Russia’s thirty somethings: can we rely on the first post-Soviet generation?

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2015/11/22 • Politics

Article by: Kseniya Kirillova

Not so long ago in “Gazeta.ru” Marina Yardeva published an article about the current generation of thirty somethings – an article which, I confess, affected me because I found myself so strongly in disagreement with it. She describes Russia’s thirty somethings as a “confused” generation of people who do not know what they want, live mostly for themselves or engage in a lazy spiritual search, and attend protest rallies only because they are bored,

The article appears designed to convince at least some readers that the Russian authorities need not be afraid of “the next generation.” But the generation she describes and of which I am a member is much more complicated than she suggests and includes not only conformists but many who are quite prepared to upset the apple cart.

Those born in the mid-eighties and now in their 30s, for example, weren’t socialized under the Soviet Union but during a time of transition, one when its members learned about the past from books and were regularly told that nothing like that would ever happen again. We learned to use a variety of words about democracy and freedom but we often had little idea about precisely what they mean. Not everyone among the thirty somethings feels that their rights end where another’s rights begin and that the dignity of the other person must be respected and protected, that laws must be observed.

For many new ideas were expressed only in the abundance of new toys and stickers, in journals, bright and noisy parties, and in slogans like “carpe diem.”  Such people felt they could forget the past and plunge into a new life without much regard to rules or principles. Some of them imitated their parents as often happens; and others imitated them by defining themselves in negation to them.

Members of this generation found Soviet duplicity off putting, but in many cases, we grew up without ideals. Unlike their parents, they grew up without fear – and everyone chose their own ways of dealing with the past and present. But in contrast to the next generation, most do a lot of reading and are not so oblivious as to the larger issues as Yardevoy would have it.

Even those who did not focus on ideas and values could not help but feel the general atmosphere in society. It was at time of openness and great expectations. I know that many of the 30 somethings believed that for them everything was possible and that even if our parents couldn’t fit into the new reality, we could. If they stayed the same as they had been, we certainly changed and in enormous ways.

As if it were yesterday, we who are now the thirty somethings rushed to tutoring or training courses to enter the university. And we clearly felt responsible not only for our own future but also for that of the country – the new Russia, our Russia. It isn’t clear that the generation that follows ours feels the same way.

Unlike those before and after us, we the generation of the thirty somethings did not know the fear of repression, we were not afraid to dissent, we are accustomed to directness – but most of us at heart remained very much afraid of war and destruction. Fear of civil war has crept into us at the barricades in the capitals in 1993. We still do not understand who is right and who is not, we just saw that one side shot at the other, and we were afraid that they would shoot at us.

We heard no shots on the TV but from our windows at night, even when they carried out “redistribution of property,” and echoing in the high-rise buildings real shooting was heard, after which the next morning you could find stalls burnt. And the real war we saw not in the movies but in the news. And we also do not fully understand how and why the Chechen war started, we only have absorbed every cell, that there are such terrible bearded fanatics called terrorists. .

Unlike the KGB which exists for the thirty somethings only in books, the present-day Russian special services are different, they defend a very different country – a new, free Russia, and are committed to catch dangerous criminals and terrorists, right? Or so we though to begin with.  And because we really need a state, we accepted the need for such institutions because we wanted to live a normal life.

“This is our city” – under such slogans we marched in Yekaterinburg in December 2011. This is our city and we want to make it better – we are the heirs of the country, adult children of the 90s. But then we were confronted with a horrific choice: freedom or peace? We of course want both, as well as freedom, dignity and fair elections…

If we were asked to renounce the ideals under threat of torture and repression – we probably could have survived and even triumphed. But how can you resist when you look at your classmate as an adult who says we would like to “live normally, at least for a couple of years.” And we’ve realized that her fears are not groundless and that you share them yourselves.

Russia is no longer the old, the new has not yet been created, because there is nothing to love. This does not mean that we were not patriots. Many of us love the Russian classics, we read Russian books, watched many Russian movies, loved their cities and want to improve them, loved nature and language. Our tragedy is that we do not understand our patriotism and do not know its price.

Those who became disillusioned with the ideals of their youth, considered themselves truly unworldly. In a formal renunciation of freedom they the children of the 1990s were afraid to admit to themselves how important freedom is. After all, it lies in the need to call the “contrary”: “I just chose patriotism, I chose it in spite of everything. Almost the only one of an entire generation. I am not like everyone, I am an exception. I myself have decided so. I swam with the current, I chose another. I do not cheat!

And this is the most striking paradox “generation next» – even those in it who went to the other side – where there is no freedom – did so because they had a choice, something that makes their decisions even less forgivable.

And in this, they stand in sharp contrast to today’s twenty-somethings, who are not bothered to be “like everybody else”, who are not afraid of inspirational words and who glibly talk about the unity of the nation and “unity around the national leader”, and quite easy to fit into the classical totalitarianism without worrying about “combining the incompatible.”

The main tragedy is that the thirty-somethings were and are the only ones who could really do something, but they never lived up to their own expectations or those of others. And how many of us, in fact, are left? Some, like other Russians, succumbed to propaganda, and are now actively “rethinking” previous experiences.

Marina Yardaeva says they “yearn to reconcile their existentence” with everything around the prevailing lawlessness. But not all do: some withdraw, some flee the country, and some are still fighting. The thirty somethings of Russia are a divided generation, one that has forgotten its own past and that of the country, one that wants to be masters of it, but one that finds itself blocked no longer so much by its Soviet-influenced parents but by its Putin-trained young siblings.

Source: Translated from Russian on nr2.com

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  • Forgotten Ghost

    Very well written, and offers a much needed perspective to all of the polarized cheering we see, for one prepackaged ideal or another. Deciding what a person stands for has always been one of the most difficult things one can do. It’s a complicated world, and when our ideals are overly simplified we risk becoming nothing but another parrot in the ranks, feeding some evil machine that neither cares for us nor validates our choices for us. Freedom is certainly more than slogans and simplicity, and it isn’t all good. To be truly free requires hubris in battle, yet incredible humilty most other times, while never forgetting your duty to your community and the work ethic required. Future generations must always be considered, whether choosing a place to dig a well or what industry to pursue.
    Perhaps what young Russians could use are many different experiments, to test the effects of implementing their ideas and ideals. They’re already doing this somewhat, so with a bit of luck, and less turmoil…?

    • Quartermaster

      I think as long as the current regime is in charge, Russia will find itself, and its potential, stunted.