Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Youth as an Agent for Change: The Next Generation in Ukraine

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Youth as an Agent for Change: The Next Generation in Ukraine

Article excerpt

"Nothing is more false that the usual assumption uncritically shared by most students of generations that the younger generation is 'progres- sive' and the older generation eo ipso conservative... Whether youth will be conservative, reactionary, or progressive, depends (if not entirely, at least primarily) on whether or not the existing social structure and the position they occupy in it provide opportunities for the promotion of their own social and intellectual ends."

- Karl Mannheim, "The Problem of Generations"1

Two decades have passed since the Soviet Union dissolved and fifteen new states emerged out of its ashes. Each of these states has a new generation of young people who have no knowledge or memory of the old order: young people born in 1994 could have been first time voters in 2012. Many questions surround the appearance of this new cohort of citizens. Are they indeed the first free generation that has slipped the surly bonds of the Soviet system and mentality? Are they the generation that will bring the new independent states to peace, democracy, and prosperity? Will they reverse the tide of corruption that has soaked through the fabric of society and move toward creating states based on rule of law? Will they complete the transition from authoritarianism to democracy? We can add questions about how far their national identity has diverged from the policy ideal of the "Soviet man" imposed on previous generations. But the most interesting area for speculation and study is what should we expect from members of this next generation as they rise to positions of leadership in their countries-how can we prepare for those future relationships?

Given the importance of rising generations and youth, it is surpris- ing that this subject is not better studied in academic and political science circles. The study of youth is often looked at as an ancillary subject to be considered after political systems and ideologies, constitutional norms, leadership elites, social movements, civil society and other elements that support political change have been investigated. The study of youth is sometimes consigned to the realm of cultural anthropologists who delve into subcultures and behaviors, which are interesting, but which detract from using the study of youth as an important way to understand politics and political change.

The profile of youth within a political system and how they are treated by the political elite of a given state can tell us a lot about the nature of the political system and prospects for change. Youth in the Soviet Union were an object of policy and not expected to participate in politics or in the running of the country. Despite the fact that Soviet ideology raised up the notion of youth as the leading cultural paradigm for all things Soviet-young workers and young agricultural laborers abound in stylistic depictions of the Soviet ideal-youth had a definite place within the administrative structure. Promising young people joined the Komsomol, where they served their time and if they were considered suitable, were allowed to join the adult party-the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Policy on youth was usually dealt with in the same offices as sports, culture, and sometimes tourism. Despite the focus on youth in terms of ideology, the Soviet system ultimately failed to integrate young people into the authoritarian structures of the USSR and ended as a failing gerontocracy. Indeed, the appointment of a youngish Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 came only after a series of deaths of Soviet leaders who had all been much older.

Another set of reasons for more intensive study of youth relates to the insights such work gives us about political change. In authoritarian systems, political change usually comes about by the leader appointing his successor. Occasionally, change occurs though a "palace coup" or military takeover. On rare occasions there will be a genuine uprising of citizens that ousts the leader. …

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