As a Russian living and working abroad, I frequently engage in political conversations about my country. As such, I often have to respond to the presumption – so common among foreigners – that Vladimir Putin’s high popularity rate explains the longevity and stability of his rule.
Rarely, however, do people who believe this understand why Putin is so popular. The explanation for this can be found in a recent piece by Russian-American journalist Julia Ioffe, called “Why Many Young Russians See a Hero in Putin.”
Ioffe, whose family immigrated to the United States in 1990, has been covering Russia for more than a decade. Recently, she returned to her country of origin to interview the generation of the 1990s – young Russians who were born after the Soviet Union’s break up and grew up during Putin’s first and second presidential terms.
In trying to understand this generation’s love for Putin, Ioffe does not offer simple answers. As she delves into her interviewees’ family, social, and economic backgrounds, her analysis reaffirms the importance of history and politics in understanding these young people’s attitudes towards the current Russian leader and the country itself.
Ioffe finds a generation seeking “intact families and reliable, if unsatisfying, well-paying jobs” – things their parents could not have during Russia’s painful adjustment to the new “foreign reality” of the 1990s. She also discovers that despite holding liberal views, awareness of the regime’s flaws, and longing for change, many young Russians remain passive and believe they have no influence over the country’s political future.
As Ioffe places the lives, hopes, and dreams of this generation into historical context, one paradox becomes clear: namely, that Putin’s appeal to Soviet values is resonating with a generation that has never lived in the Soviet Union, and that this has helped the president maintain his popularity and power.
“Those who were born in the U.S.S.R. and those born after its collapse do not share a common experience,” wrote Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2015. “It’s like they’re from different planets.”
Sasha, Alexander, Stepan, and their cohort do live on a planet different from the one their parents and grandparents live on, yet they are in some ways becoming even more Soviet. It’s a strange thing: These young men and women know little of the privations, habits, and cruelty of Soviet life. The Putin generation doesn’t carry this wound. Their desire for staid normalcy—intact families, reliable, if unsatisfying, jobs—is their response to what they lacked in the Nineties and found in the Putin era.
Yet they are profoundly insecure. Sixty-five percent of Russians between ages 18 and 24—that is, the first generation born after the Soviet breakup—plan their lives no more than a year or two ahead, according to the Levada Center. “It’s a very egotistical generation,” Zorkaya says, but adds, “It’s a very fragile generation.” They are also politically inert: Most don’t know about news events the state doesn’t want them to know about, and 83 percent say they have not participated in any kind of political or civil society activity.
Read the full article here.