Staunton, September 8 – By common consent, those born near the end of Soviet times or after 1991 in the post-Soviet states are very different from their elders, but until recently, such people were focused on getting an education and starting careers rather than on broader questions, Yevgeny Gontmakher says.
But now these people, now between 25 and 35, are becoming increasingly angry at what they see as aging and out-of-touch rulers, the Moscow economist says. They have already changed the political landscape in Ukraine, are in the process of doing so in Belarus, and will eventually do so in Russia as well (mk.ru/politics/2020/09/07/molodezh-protiv-stareyushhikh-elit-chto-zhdet-belorussiyu-i-rossiyu.html).
There are two “fundamental causes” for this, Gontmakher continues. The first is economic stagnation, brought on by different things in each of these three countries but producing something common to them all: the absence of prospects for advancement and growth among younger people and their natural resentment at those above them who control things.
The second factor is globalization and the influence of the West not only via the Internet but via direct comparison. Millions 25 to 35-year-olds in these countries have visited the West and can see how much better people in those countries have it than they do. This has been especially important in Ukraine and Belarus both because of geography and culture.
But regardless of Moscow’s efforts to cut people off from such experiences, it has having an impact on this cohort of Russians as well and consequently will have a similar impact on the political system if not this year than very soon, Gontmakher argues. The differences between the aging elite and the rising generation are simply too great for this not to happen.
If those in power do not recognize this and begin reforms, there is a great risk that things will fall part like “a house of cards” as they did in Russia in the early 1990s, in Ukraine in 2013-2014, and, Gontmakher says he fears may be the case now in Belarus, where aging elites held on too long and younger people simply weren’t prepared to wait any longer.
What is needed, he suggests, is not simply the replacement of older leaders with younger ones but an organized transition “from the current archaic and essential feudal state to contemporary basic institutions of a European type, obviously with national distinctions and historical paths of each being taken into account.”
There are examples of this in Central Europe, including Poland and Hungary, and also in a number of Latin American countries. And however much aging elites resist, a rising generation will have its way either by changing the nature of the country in which it lives or by being coopted and keeping that country from joining the modern world.