Staunton, April 20 – Olga Kryshtanovskaya, Russia’s leading specialist on elites, has released a massive 16,000-word study of the attitudes of young people in 26 Russian cities about their attitudes toward Vladimir Putin, the bureaucracy, the political opposition, the possibility of emigration and support for revolutionary change.
The full report, available online at gefter.ru/archive/8369gazeta.ru/politics/2013/04/19_a_5261565.shtml) and PublicPost.ru (publicpost.ru/theme/id/3684/yunoshi_v_rossii_hotyat_revolyucii_a_devushki__uehat/), provides a rich data set that can be mined in a variety of ways.
Kryshtanovskaya’s survey, which employed both focus groups and in-depth interviews with four distinct groups of urban young people, including university students in the humanities, university student in technical fields, specialists with higher education and workers, was conducted between December 2012 and February 2013.
The study noted that “the younger the respondents, the firmer in their milieu is the idea that Russia is a great power” that the entire world has to take into consideration. “Students related to their motherland more romantically” than did members of older groups, who were more “skeptical” about Russia, it said.
Russia’s greatest problems, the young people said, are theft and poverty, the product of “corruption and theft” for which bureaucrats are held responsible. But few of the young pay much attention to politics, can imagine an alternative to the existing order, or see any opposition figure who could change the situation.
As a result and despite their anger at specific government policies, young people told the sociologists that they still supported Vladimir Putin because they continue to view him “like a resident of Olympus surrounded by a curtain of mysteriousness and ruling by means of unseen forces.”
Kryshtanovskaya told Gazeta.ru that “the main discovery” of her group’s investigation was the high level of anomie among young people, a synonym, she suggested, for “the instability of the existing social system” and the difficulties individuals face in trying to find a place for themselves in it now that the Soviet social fabric has been torn apart but not replaced.
PublicPost.ru provides a useful summary of what it calls “the main conclusions” of the Kryshtanovskaya study. They are the following:
1. Young Russians fear the powers that be because they are “dangerous and pitiless.”
2. Young Russians “respect only the ideas that come from their closest friends and those they see on television.”
3. The younger the Russian, the more inclined he or she is to believe in Russia as a great power.
4. Young Russians blame the Russian bureaucracy for the evils of corruption and theft.
5. Russian young people “do not see a chance for themselves to get general respect and acquire material well-being by working honestly within their professions.”
6. The heroes of contemporary young Russians are people from politics and show business, not from the professions.
7. Despite the protest attitudes of young Russians, “Putin remains the most popular politician” among their ranks. He is viewed as a kind of “dragon” who acts mysteriously and can be replaced only if another such “dragon” appears.
8. “More than 90 percent of young people sincerely declare that there is no party which expresses their interests.”
9. Young Russians are ready to move “from a small city to a large one, from a large one to the capital, from a regional capital to Moscow, and from Moscow to Europe and America.”
10. Young Russians are more inclined to support “the complete destruction of the system,” even by revolution, than express support for gradual change.”
What is most immediately striking about such attitudes is the extent to which they are typical of those of young people in many countries – such as support for maximalism and a rejection of step-by-step change -- and the way in which they reflect longstanding attitudes among Russians as a group – including the good tsar and the bad boyars.
But clearly the devil is in the details, and this latest Kryshtanovskaya report deserves to be studied with care, as it surely will be, both in Moscow and in the West.