Thursday, February 27, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Uncertain How to Connect with Rising Generation, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 27 – Kremlin strategists now recognize that the themes of stability and modernization will not allow them to connect with the rising generation in Russia as such ideas did in the last election with slightly older people, but they have not yet figured out what themes they will try to use, according to an expert at the Public Opinion Foundation.

            In an article on yesterday, Larisa Pautova says that the Kremlin’s uncertainty in this regard reflects the fact that generational change is taking place increasingly quickly in Russia and that the new generations are different from the ones immediately before them but similar to some earlier ones (

            Pautova suggests that young people who do not remember the Soviet era are reacting to the new authoritarianism of the Putin regime in a very different way than the slightly older group who do and who as a result are more inclined to back the modernizing ideas associated with Dmitry Medvedev.

            The sociologist says that she uses the term “generation” in a quite arbitrary fashion to distinguish various cohorts among the young.  She calls those who finished school between 1977 and 1984, the Suslov generation; those who did so betweeen1985 and 1991, the Gorbachev generation; those who did between 1992 and 1999, the Yeltsin generation; those beginning in 2000, the Putin generation; and “graduates from 2010 to 2014 ... the Medvedev generation.”

            The Suslov generation “didn’t believe in Soviet ideals and felt sharply the need for freedom.” Its Gorbachev successor not only felt that need but achieved it. Both these cohorts have thus felt bad about the increasing authoritarianism in Rusia because it has “taken away the feeling of freedom and the possibilities with which they lied in their younger years.”

            Those who entered adulthood as the Yeltsin generation were very different from their predecessors. They suffered from the crises of those years, and members of this cohort “highly value comfort and relative stability.” Consequently, they are much more supportive of the current regime.

            In a certain respect, Pautova says, “this generation recalls the Brezhnev one of 1969-1976 which grew up in the post-war period” and benefited from the relatively well-off “’golden 1970s.’”

            But now a generation is emerging which does not particularly remember the turbulence o the 1990s, she says. For them, either Putin or Medvedev has always been president. And they take relative economic stability as a given. Consequently, this generation, like the Suslov one, is appalled first and foremost by the rampant consumerism and cynicism” of many Russians.

            In saying this, Pautova continues, two qualifications are in order.  On the one hand, far too little is known about this generation to justify as sweeping conclusion.  And on the other, the new generation is deeply split between the 20 percent who follow public events and the 80 percent who only want to focus on their own lives.

            In research conducted last year, she says, 51 percent of young people in Russia between 18 and 30 said they were not keeping track of developments in Ukraine and were largely indifferent to them and to what is going on in other neighboring countries, despite the attention such events get in the state media.

            Pautova nonetheless believes that the new generation may make a difference. She cites the findings of her colleague Olga Kryshtanovskaya who found growing dissatisfaction with the existing political system in Russia not among young people in the capitals but also in the regions as well.

            “It is completely possible,” she suggests, that this generation will have its own ideas about how the authorities need to be changed.” And she gives as an example research findings showing that “among young people, Zhirinovsky is very popular and chauvinist attitudes are in general growing.”

            But how actively such young people will pursue these goals remains an open question.  Many of them are actively involved in social networks where they create and even experience “the illusion of activity” with “likes and reposts replacing genuine action.  An individual pushes a button and it seems to him that he has done something, but this is not so.”

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