Gen­er­a­tion X-Soviet: Young Rus­sians con­flicted over past

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Just when Irina Chubkovets was com­ing into the world, the coun­try her par­ents and grand­par­ents had lived in was slip­ping out of it. Chubkovets was born in the pro­vin­cial Russian city of Bryansk on De­cem­ber 25, 1991, the day the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gor­bachev, re­signed and the ham­mer and sickle flag atop the Krem­lin was re­placed by the Russian tri­color. The iconic mo­ment drove the fi­nal nail into the cof­fin of over 70 years of Soviet rule and opened a new era of un­cer­tainty that left an in­deli­ble mark on the world map and the peo­ple of Rus­sia.

"I re­ceived a Soviet birth cer­tifi­cate but it wasn't clear at all what coun­try we were in that day," Chubkovets told AFP. In the 25 years since, Chubkovets and those of her gen­er­a­tion have grown up side-by-side with their emerg­ing nation. To­gether they took their un­steady first steps dur­ing the tu­mul­tuous 1990s, be­fore find­ing their feet as Vladimir Putin be­came pres­i­dent in 2000 and com­ing of age dur­ing the in­creas­ingly as­sertive years of his rule. Chubkovets now is mar­ried to an army of­fi­cer and the mother of a two-year-old son Vik­tor.

Grand­mother's tales

For many of those who grew up af­ter the demise of the Soviet Union their views of the lost em­pire are shaped by the mem­o­ries of the older gen­er­a­tions who of­ten paint a rosy pic­ture of life un­der Com­mu­nism. "My grand­mother al­ways loved to say that things were bet­ter in the Soviet Union: peo­ple were poor but equal," Chubkovets said. "Now there are all these dif­fer­ences." "I would want every­thing to be sta­ble so peo­ple know what it will be like in five or ten years," she said. "The out­look is still wor­ri­some." A re­cent sur­vey by the in­de­pen­dent poll­ster Le­vada Cen­tre found that 19 per­cent of Rus­sians be­tween the ages of 18 and 24 re­gret the col­lapse of the USSR.

One rea­son for that, ex­perts say, is the resur­gent na­tion­al­ism un­der Putin that is thrust down the throats of the pop­u­la­tion by a slav­ish state me­dia. This month prom­i­nent proKrem­lin talk show host Dmitry Kise­lyov praised the Soviet Union as a "grandiose so­cial ex­per­i­ment." "The goal was to cre­ate par­adise on Earth," he said. "We man­aged to ac­com­plish a lot." From the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea from Ukraine to the worst stand­off with the West since the Cold War, many say the Krem­lin strong­man is try­ing to re­vive the lost glory of Moscow's su­per­power sta­tus. Putin has called the col­lapse of the Soviet Union a "geopo­lit­i­cal catas­tro­phe" and the Krem­lin turned the USSR's vic­tory in World War II into Rus­sia's defin­ing his­tor­i­cal mo­ment.

"The pos­i­tive, nos­tal­gic per­cep­tion of the Soviet Union that is some­times con­veyed at the of­fi­cial level is adopted by the young gen­er­a­tion," said so­ci­ol­o­gist Ka­rina Pipiya of the Le­vada Cen­tre. "This is not be­cause they know about the Soviet Union but be­cause they are loyal to the author­i­ties. If the author­i­ties say it's good, then they think it must be good too." Young Rus­sians also grew up in cities where re­minders of the Soviet Union are ubiq­ui­tous. Mon­u­ments to Soviet found­ing fa­ther Lenin and epony­mous streets com­mem­o­rat­ing the leader of the 1917 Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion still dot cityscapes across the coun­try, and his body still lies em­balmed in the mau­soleum on Moscow's Red Square.

Pa­ter­nal­ism 2.0

One ma­jor change of at­ti­tude among the younger gen­er­a­tion ap­pears to be that they are once again re­ly­ing on Rus­sia's em­pow­ered state. While those who cut their teeth in the 1990s usu­ally looked to pri­vate busi­ness to make a liv­ing, those be­gin­ning their ca­reers now in­creas­ingly eye op­por­tu­ni­ties with the state. Vasily Koloskov, a re­cent Moscow grad­u­ate spe­cial­ized in French lit­er­a­ture, shares a birth­day with Chubkovets. Cur­rently in search for work, Koloskov says that many of his con­tem­po­raries are flock­ing to the pub­lic sec­tor. "We can still feel the Soviet her­itage be­cause the state sec­tor is strong and the pri­vate one is weaker," he said. So­ci­ol­o­gist Pipiya says that Rus­sians un­der the age of 25 are "very pa­ter­nal­is­ti­cally ori­ented" and seek state sup­port like the one found dur­ing the Soviet era.

"It's not the case that a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the young gen­er­a­tion grew up with an in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic ori­en­ta­tion and fo­cused on busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties," she said. When push comes to shove, how­ever, few of those who have grown up in post-Soviet Rus­sia seem like they ac­tu­ally want the re­turn of the USSR. While a fifth say they re­gret the Soviet em­pire's col­lapse, only three per­cent wanted to live un­der Com­mu­nism. "I like things the way they are now," job hunter Koloskov told AFP. "I wouldn't have wanted to live back then." — AFP

The set­ting sun casts light on lower Man­hat­tan and One World Trade Cen­ter in New York City as seen from Hobo­ken, New Jersey. — AFP

This file photo shows Lithua­ni­ans crowd­ing with the Lithua­nian flag and a ban­ner which reads "Bye, bye USSR" - in the cen­ter of Vil­nius, dur­ing demon­stra­tion ask­ing for the coun­try's in­de­pen­dence. — AFP pho­tos

This file photo shows then US Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan speak­ing with Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev dur­ing wel­com­ing cer­e­monies at the White House on the first day of their dis­ar­ma­ment sum­mit.

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