Sitting on a plane more than 10, 000 metres somewhere above the Old World, I was struck by the sudden realisation that I hadn’t completed a task my editor had set me. I had only just parted from a group of friends from Germany, Serbia, Slovakia, and Russia collectively after our traditional Christmas get-together, which we hold at one or another of our homes, depending on what favourable conditions and space are available for the two-day residence of our gang.
To be honest, our meet-up was not a very cheery one for all of us to begin with, as things in Europe to do with jobs, and additional jobs, are looking extremely pessimistic, but then, everything’s relative. When we were talking about what prospects the coming year held for us, our usually taciturn Russian friend, Sergei, roused himself to declare that it will be probably time to go to circus school. At the surprised looks on our faces he explained that only jugglers can survive in Russia today. His earnings – from his business tutoring young no-hopers whose parents for some reason insist that their little darlings simply must receive a higher education – which were paltry enough to begin with, have now, due to the sharp decline of the rouble, become absolutely worthless. At the same time, the landlord of the small flat he rents with his girlfriend Svetlana, a third-year student at Lomonosov Moscow State University, announced just this Monday past, that he was going to calculate the monthly rent based on the rate of the rouble as of January 2015.
My two friends from Russia agreed with him. What surprised me was that they criticised the Russian authorities as a whole very sharply and passionately went to town on the Minister of Education but when I said that in Russia, everything is decided by one man, Vladimir Putin, they all united as one in his defence.
It’s a paradox but a fact that when you speak to young Russians, they readily criticise the state authorities, the police, the courts, local government leaders and so on. “In our country, nothing can be done normally and it’s also impossible to find any truth. That means that you have to look for an opportunity and leave, ” this is the standard conclusion of the average young Russian. At the same time though, as soon as you start talking about the events linked to the West’s sanctions against Russia, the overwhelming majority of critics suddenly turn into overt nationalists and start almost violently to accuse one and all of trying to damage Russia’s national interests and security.
I get the impression that young Russians are genuinely worried about what’s happening in the Ukraine, where many of them have friends and family, and that they sincerely believe that today, the power there is in the hands of the bad guys. However, they can’t – or don’t want to – see any arguments about the violation of international law in Putin’s actions in The Crimea. Upon discovering such a paradox, I decided to substantiate my conclusions and search for answers in some accessible public opinion polls.
According to an opinion poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Centre (WCIOM) in April 2014, 88% of students were satisfied with their lives and optimistic about the future; 52% believed that the previous year of their life had on the whole improved. Few students were troubled by questions such as how to get into power, become famous or reach the upper echelons. Their priorities were to receive a good education, have dependable friends, and have a happy family. 63% of those polled said that they had never had their rights violated, with only 4% declaring a violation. 53% stated that in elections, they would vote for Putin, but at the same time, only 22% indicated that they closely followed politics.
According to the latest information from another centre, FOM Media, published in September 2014, 61% of young people consider themselves patriots. 68% believe that a person can’t be a patriot if they don’t know the history of their country (although another poll by FOM revealed a very modest awareness in young people of this area). 56% believe it necessary to limit the entrance of non-resident foreigners to their town. In the September poll, 80% of young people were already declaring their approval of Putin’s actions, including those in Ukrainian Crisis. Despite such political loyalty to those in power, 24% nevertheless state that they would like to leave to live permanently abroad.
The author of the previous data is the director of the FOM project, Larisa Pautova. Her conclusion, based on an analysis of a poll, coincides with the one I came to at the level of the conversation I had with my friends. She writes, “…it seems that this unexpected combination of aims and sentiments allows us to define the spirit of the generation – a generation of the stability of reclusive, but at the same time, dynamic social networks, internet-activism and crowd funding, active consumption and an unexpected patriotic upsurge.”
There are different ways of looking at these polls, but what seems clear is that young Russians’ perception of life on the one hand really differs from the West’s perception, but on the other, it’s evident that they are concerned about the same problems and issues as we are. I can confirm that they do not appear to be militarists, but at the same time, they love their country just as much as we do ours and they are prepared to protect what is dear to them.
I would like to wish us all in the New Year to live the lives we want to live and to solve all our differences with a beer, not a weapon, in hand.
The French writer, Andre Barbeuse, once said that there will always be wars as long as they are declared by those who do not fight in them.