Thus, for them, as bad as things may be in Russia now, there is little or no hope that they are better elsewhere or could be better if anyone else came to power, a world view Kirillova suggests reflects the disappointments Russians experienced during “the wild 1990s” and that Kremlin propagandists have played up since that time.
What is striking, she continues, is that thanks to this propaganda effort, Russians associate the problems of the 1990s almost exclusively with economic reforms, democracy and the West and have largely forgotten the role of the domestic banditism and the mafia, the role of “the new Russians,” and the rise of security services within the government.
“This false association,” she continues, “has been sufficient to inspire fear before ‘a return to the 1990s’ and total distrust to the West in general and democratic values in particular.”
The Kremlin’s playing on the disappointment of Russians in Western ideas has been extremely useful for the Kremlin not only because disappointment is one of the strongest emotions but also because “in contrast to ideology, it is a feeling which appeals to personal experience,” something that for most people is “more important than any logical system.”
One can argue about the latter but almost by definition one can’t about the former, Kirillova says.
This feeling of cultivated disappointment is especially strong among “’the children of the 1990s,’” Kirillova says of her own age cohort. Because its members so strongly believed in Western values before 1991, their disappointment has been all the greater, their unwillingness to discuss their feelings more intense, and the readiness to become “hurrah patriots” more frequent.
Restoring their faith in the West or in democracy will thus be far harder among this rising generation than among those who are older, were less invested in Western values and therefore less disappointed by what they have come to believe about the 1990s. The older generation has a broader context to put this propaganda in and so is less affected.
Because the Putin regime can always point to numerous examples in the West where its declared values and its actions are at odds, it will be able to maintain this attitude of disappointment especially among younger people unless and until some of its members decide to try to institute genuine democracy in Russia on their own.
When that happens, when people can see that not everyone steals and that not everyone misuses democracy, then they will shift in their attitudes; but until it does, they will remain prisoners of the disappointment they felt as a result of the 1990s, a disappointment that the Kremlin by its propaganda seeks to structure for its own benefit every day.