Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

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

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

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

Article excerpt

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. In reality, these assumptions remain untested by scholars, partially because the situation is relatively new and in a state of flux, and also because it would require a wholly different analysis from that which is used for earlier periods.

Although youth studies is interdisciplinary by nature, few studies of youth culture have pursued the issue of political association of particular youth groups in Russia and Ukraine during the late 1990s and early 2000s. There is some irony in that the Ukrainian situation has received very little attention from Western scholars in comparison to the bulk of research done on the Russian youth.1 Moreover, it is still difficult to find any research that centers specifically on Ukrainian youth; rather, a "youth" aspect is faintly scattered in studies on economic and political issues.2 As to the post-Soviet Russian youth culture, the dominant early scholarship believed that the underlying forces behind it were shaped by mainly sociopolitical upheavals during the early 1990s. Today, several studies of youth culture provide useful overviews of the literature on specific issues, such as the Princeton Project on Youth, Globalization, and Religion (Russia and CIS)3 or one of the most recent comparative studies of risk factors influencing youth culture in Russia and Europe, which was conducted by a joint team of scholars from the University of Central Lancashire (Preston) and the Institute for Socio-Political Research (Moscow).4 Although many studies recognize the influence of politics on the development of youth culture, most are highly attuned to either examining earlier historical periods in the development of youth subcultures5 or exploring areas of interest of young people. …

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