Monday, November 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Young Russians in Northwest Overwhelmingly Say They’re Europeans and Don’t Want to be Part of Putin’s Eurasian Union

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 11 – More than two-thirds of university students in northwestern Russia identify as Europeans, nearly half would like to live in a Unified Europe, and only about one in six want to become part of the Eurasian Union, a pattern that suggests Vladimir Putin’s efforts to archaize the country will fail in the future or that another divide will open within it.

            But the Kremlin is responding not by changing its course but by seeking to change the views of such students by planning to re-introduce Soviet-style officers in these universities who will be responsible for “ideological” correctness, a step that Moscow may take elsewhere but one that is likely to backfire among the Internet-connected young.

            That is all the more likely, a Russian blogger suggests, because the Russian elite itself, despite its abasement to Putin’s ideas, has already made the European choice, keeping its wealth in European banks, maintaining residences in Europe for its families, and accepting in practice if not in words many European values.

            In a new post, Pavel Pryanikov, who blogs at, says that offers poll data which show that “despite the colossal efforts of the powers that be at archaization and aziatization of [Russia], the majority of Russian young people nonetheless feel a sense of community with Europe and not with the Customs or Eurasian Union” (

            A poll conducted among students in St. Petersburg, Petrozavodsk, and Murmansk and fir reported in the journal, “Gorizonty ekonomiki,” no. 3, pp. 3-13, found that 43 percent of those questioned would like to live in a Unified Europe but only 17 percent would like to live in a Eurasian Economic Community.

            This suggests, Pryanikov says, that at least among the young, the Kremlin’s efforts to isolate Russia from Europe by attacking homosexual and civil rights, supporting Islamic regimes in the Caucasus, opposing the rights of immigrants, and promoting a shrill anti-Americanism are not working as well as Putin and his entourage had hoped.

            The poll Pryanikov discusses shows something else as well: the students of Northwestern Russia share the values of and identify with not Europe as a whole but with the socialist countries of Northern Europe, countries characterized by reliance on the state for social welfare, a kind of provincialism relative to the rest of the continent, and a concern with social solidarity.

            The “Gorizony ekonomiki” article also cites the results of a larger poll of 2518 Russians in 23 regions of the country to suggest that there is broader support for a European choice or at least a “Northern European” choice: 72 percent of this sample say that they view Finland as a country from which they can learn, and 89 percent say it has practically no corruption.

            The younger Russians in the Northwest would like to choice Europe rather than any Eurasian union, 43 percent to 17 percent, and 48 percent of them say that the country should try to join the European Union, although 39 percent said they thought that Russia could get along on its own.

            Moreover, support for a European choice appears to be growing.  In 2002, the word “Europe” elicited a positive response from 78 percent of those polled, but in 2010, it was viewed positively by 87 percent. Among the young the sense of being Europeans rose from 54 percent to 68 percent over the same period.

            According to Pryanikov, these figures mean that “the Kremlin has little time remaining to promote its policy of autarchy and aziatization … Its only ‘strategy’ in the medium term will be complete privatization and monetarization of Russia and the export of capital abroad.” By “the beginning of the 2020s,” the country will have a different agenda.

            But as “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reports today, the Putin regime appears to believe that it can use Soviet-style ideological structures to change the views of the young people of St. Petersburg and elsewhere.  And it is pushing for the creation of a new “council for ideological work with students” (

            In fact, the Kremlin has been pushing this for at least nine months, but the council of rectors in the Northern capital has been dragging its feet. Now, however, Moscow is insisting and the rectors will be considering how to take this step at their very next meeting, despite their obvious reluctance to restore a Soviet-era institution.

            For many younger scholars, the Moscow paper says, the whole idea is an absurdity, but “for the generation educate by the Soviet system, the term ‘ideological work’ does not require any commentaries.”  That is especially true in the higher educational institutions of the northern capital where this effort where this restoration of the past is taking place

            A quarter of a century ago, one of their predecessors, Nina Andreyeva of the Leningrad Technological Institute published her infamous essay, “I cannot sacrifice my principles” in “Sovetskaya Rossiya.” In it, she complained among other things about the loss of ideological commitment among the young.
            In an example of Marx’s notion that history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce, the new Putin-ordered Council for Ideological Work Among Students will be headed by Nikolay Lisitsyn, a graduate and now rector of the same Technological Institute where Andreyeva once worked.

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