During May of 1998, a major nationwide survey was taken of young Russians between the ages of 18 and 29. These young people, born between 1968 and 1980, had their lives and values shaped by the “era of stagnation” under Leonid Brezhnev, perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachev, and all the radical changes that have occurred since the collapse of Communism in the early 1990s. 24,500,000 Russians in this age group have come of age in a period in which the Soviet Union dissolved, Communist Party rule ended, and the state planning system was dismantled.
Personal and Professional Lives
For young Russians who are making their way from teenager to adult, little has been stable in their lives. 59% are single, 35% are married and 6% have already gone through a divorce. About 26% are enrolled in educational institutions and more than 55% still receive money from their parents for living expenses. In fact, 59% still live with their parents.
Monthly income for the Russian young people surveyed ranged from $15 for army conscripts to $185 for industrial workers to $720 for young business owners. For professionals in law and medicine, monthly salaries averaged around $196, with accountants and engineers receiving slightly higher salaries ($238). Despite these relatively modest incomes, most Russian young people report that they or members of their family own a color television (91%), tape recorder (78%) or VCR (60%); two-fifths have telephones and one-third own automobiles. Approximately half say that they or family members have a dacha (house in the countryside).
While the vast majority of Russian young people expressed satisfaction with their friends and parents, they tended to be disgruntled with local health care facilities, cultural and recreational opportunities, environmental conditions and economic opportunities. Like their elders, a large majority said that the national government was doing a poor job of providing for Russia’s defense needs, promoting economic growth and protecting citizens’ rights.
Politics and Civil Society
The under-30 generation is largely negative in its appraisal of the men who have governed Russia in this century. They believe more harm than good was done not only by Lenin, Stalin and Brezhnev, but also by Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The only 20th century ruler with a net positive score was Nicholas II, the last of the Romanov tsars.
When asked whether it is good or bad that the Soviet Union no longer exists, young Russians are twice as likely to say it is bad rather than good (57% to 28%). Survey results indicate that the feelings of Russian young people about the Soviet Union are more a disenchantment with the present than a yearning for the old order.
Values and Lifestyles
When asked what the most important things in life are, Russian young people listed as their top four choices having a good family life (98%), having strong friendships (95%), being well-off financially (95%) and being successful in work (93%). Three-fifths of young Russians say they believe in God, but very few attend religious services. Only 2% attend at least once a week and an additional 17% attend a few times a year. Two-fifths stated that they have never attended a religious service.
One source of alarm is the growing cynicism of many young Russians. In a recent article entitled “Russia’s ‘Generation Nyet’ Finds Nothing to Be For,” a young Muscovite used the label “Generation Nyet” because “all we have is ‘no.’ We don’t want what we have – a troubled Russia – but we have no good ideas for what we want. Some of us turn to religion – we wear crosses and can repeat cliches from religious pamphlets, but few read the Bible. Some of us turn to the radical chic of dangerous new sociopolitical movements; we like the romantic railings, but we have no realistic programs. Wherever we invest our thought, we feel bankrupt and apathetic.”
According to this young writer, the glitter of democracy and capitalism has faded into economic hard times and political uncertainty. “Generation Nyet” has had enough of Yeltsin, does not want the return of communism, but has no other viable choices. Increasing numbers of youth are now turning to extremist groups that have become fashionable in today’s Russia. In his judgment, “It’s hard for a romantic young person to escape the influence of such radicalism – especially in a country that has given its young people so little.”
Russia’s Transitional Generation
Russian youth are much more committed to developing their country into a prosperous nation in which people live well (80%), than into a great military power (15%). They are more optimistic than their elders about the future, but that is not saying much. 40% believe that economic conditions will improve in Russia over the next 10-15 years, while the same percentage expect things to remain the same or get worse. Only 33% expect an improvement in the rule of law in the same time period, while almost 50% expect little or no progress in this area. After studying the survey data of Russian youth, Richard Dobson concluded: “Clearly the adult generation in Russia has not freed itself of the dead hand of the past. Whether the country will be able once and for all to throw off those past ways and move toward a different future depends in large measure on the attitudes of Russia’s young. They will play a pivotal role in shaping that future.”
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Sources: Richard B. Dobson, “Young Russians’ Lives and Views: Results of a May 1998 USIA Survey,” Report #R-10-98, U. S. Information Agency, Washington, D.C., September 1998; Alex Bratersky, “Russia’s ‘Generation Nyet’ Finds Nothing To Be For,” Christian Science Monitor, November 24,1998.