Generation X-Soviet: Young Russians conflicted over past
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.
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.
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.