Staunton, Oct. 11 – According to a new VTsIOM poll, only 19 percent of Russians say they favor having Russian distance itself from the West; and among young people whose entire conscious life has been lived under Vladimir Putin who favors such an approach, the share is even lower, 11 percent, the editors of Nezavsimaya gazeta point out.
In a leading article, they say that this shows “there is no mass demand for isolationism in Russia.” Instead, the population appears to be “more open and liberal” than the country’s leadership, with only the elderly who remember Soviet tropes lining up behind an isolationist agenda (ng.ru/editorial/2021-10-11/2_8274_editorial.html).
That overall position, the editors of the independent newspaper say, is striking enough. But what is especially instructive about the situation Russia finds itself in is the attitude of young people who have grown up not in Soviet times or the 1990s but more recently when the dominant political discourse of the Kremlin has been “anti-Western.”
Despite having grown up with that message, the editors continue, young Russians “are not demanding a continuation of that policy.” Instead, they are open to change. “They have become accustomed to open borders and the free exchange of opinions.” And they are not prepared to sacrifice all that and return to the realities of the Cold War.
“Having released the genie of isolationism from the bottle,” the paper argues, “the authorities are not reacting to the attitudes in society.” They are relying on the resentment of the older generation which is passing from the scene rather than on the hopes of the rising generation which is coming to form an increasing share of the population.
This is not how modern states function. Instead, it is the policy of a traditionalist government and a traditionalist society “in which people suppose that young people will ‘grow up,’ with time become more conservative, and will accept the values and attitudes of those who are older.”
That may be the case for many values, but there is little reason to think that it will be the dominant trend among young people about foreign relations as they age.