Joy Gleason Carew, Associate professor of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. She is author of Blacks, Reds, and Russians: Sojourners in Search of the Soviet Promise and most recently of “Black in the USSR: African Diasporan Pilgrims, Expatriates and Students in Russia, From the 1920s to the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century” in African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal.
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By Sean — 1 year ago
By Sean — 12 years ago
Obsession about the quality of Russian youth is not new. In a 1928 study on the daily life of Russian youth titled Life Out of Control (Zhizn’ bez kontroliia) sociologist and moralist V. Ketlinskaia wrote,
We want our youth to be strong, hard-working, optimistic, and energetic. It must have unsullied heads, masterful hands, a healthy body, and cheerful mood. And for this, the youth’s lives—both social and private—must be normal and healthy. It is known that family discord, casual sex, abortion, venereal and feminine (sic) diseases, “alimony issues” and other accompaniments to a an unorganized sexual life strongly destroys the health, rattles the nerves, and kills the good spirits and energy of youth. It is necessary to organize the sexual habits (byt) of youth so that they don’t destroy the strength of youth, but assist in the knowledge of health and physical strength of the young generation. (5-6)
In the 1920s hundreds of studies on youth sexuality, everyday life, health, work, living conditions, etc were conducted in factories, schools, the Komsomol, villages, and the military. For the Bolsheviks, the concern was centered on the debilitating influence of the “bourgeois culture” of the New Economic Policy on worker and peasant youth, as well as how this would affect the politics and culture of the Komsomol and ultimately the future of socialism in Russia. Making “youth” the object of social inquiry and moral regulation continued throughout the Soviet period.
The focus on sex, health, and psychology aside, (these tended to be grouped together in late 19th century and early 20th century studies on youth), the main point is about preventing the degeneration of youth. Degeneration was a constant obsession in all Western countries at the time, and if current reporting on youth is any indication, “degeneration” remains a social and political concern even though it is crouched in different terminology.
In the end, what youth in general and Russian youth in particular are is grounded in the anxiety or hopes of adults. Their voices are often heard but rarely listened to, as their words are stuffed into a prefab narrative to justify or condemn.
Russia Profile has given three examples of how youth remains the fascination of Russia’s adult population: “Russia’s Youth: Myths and Reality”; “Why Are Young People Rehabilitating Stalin?”; and “Playing on Old Myths”. Though none of them are specifically concerned with sex, all three echo the general concern Ketlinskaia raised almost 80 years ago: What is today’s youth? And how will “what they are” effect not only the present, but the future of the nation?
What strikes me about these articles, and ironically many of the ones written in the Soviet Union, the United States and Europe at the turn of the last century, is how similar they are despite ideological and temporal difference. Youth is always the signifier for adult anxiety, whether it be their attitudes to sex, politics, history, economics, education, patriotism, and the nation. Often youth are categorized with negative terms—ignorance, flippant, na?ve, egotistic, apathetic—though adults at the same time want them to be the opposite of all these. Youth are passive political subjects that are easily manipulated. Youth rarely have agency of itself and for itself. When this agency is recognized, it is usually denounced as too radical, misguided, or idealist.
Take for example, the paragraph from Alexei Kiva “Why Are Young People Rehabilitating Stalin?”:
Watching these television series, [youth] see Stalin as a larger-than-life figure in whom evil and greatness are combined. The creators of both series have repeatedly said they were trying to emphasize Stalin’s crimes so, rather, the problem lies with the view of history among the young.
Mature, educated adults watching these series see Stalin as a monster as his whims seal the fate of the series’ main characters and the country descends into poverty and suffering. But young people are used to hearing about their country being rocked by crime, economic crises and suffering one defeat after another on the international stage. They see every day how people flaunt their ill-gotten wealth harming the country with their immoral acts and feeling no shame or fear of retribution.
Because they know little about the facts about life in the Stalin years, young people perceive even “glamorous” overtones in these programs. The average young viewer sees Stalin as a Shakespearean character of both great evil and great genius.
