Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Generational Change in Russia

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Generational Change in Russia

Article excerpt

For most of the 1990s, American foreign policymakers, analysts of Russia in the United States, and leaders of American nongovernmental organizations have pointed to generational change as the beacon of hope for Russia. Because it was believed that the transition from communism to capitalism and democracy would require a "short-term" decline in the well-being of Russian society--and that the older generations would suffer the most during the transitional period--all hope was placed on the young people. Unlike their grandparents and parents, the younger generation would enjoy the benefits of reform and therefore embrace the reforms advocated by the American policymakers and analysts.

Russia's transition from communism has indeed been difficult and protracted. The Soviet empire is gone, the Russian economy is market based, and the political institutions that govern Russia today are at least partially democratic. Obtaining those limited gains, however, has been far more costly than most predicted. For the people of Russia, the economic costs of transforming the Soviet command economy into a market system have been particularly acute. Russia endured one of the most dramatic and prolonged economic recessions in modem history, l And just when the economy began to grow, Russians had to endure the August 1998 financial meltdown. Since the crash the economy has grown impressively. But only during summer 2002 did Russians reacquire the wages and purchasing power that they enjoyed before the crash.

Despite this difficult decade of economic hardship and disappointed expectations, the basic hypothesis about the new generation in Russia--defined in this article as those between eighteen and thirty-nine years of age today--has generally proven to be correct. (2) As I will discuss in section one of this article, the younger generation in Russia appears to be more promarket, prodemocratic, and pro-Western than all other age cohorts.

The origins of their attitudes are discussed in section two. They were formed in part by the group's unique set of experiences in postcomrnunist Russia. Most important, this is the first generation since 1917 in Russia to come of age in (a) an independent Russia, (b) a capitalist economy, and (c) a "free" (albeit not altogether democratic) political system. The group has a set of preferences about the economy, the polity, and the world that are distinct from those of their parents--the cohort that has tried to be productive in two radically different systems--and very distinct from those of their grandparents, who worked mostly in the communist system. (3)

Discovering the existence of a unique set of preferences among Russia's youth, however, tells us little about the shape of these attitudes twenty years from now. This age cohort will face some very daunting challenges as they assume responsibility for their country's future. Birthrate declines, an AIDS epidemic, prolonged border disputes in the Caucasus, and sustained frustration with the slow pace of integration into the West constitute just a partial list of the known challenges that this group must tackle. Add to this list some unexpected disasters and setbacks that are bound to occur in the next twenty years, and the probability for volatility among these preferences seems high. In section three I speculate about the conditions under which this young generation's attitudes about the market, democracy, and the West might change.

What Do Young Russian People Believe?

Capitalism

The younger a person is in Russia, the more likely she or he is to support capitalism. The correlation between age and support for markets is robust. (4) Russia's youth are also more likely to support deeper market reforms than are other age groups. When asked in December 1999 what was the best economic policy for Russia, a striking number of people under the age of forty--11 percent--believed that Russia should return to a socialist economy. …

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