In Search of Heroes: Cultural Politics and Political Mobilization of Youths in Contemporary Russia and Ukraine

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article focuses on the implications of current political and sociocultural processes for youth politics in post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine. The author briefly examines the dynamics in the developments underway within Ukrainian and Russian youth movements by looking at specific policies and tools of cultural propaganda aimed at Russian and Ukrainian youth today to engage them in active mass political participation at the national level. This article is an attempt to understand how the cultural politics of the states and the cultural activity of particular youth groups are incorporated and sustained in a powerful discursive framework of national and international politics. Key questions include: What young people enter politics in modern-day Russia and Ukraine? What political ideas do they hold? Is their entry in political life motivated by a special cultural vision? And, most important, to what degree are those ideas an extension of their cultural preferences and views? The author demonstrates a correlation between political and cultural motivations among Russian and Ukrainian adolescents. This is accomplished through distinctive models of youth participation in national politics to show how national cultural discourses construct political agency among young people because each discourse inevitably empowers particular youth groups. The author argues that although having similar agendas, Ukrainian and Russian youth movements are formed by different means of political propaganda that stem from different approaches to the formulation and articulation of the national cultural politics.

Key words: adolescence, culture, cultural politics, heroes, ideals, identity, ideology, mass political participation, political agency, political propaganda, Russia, Ukraine, youth movements, youth politics

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In this article, I present a conceptual framework for the research on a topic that is still largely neglected by "serious" scholars, although it is becoming obvious that questions surrounding cultural politics, state policies, and the impact of those policies on youth movements in post-Soviet states should be researched in more detail. The successful role of youth movements in recent political battles in Georgia and Ukraine has advanced the subject, which is becoming an area of discussion and analysis in its own right. However, there is little accurate information about the scope of national youth movements, their ideals and leaders, purposes and sponsors, and tactics and strategies. Even membership numbers are elusive. It would be wiser to consider the recent spate of publications on youth politics and culture in these countries as interesting preliminary comments, based on a narrow selection of evidence that pays only scant attention to the structure and content of youth movements in both countries. At the moment, there seems to be different, but overlapping, ideas about the social roots of youth movements and the emergence of adolescents as powerful political actors in postcommunist Russia and Ukraine. The first assumption is that youth movements have attracted predominantly the most progressive young people--students. Traditionally, any student generation in Russia and Ukraine lasts five years, with its ranks always being refilled. The second assumption is that the post-Soviet milieu has expected that their young men and women--as distinct from their parents--inevitably embrace a new reality and change on the way to "settling down." And finally, the third assumption--logically distinct from the second--is that the emergence of the adolescent as a self-conscious political actor was finally recognized in Russia in the course of the presidential campaign of 2004 in Ukraine. Although they were enthusiastically recognized by the public, the ruling political elite were much less willing to acknowledge them. In many ways, the "orange experience" has been increasingly conceived by young people in both countries as a "political coming of age"--a viable and preferable alternative of their social adjustment to the already established morale and order of transitional societies, in which adolescents have been largely marginalized and neglected during the 1990s. …