Putting aside Kiva’s point about Stalin, look at how youth are positioned versus adults. Youth are the ones who are manipulated by the “larger than life” images of Stalin. The problem is not with the cultural production, which is made by adults, but with “the view of history among the young.” “Mature, educated adults” however have the correct historical view because they see Stalin as a “monster.” Adults have some sort of inherent access to the light, while young people remain in darkness by virtue of their youth.
A much different picture is created when you actually listen to youth’s voices. Contrast the above with an excerpt from Dmitry Polikanov’s “Russia’s Youth: Myths and Reality”. His assessment, which is based on VTsIOM (the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research) opinion polls, paints a much more positive picture.
Young people are also proactive. They have a totally different view of the role of state in the economy and the social sphere in comparison with other age groups. It is clear that the new generation is drifting more toward a traditional liberal world and away from traditions of paternalism. Thirty-seven to 42 percent of respondents in this age group say that they can do without help from the state, which they believe should focus instead on providing basic equal opportunities for all.
In order to achieve success, many 18-to-24-year-old respondents are ready to jettison existing moral principles that officially upheld by the older generation (62 percent). This view is shared by only 50 percent of those from the older group (25-to-34-year olds), who belong partly to a Soviet code of morality.
Therefore, the younger generation is one made up of optimistic realists trying to find a balance between universal liberty (in income and morality) and conservatism for all (with regard to family values).
Polikanov finds that Russian youth’s idols are not Stalin, but rather predictably actors, rock stars, sports stars, and the rich. Politically they tend to be more socially liberal, while politically moderate. The far left and right are mostly marginal, and in terms of youth organizations, Nashi is viewed more positively than the National Bolsheviks mostly because the former is “perceived as offering help up the career ladder through involvement with actual groups in power and social networking.” With youths like these adults can sleep soundly.
Much of the ambivalence in what youth are is lost among the anxiety ridden articles about the rise of Russian nationalism or every protest staged by the National Bolsheviks or the Red Youth Vanguard. I’ve been partly guilty of this myself as I too am fascinated by political radicalism among youth. Youth radicalism must be placed in a context in order to evaluate its potency.
The question however, and this is something I am dealing with in my own academic work is how do we represent youth so they are representing themselves? One way is to stop thinking of them as passive political subjects that are more susceptible than adults to political or ideological manipulation. They are political agents in their own right. The history of the 20th century shows this as will certainly that of the 21st.Post Views: 346
By Sean — 4 years ago
Some of the content below might be outdated due to rapidly changing events.
By William Risch
Last week, world television stations featured horrific clashes with police and protestors in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Up to 100 died in shootouts on February 18-20. At the center of the protests – Independence Square, commonly known as the Maidan – the protestors’ main headquarters, the Trade Unions’ Building, burned to the ground. Then the violence suddenly stopped. After the political opposition reached an agreement with President Viktor Yanukovych, Yanukovych fled for parts unknown. Opposition leaders removed him from power and began laying the groundwork for a new government.
Ukrainians had real fears civil war would break out. In a poll taken in Ukraine January 25-27, up to 8 percent of respondents believed a civil war would definitely happen, 32 percent said it was a real danger, and 31 percent said it was a possibility; only 20 percent said they absolutely did not believe a civil war would happen in Ukraine. Yet there was no civil war. Nothing came of a February 22 meeting of separatists in the eastern industrial city of Kharkiv, a pro-Yanukovych stronghold. Over the next few days, elites from eastern and southern Ukraine ditched Yanukovych and announced that they would cooperate with Kyiv. The Russian invasion of Crimea, while alarming, has failed to produce mass support among locals for their would-be liberators.
