X":Who Are They?
Russias twentysomething generation has much in
common with Americas: it is a generation searching for an identity,
a name, a purpose, and a future. In America, young people born after 1960
have been variously labeled "Generation X," "13th Gen,"
and other less flattering titles, in an attempt to find some way of characterizing
the post-Baby Boomers. The same effort to understand young Russians in
their 20's is also underway, and this research has much to say about the
future direction of post-Communist Russia after the turn of the century.
Much Different Than Their Parents
A title such as "Generation X" is especially appropriate for
Russias twenty-year-olds because they are a generation "in
between," a generation caught in the transition between Marxism-Leninism
and an unknown future. Opinion surveys clearly indicate that Russian young
people have very different attitudes than their parents on most subjects
of importance. As early as 1990 -- even before the collapse of the Soviet
Union and the disbanding of the Communist Party -- U.S. Information Agency
(USIA) surveys demonstrated that Russian young people repudiated the key
features of the Communist worldview that their party leaders, schoolteachers
and even parents had tried to instill in them.
When asked whether seventy years of Communist rule had been good or bad
for the country, 75% of the young Russians interviewed said it had been
bad, while only 20% felt it had been good. When they were asked if socialism
had a future in the Soviet Union, half of the young people interviewed
said "No;" only 20% answered affirmatively (Richard B. Dobson.
"Communisms Legacy and Russian Youth," in James R. Millar
and Sharon L. Wolchiks The Social Legacy of Communism, Cambridge
University Press, 1994, pp. 239-240).
We know from the popular media that American films, rock music and other
cultural artifacts still hold great appeal to Russian youth. USIA surveys
have verified this impression. 67% of Russians under the age of 30 find
American popular culture appealing, while only 15% of those over 50 concur.
When asked if the United States "offers a political and socioeconomic
example for Russia," businessmen and students were the two groups
most attracted by the U. S. model. 64% of the students answered positively
to this question while 65% of the businessmen did as well. Most other
categories of Russians were evenly divided on this question or answered
in the negative ("Russian Public Opinions of the U.S....," USIA
Opinion Analysis, M-22-96, January 31, 1996).
The Context of Russias "Generation
Understanding the context in which Russias twentysomething generation
grew up helps explain why their views are so different from their parents.
By the 1970's, when these young people were children, Russia had already
experienced a rapid modernization process which resulted in massive urbanization,
a shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy, and dramatic increases
in levels of education and media use. Better educated and predominantly
urban, young Russians enjoyed a better standard of living and more leisure
time than their parents or grandparents. They also had higher expectations
for personal success and material well-being.
In the mid-1970's, while those expectations began to increase, the Soviet
economy started to sputter and rates of growth declined. Food shortages
became more common, but defense spending continued at high levels. The
resulting economic slowdown created disillusionment among the young: all
the promises about surpassing the achievements of the West were proving
to be false. This growing dissatisfaction was compounded by increased
communication and travel, which opened up the outside world to young Russians
in ways their parents could have never imagined. Now the young people
knew how far behind the Soviet Union actually was!
As they entered their teenage years, Russias Generation X witnessed
a succession of infirm Communist leaders (Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko)
who were not heroes in anyones eyes, the bloody and demoralizing
war in Afghanistan (1979-1989), and the turbulence of the early Gorbachev
reforms. This context was not likely to make young Russians fervent supporters
of Communist ideals.
By the late 1980's, the head of Komsomol, the Communist Partys
youth association, admitted that the dialogue between party leaders and
Russian youth "often resembled a conversation between the deaf and
the mute." In 1990, a year before it was disbanded, Russian educators
acknowledged that the "Pioneer and Komsomol organizations are already
lost" (R. Dobson, pp. 237-9).
Views of Russias Future
Two years ago, USIA conducted an extensive survey of Russian youth in
six cities, a survey which included extensive focus group conversations.
When asked to identify their generation, a number of Russian young people
used the words "a generation in transition." Not unlike American
youth, Russian young people described a striking contrast between their
confidence in their own personal futures and their fatalism about the
future of Russia. Most of the young people interviewed talked about their
countrys political future as "bleak," and expressed no
interest at all in helping to change this. Russias "Generation
X" is deeply disillusioned and profoundly skeptical of political
revolution and economic experimentation. The surveys reported that Russian
youth want to be left alone to "cultivate domestic gardens,"
own some land and make a living ("Russias Future: Perspectives
of Young Russians, 1994-1995," USIA Research Report, March 1995).
Dr. John A. Bernbaum
Russian-American Christian University/US Office,
P. O. Box 2007, Wheaton, MD, 20915-2007