Sunday, June 2, 2019

Generational Change Makes Current Protests More Serious than Earlier Ones, Gontmakher Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 1 – Many people in the regime and beyond are not inclined to take the current wave of protests in Yekaterinburg, Yakutsk, Siyes, and Ingushetia seriously, Yevgeny Gontmakher says, assuming the causes are so varied and the solution to the demonstrations the same as it was in 2011-2012.

            The economist says that many think that a few arrests, a few expulsions from university, and a possible new foreign move will be sufficient to put everything back into the box as it was before. But they are wrong and wrong because of something they aren’t considering: generational change (

            The very oldest of those under 40 – and these are the people who predominate in these protests, Gontmakher suggests – were born in the 1980s when the Soviet Union was obvious falling apart and when they knew about stagnation only because of the stories their parents told them and because of the speeches the country’s leaders routinely gave.

            As they have grown up in post-Soviet Russia, they have been told by official propaganda that their country embodies true democracy, justice and respect for international law, even as they have been encouraged to adopt anti-Western views because the West in this narrative has “fake” examples of each.

            That message was effective in the first decade of this century, Gontmakher says, because rapid economic growth meant that almost everyone was doing better than he or she had earlier and could expect to do better yet.  But that period gave birth to something that is now a problem: “European standards of consumption” among the younger age groups.
            It was no longer enough for them to gain one step up but to be able to see that they would rise still further.  And if they couldn’t do so, they were more than ready to become angry.  The economic crisis of 2008 called that into question, but then a certain stabilization and Crimea seemed to overcome these doubts.

            Since that time, however, the impact of generational change has become much greater, Gontmakher says. On the one hand, the economy did not recover but rather continued to decline; and ordinary people under 40 who expected to see their standard of living go up began to question whether that was going to be true.

            “The younger generations … suddenly understood that they wouldn’t be able, despite good educations … to ensure themselves a worthy level of life,” according to the standard that they had earlier come to expect. 

            And on the other, official statements repeated again and again that things are going well no longer had the calming effect they had on older generations. Instead, they generated ever greater anger. Ever more young people began to feel that “’the bosses’ do not understand how Russia is living and even do not want to understand.” And they are ready to protest.

            Young people today, Gontmakher says, “go out to protest knowing that they may fall into the hands of the police and then in an isolator for 10 to 15 days, but consider this as something positive in the eyes of their age group and even part of their own parents.” Thus, they aren’t intimidated and can’t be suppressed by the same level of repression that worked earlier.

            “Of course,” the economist says, “such attitudes are still not typical for the majority of people younger than 40 but their spread is rapidly growing supported by the inexorable laws of demography.” And as more young people feel this way, more will be prepared to protest and demand change.

            Young people no longer view the state as sacred in the way that their parents did; instead, they place higher value on sincerity and respect for human dignity.  And what is important to remember is that despite the lack of recognition many of them have now, it is out of that group that will come “the future ruling elite of Russia.”

            If the younger age groups retain the values they are displaying now, Gontmakher says, then the Russia they will eventually inherit will be “a humane and just society in which the state wil be transformed from its current ‘ruler of fates’ into ‘a servant of the people.’” Because that process is in train, the current demos showing these attitudes matter far more than many think.

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