What happened? For one thing, Ukraine is not a federal state, but a centralized one. Ukraine’s armed forces and police forces take orders from Kyiv’s central government. The armed forces limited their involvement to general calls for unity and order. Kyiv’s new government returned Berkut, riot police, and other law enforcement to their barracks. Oligarchs and other elites in southern and eastern Ukraine most likely stayed out of separatist politics because of financial reasons. Ukraine’s banking system, unlike its U.S. counterpart, is highly centralized. The system of electronic cash payments, rather than being run by separate clearing houses in private banks, is run from one central server in Kyiv. It would have been very easy to block the accounts of aspiring separatist politicians and leave them without cash in as little as six hours.
Yet I would like to suggest another explanation. Serious differences scholars have noted between western and central Ukraine (“Western Ukraine”) and southern and eastern Ukraine (“Eastern Ukraine”) over such issues as relations with the EU and Russia, language use, and historical memory might not have been as salient as predicted. This scholarly consensus drew me, a historian of Lviv, Ukraine’s more “western” other, to Kharkiv and Donetsk. I visited these cities January 7-17 to find out more about people’s attitudes there toward the Euromaidan protest movement, the EU and Russia, and Ukrainian politics. In addition to interviewing Euromaidan activists in Kharkiv and Donetsk, I collected written narrative responses to questionnaires from 10 people in Donetsk who were from their mid-30s to their 60s, and I interviewed 4 residents from the Donetsk area who were in their 20s and 30s.
My findings confirmed the numerous polls indicating Eastern Ukrainians’ lack of support for the Euromaidan protestors. While a few were sympathetic to them, most saw them as people who didn’t work, were being paid by politicians, had no clue what they were doing, or were being manipulated by extreme nationalists. Two women in their late 20s and early 30s voiced similar perceptions. Yet almost all of them said that the “division” between Eastern and Western Ukraine was artificial, exploited by politicians. While criticizing some of the slogans made at Kyiv Maidan demonstrations and associating these with the far right, they seemed more concerned about protestors’ lack of plans for fixing Ukraine’s serious economic problems. While a woman in her late 20s saw Yanukovych as having been more effective than his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma, she stressed that Ukraine lacked real leaders fit to be president, and that it was unrealistic to remove Yanukovych from power. This woman also suggested that the Donetsk Region’s skepticism about the EU did not mean greater affinities for Russia. She said that Ukraine faced a false choice between Russia and the EU and that it should look after its own interests.
Thus, I see great potential for the new regime to gain support from such people. So far, that has not happened yet. March 1 was a sad reminder of this. In Kharkiv, hired thugs, some from Russian cities like Voronezh and Belgorod, came to a meeting of “patriotic Kharkivians” organized by Mayor Kernes and stormed the governor’s office, seizing about 30 Euromaidan activists inside and beating them up and humiliating them on Freedom Square. Those storming the building hoisted Russian flags from its upper floors. In Donetsk, demonstrators from a crowd of about 7,000 pro-Yanukovych supporters tried to storm the governor’s offices there and hung a Russian flag on a nearby flag post. Crimea’s parliament decided to move up to March 10 a referendum on the autonomous region’s status.
Despite these worrisome signs, the new regime and Euromaidan forces are trying to bring the country together. The interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, promised to veto a new language law that appeared to discriminate against Russian speakers and alienate potential support in Eastern Ukraine. The new government this weekend appointed billionaire oligarchs from Eastern Ukraine – Serhiy Taruta and Ihor Kolomoiskyi – governors of the Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk regions to provide greater stability and unity. Kharkiv Euromaidan activists last week put off plans to demolish the city’s Lenin monument and chose to have the public discuss the issue further. In Lviv, the reputed heartland of right-wing nationalism, members of Lviv’s intelligentsia early last week called on the government to enact more favorable policies for Russian speakers and back away from political extremists, and they urged people not to take the law into their own hands. We end the week with Ukraine facing not a civil war, but an unprovoked foreign occupation of one of its southern regions.
William Risch is Associate Professor of History at Georgia College and made two trips to Ukraine during the Euromaidan protests.Post Views: 599