Monday, May 14, 2018

Young Russians Know Little of 1990s and View Putin as Stalin’s Immediate Successor, New Research Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 14 – New studies by Valeriya Kasamara and Anna Sorokina of the Higher School of Economics show that young Russians know more about the ancient Slavs than they do about the 1993 constitution and that they are inclined to see Vladimir Putin as the success of Joseph Stalin without any appreciation of what happened between the two.

            The two scholars at the end of last week spoke at Yekaterinburg’s Yeltsin Center and declared that their most general conclusion from the surveys and interviews they have conducted over the last five years is that ‘the closer historical events are to us and the simpler they are presented, the less any individual knows about them” (

                But that often means especially among the young, Kasamara and Sorokina continue, that people “lack an understanding of the historical context they are themselves living within.” What is still worse, they add is that young Russians show little interest in finding out about this past and are prepared to accept the simplified version presented on television and in textbooks.

            Even though 70 percent of Russians born in the 1990s use the Internet, they do not exploit it to gain historical understanding, preferring to rely on what their parents or state television tell them; and the history textbooks they use are entirely inadequate when it comes to recent events.

            One widely used history textbook on 20th century Russia, for example, devotes 70 pages to World War II, one page to collectivization, and a single paragraph to the repressions of 1937. Thus, it is not surprising that Russian young people know more about the first event and almost nothing about the latter two.

            The two scholars asked university students what they were most proud of and most ashamed of in the history of their country.  Sixty-three percent said they were proud of the Soviet Union’s role in World War II, 30 percent Gagarin’s space flight, and 20 percent the War of 1812.  Thus, even the most recent event they were proud of was long before they were born.

            As to those events in Russian history they were ashamed of, 36 percent of those born in the mid-1990s said that they couldn’t name any. Eighteen percent named repressions, 11 percent the disintegration of the USSR, nine percent the Bolshevik revolution, and six percent the murder of the Imperial Family.

            To tap into the attitudes of the young aobuut recent history, the two scholars asked their interview subjects for their reactions to 1917, 1937, 1991, and 1993.  Most of the sample got 1917 more or less correct, but in 1937, only every fifth even mentioned repression.  The most popular response for that year was that it was the date of the birth of a relative!

            All knew something about 1991 but few could recall anything significant about 1993, the two say. And that points to a more general problem: “Everything that concerns Soviet history after 1945 when ‘you won the war,’ is extremely fragmented. For many, it appears that after the death of Stalin, by some miracle appeared Putin.”

            Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorbachev and the others all disappear or are remembered in simplified or even incorrectly.  One girl told the sociologists that her mother had had tears in her eyes when television showed the funeral of Mikhail Gorbachev, who of course is still very much alive. 

            As for Yeltsin, the Russian young remember little but associate him in the first instance with alcohol rather than any reforms. There is no social consensus on this period, they say; and often teachers rush over it at the very end of classes.  As a result, Russians do not have “the founding myth” that other countries rely on.

            “For the Putin generation which was born in the 1990s, there is no founding myth at all,” the two say. “They do not know what the history of present-day Russian began with and no one is talking to them about it.”

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