic states after they were annexed.

Beria also tested deadly poisons on convicts awaiting execution at a secret Moscow laboratory that he ordered designed. When ownership of Beria's mansion at 28/1 Malaya Nikitskaya Ulitsa was transferred to the Tunisian Embassy, workmen repairing the building in 1993 discovered a dozen skeletons f allegedly the remains of people tortured by Beria f buried just outside. Historians say that Beria's henchmen picked up teenage schoolgirls from Moscow's streets and delivered them to Beria's mansion to be raped by their bespectacled boss.

In 1953, after Stalin's death, Beria was arrested and charged with high treason, with spying for 14 countries, with anti-state terrorism and with rape. He was executed in December 1953.

Beria was again in the news last month: His relatives had availed themselves of post-Soviet civil liberties to petition for his posthumous rehabilitation, but the Supreme Court in May rejected their appeal.

"Even the hint of the possibility of rehabilitating Beria is profane before the relatives of those 40 million citizens of our country who became the victims of the arbitrary activities of the NKVD [secret police]," said Boris Pustyntsev, a St. Petersburg human rights activist who spent five years in a Mordovia labor camp for political prisoners between 1957 and 1962.

Anokhin disagrees. "It's easy to tell lies and to bad-mouth a dead person," he rages at contemporary historians. "He was too busy helping Stalin run the country. When would he ever have the time to rape girls?"

The facts about Beria that Anokhin chooses to believe and to pass on to the younger generation f "the brighter sides of our history," he says f are that the secret police chief "rid" the nation of "the bourgeoisie" and turned the Soviet Union into a nuclear power able to stand up to an ill-disposed West.

Even so, the boys are often too young to get Anokhin's facts straight.

"Beria stole a landmine from Hitler," says Pavlik, 10, an earnest, blond, big-eyed lad, who said he joined the Young Beria Followers "to learn history."

"Not a landmine," Anokhin corrects him. "A nuclear bomb."

"Yeah, a nuclear bomb," Pavlik repeats.

"And not from Hitler. Who did he steal it from?" Anokhin asks.

"I don't remember," Pavlik says.

"From the Americans," Anokhin instructs.

"Yeah, from the Americans," Pavlik echoes.

Eat the Rich

Although he is a year younger than Pavlik, Sasha Ganzerov is unlikely to make mistakes like that. Since he joined the group last winter, Sasha has organized a five-member Young Beria Followers team in his hometown of Suravikhino, a small town 350 kilometers southwest of Volgograd.

Sasha's mother works at a LUKoil gas station and his stepfather drives a truck. He said the main criteria for membership in his group was not to have rich parents. Sasha hates the rich because they "suck on the poor people's blood" and are "enemies of the people."

"It was better in Stalin's time, because back then, you understand, all the enemies of the people were sent to the gulag," Sasha explains.

According to Sasha, Beria was "a tough guy, Stalin's right hand. He hung and shot all the bourgeois."

In a recent poll of 1,600 Moscow high school students between the ages of 15 and 17 conducted by the Center of Education Sociology, 13 percent of those polled said they liked the Soviet order. The oldest of these teenagers would have been just 8 years old when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

But even Sasha is at times politically incorrect. When Kirill f the 17-year-old who says Putin is "a Western infiltrator" f informs the group that Americans add chemicals to Coca-Cola that prevent Russians from conceiving children, Sasha dreamily raises his eyes to the ceiling.

"Yeah, Coca-Cola is bad," he says. "But there are good kinds of chewing gum. For example, Stimorol, Dirol, Wrigley's ?"

Sasha's older brother Igor, 19 and a member of the NBP, looks at him with scorn.

"No, you are wrong. All chewing gum makes people dumb," Igor says.

"Oh, right. I must have known," says Sasha, and starts drawing something on the kitchen table with his finger.

Sasha's reason for joining the party was not to learn history. At 9, he can't wait to improve his qualifications, moving up from hunting rifles to the preparation of home-made explosives f so that he can throw them at the hateful bourgeois "when the time comes."

And, according to Kirill, "the time" will come soon.

"The revolution can happen any day now f but no later than in two years," Kirill says.

Kirill is the most vehement member of the group, and also the most articulate. He is also the one who is most likely to get the Young Beria Followers in trouble with law enforcement, as far as Anokhin is concerned. In mid-May, Kirill was caught by theVolgograd police spray-painting NBP slogans on downtown buildings. Kirill was warned to stop and was released on the spot, but on the same day, Anokhin says he received a visit from four policemen.

According to Anokhin, two plainclothes police officers accompanied by men in camouflage and wielding Kalashnikov automatic rifles arrived at his one-room apartment, handcuffed him and demanded that he accompany them to the precinct. At the precinct, Anokhin said, he was warned to cease all political activities that involve children and asked to list the names of Young Beria Followers, which he refused to do. An hour later, Anokhin said, he was released.

"Naturally, I was furious with Kirill for getting caught," Anokhin said. "But, of course, after they told us to disband the Young Beria Followers, we will only be more consolidated in the face of the enemy."

Anokhin says he will not rush to teach the children to handle Kalashnikovs.

"They are too young and vigorous to be entrusted with guns yet," Anokhin says. "They get too carried away."

For the time being, the children engage themselves in rather harmless activities directed at humiliating the bourgeoisie. In addition to spray-painting "Kill the Yankees" and "Eat the rich" slogans all over the city, they stick nails in the tires of foreign cars or pour glue over their windshields.

They also draw pictures of their idols, Stalin and Beria, and Kirill writes politically charged poems. Standing on the slope of the Mamayev Kurgan with his feet wide apart, his arms in the air, Kirill recites a poem he wrote about a Young Beria Follower derailing an American train bring in foreign goods:

The train carried to Russia

Tampax, Snickers, Chupa Chups,

It carried dumb cartridges f

Explosive cargo of the bourgeoisie.

The poem ends. Kirill and four other Young Beria Followers thrust their fists upward in a greeting, looks of dignity on their faces, as a photographer takes their picture.