Estonia Bans Travel for Kremlin Youth Group

The New York Times
Michael Schwirtz
January 31, 2008

MOSCOW — Like many Russians, Mariana B. Skvortsova planned to spend her winter vacation traveling abroad. Yet, as she tried to cross from Russia into Finland this month, border guards refused her entry.

Ms. Skvortsova, a leader in the Kremlin-backed youth group, Nashi, was among hundreds of young people who unleashed furious protests after the former Soviet republic of Estonia moved a monument to World War II-era Soviet soldiers from the center of Tallinn, its capital, to the city’s outskirts last April.

Now, tiny Estonia has quietly struck back. It has caused a bit of an uproar here by putting the Nashi protesters on an immigration blacklist, preventing them from traveling not only to Estonia but also, because of its recent entry into the European Union border-free zone, to most of Europe as well.

A spokeswoman for the Estonian Embassy in Moscow confirmed the ban, but was not authorized to say how many people it applied to or for how long.

The move has rankled Nashi, which has charged the European Union with reneging on democratic principles that European officials often accuse Russia of violating. “They are not admitting activists who are voicing their civic positions,” Ms. Skvortsova, 21, said Tuesday. She was flanked by about 300 comrades dressed in World War II Soviet infantry uniforms, standing in protest across from the European Commission’s office in Moscow.

“If we don’t tell them today, ‘Guys, let’s deal with one another respectfully,’ then tomorrow we will not be known as Russians, but as some kind of lower-class people,” she said.

Her sentiment echoed those of Russian officials, including President Vladimir V. Putin, who have frequently accused the West of applying double standards, criticizing Russia for a lack of civic freedoms while ignoring similar abuses in Europe and the United States.

Still, despite the flood of anti-Western statements from Kremlin officials in recent years, Russians continue to pour over once-closed borders to ski the Alps and tan in Mediterranean resorts. The number of Russians traveling to Western Europe for vacations increased between 30 percent and 40 percent in the first nine months of 2007, according to the Russian Federal Tourism Agency.

For now, however, many Nashi members will have to make other travel plans, an inconvenience that has done little to stifle the group’s often jingoistic public language.

“Let them forbid us entry into the European Union,” Nikita Borovikov, Nashi’s leader, told his followers on Tuesday. “We will not give up the memory of our ancestors, nor will we give up our history and, thanks to this, thanks to the unity of the whole country, together we will make Russia a global leader of the 21st century.”