Putin’s Unmoored Youth

16 May

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This week’s Russia Magazine! column, “The Kids Aren’t Alright,”

“Who has the youth has the future!” Martin Luther declared. As object-subjects of modern states, youth serve as the key to reproducing of the means of reproduction. They perpetuate the nation and its institutions. Adults, therefore, seek, to play on Marx, to create youth after their own image. Yet, Russian youth defy capture. According to a recent study by Olga Kryshtanovskaya, Russian youth remain unmoored, disorientated, and incapable of finding their footing in present day Russia. Twenty years after the collapse of communism, “they have no established sense of Russian society and their place in it.” When young Russians look across the political landscape and peer at its various parties, movements, and personalities, they feel a profound sense of alienation. “This is one of the signs that the Russian political system finds itself in crisis,” says Pavel Salin, the director of the Center of Political Research.

Or is it? They certainly threaten the stability of Putin’s political corporatism. But they speak directly to the other side of Putinism: neoliberalism. And their experience with an economic structure that requires an unmoored, apathetic, cynical, and individuated citizenry places them on par with destabilized educated young people the world over. Like their Western counterparts, the respondents in Kryshtanovskaya survey are urban, educated, “middle class,” and politically liberal yet socially and economically adrift. The system doesn’t represent them, and they don’t have or desire a collective social identity to represent themselves.

If there is one word that characterizes the neoliberal experience of Russian youth it’s paradox. Kryshtanovskaya’s report is suffused with it suggesting a cohort split between pathos and reason, present doom and future salvation, and heralds of the nation and its discontents. Statements like “many working youth consider themselves unemployed;” “parties in the present Russian political system don’t correspond to their ideological labels;” young people talking of social calamity but don’t see “a national catastrophe as a serious danger;” and they are politically apathetic but speak of a “revolutionary apocalypse” suggests a non-place in Russia’s current conjecture. Russian youth inhabit the crevices of a paradoxical present.