Surveying Putin’s Generation

At some point, I don’t know when, Martin Luther proclaimed, “Who has the youth, has the future.” If this is true, then Putin has assured that his “plan” will continue well after Russia’s youth grow up and take the reigns of power. But Putin’s success in capturing the youth isn’t because of Nashi. It is more a product of the first generation’s formative years coinciding with Russia’s economic boom. The result is a generation, which many now call Putin’s Generation, that places wealth, careerism, and political conservativism as hallmarks of their identity. That is at least what VTsIOM’s Dmitry Polikanov says in his article “The New Russians.”

Here is a run down of Polikanov’s findings from surveying 18-24 year olds:

  1. Acquiring wealth (62%) trumps family (58%), children (45%), career (37%) and a good education (21%) as key goals. It’s quite interesting that a good education is at the opposite end of wealth, since one would expect the former providing a greater opportunity for get the latter. What it tells me is that for Russian youths, wealth is viewed as something obtainable without or in spite of education.
  2. Russian youth are more politically apathetic than the general population. Only 55% of youth said they didn’t engaged in a political action in the last two years compared to 47% of the population. The most common political act is voting. In fact, Polikanov finds that youth vote 5-10% less than the general population. Only 37% say they discuss politics. Youth’s political attitudes, when they have them, are “liberal Right,” and only 25% favor “the free market and political democracy.” On the whole most prefer non-political forms of organization and expression such as literary or cultural societies.
  3. Russian youth support the authorities. ” Putin’s youth aren’t looking for a democratic “revolution”, and don’t place much stake in the concept of a Western democratic model,” says Polikanov. About half (40-45%) support United Russia and other pro-government parties. They are completely turned off to both the extreme left and right. About 52-55% identify with the nation as “a concept capable of uniting the entire nation,” but only 9% agree with “Russia for the Russians.” “Unlike many liberals’ expectations in the 1990s,” Polikanov writes, “the new generation is mostly loyal to the authorities and reluctant to support the opposition in any form.”
  4. Their views of religion are increasingly more Protestant than Orthodox. About a quarter of religious youth emphasize personal salvation and morality rather than observing Orthodox customs and ritual.

Taken as a whole, Polikanov says that his findings show that “Putin’s youngsters are more individualistic, less romantic, more pragmatic and more focused on achieving personal success.”

Excerpts from interviews with young people paint a more nuanced picture. Here are a few quotes.

Alexander, 23, actor:

“A young actor can earn a decent enough wage, and this is improving with every year. Someone starting out, for example, will get $150-$200 for a day of filming. You start negotiating as you get more experience. Though you’ve got to hurry to get in ahead of someone else. You see, everything in Russia depends on the individual, on how much he actually wants things himself.”

Masha, 24, PhD student:

“Overall, though I don’t agree with much of what the current regime stands for, they have to be praised for getting us out of the chaos of the 1990s. Of course, you can criticize Putin for tightening the screws. But then again bringing order always requires some screws to be tightened.”

Denis , 26, student and small-scale entrepreneur:

“I’m interested in buying a car – not politics. . . As far as I’m concerned, success in life is about being one’s own boss. It’s about stability. Confidence. Family. And… well… I’d say its easier these days to have all four. Definitely compared to the 1990s. You can buy anything you need now. Apart from a flat – you can work day in, day out, and you still won’t have enough. I’ve heard the government are offering grants, but I’m not really at that stage yet. I’ve only just got together with a girl, you see. I’m hoping something serious will come of it.

Are our politicians changing things for the better? I can’t really answer that. There is progress on some fronts. Life is changing. But politics don’t interest me. I’m more occupied with other things, like buying a car. I’ll definitely do it this year, though I haven’t decided which one yet.”

Stepan, 25, father of two children:

“With kids, your problems will increase. But I’m optimistic.

How are things with money? Not easy. I’m always looking for the next ruble. But I don’t complain – if I need something, I’ll always find a way of getting it. It’s something I’ve learned in life – if you give yourself a goal and a deadline, you’ll do things. Of course, you’ll sometimes hit a brick wall, like Russian bureaucracy, but even this is getting easier. Not so long ago we even came across a helpful government official. . .

We’ve got relatives and friends who have moved abroad, but we want to stay and work in Russia. I know when my children start to grow up, my problems will increase. I know I can’t be entirely confident about the next 10 years. But I’m optimistic when I look to the future.”

Nikita , 24, classical musician:

“Politics are important to me. My sympathies lie on the side of liberal democracy, but the problem is that this have never had any sensible proponents in Russia. I didn’t vote out of principle, but the way things stand, I think I would probably have voted for Medvedev. He seemed to me the lesser evil.”

Angela, 20, student:

“My identity is in being Russian and Orthodox. . .

Am I interested in politics? Not really. I don’t watch news on the TV. I try not to watch TV at all. But I voted in the elections. For Medvedev. Why? I like Putin’s politics, and I think Medvedev will continue in the same way. It is thanks to Putin that Russia is on the up.

I think Russia is right to take a hard line abroad. You have to remember Russia takes up one sixth of the entire globe! The most important thing is that we avoid a war. I believe all people are brothers. Do I think a war is possible? Maybe. I think the US present a real danger with their politics.”

Alexander, 26, political activist and party worker:

“Being involved in public politics is like a drug.

How did it start? I’ve been actively involved in politics since my second year at university, but it was only in late 2004 when things really got interesting. This was when I founded a site – skazhi.net.

My idea was a response to an unpopular government decision to replace social benefits-in-kind with direct payments. We saw that people were upset, wanted to protest, but didn’t know where or how. So we decided to create a dynamic online map of Russia, with updates of all the protests going on around Russia. We ended up getting loads of coverage in the foreign media, including CNN.

As for me, I had great fun growing my beard and wearing a cap I wanted to play on the image of Che Guevara. I think that people quite liked it.

When the wave subsided, I left the public arena to work for a political party.

To be honest, I miss it loads. The exposure gave me a high… it was like a drug.”

Anna, 17, student:

“I don’t believe we are on a collision course with the West . .

Would I have taken part in the elections had I been 18? I think it would have probably been worth it. To be honest, I don’t feel any particular need or desire to vote.

Do I consider myself European? That’s a difficult one. I suppose I consider myself Russian first and foremost. Probably, yes, we are closer to Europe. Moscow at least. It is a completely different world in the eastern regions.

Today, everyone is talking about a clash of the West with Russia. I’m not sure about this. I’ve traveled a lot and I think that people generally respond to Russians well. The only exception to this is the Czechs, who for historical reasons really don’t like us.”

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