In Russia, a Kinder, Gentler Komsomol ; Notorious in Soviet Times, Youth Organizations Today Aim to Restore a Lost Sense of Pride, Discipline

By Scott Peterson writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

In Russia, a Kinder, Gentler Komsomol ; Notorious in Soviet Times, Youth Organizations Today Aim to Restore a Lost Sense of Pride, Discipline


Scott Peterson writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Lilya Vlasova knows what it's like to be a member of Russia's "lost generation."

Describing her escape from the ranks of young people who saw their parents' ideology replaced with disillusionment, high unemployment, and moral collapse, the young woman in bookish, wire- rimmed glasses speaks with the zeal of the converted.

"It changed my life," says Ms. Vlasova, who six months ago joined a new pro-Kremlin organization known as Idushchiye Vmeste, or Moving Together. "There are so many negative trends that make young people feel unhappy. They turn to drugs, but we must develop their taste, their curiosity in life," she says.

During Soviet rule, national political organizations like the Young Communist League, or Komsomol, were entrusted with stamping out cookie-cutter citizens devoted to the totalitarian system.

But such groups also brought discipline and focus to many young lives, and it is this aspect that some want to revive.

After a decade of official neglect, this year's federal budget includes new spending for youth programs. At the same time, a number of unofficial, small organizations have sprung up across Russia. Their focus ranges from military-style training, religion, music fan clubs, and summer camps, to business programs for budding entrepreneurs.

"Russia needs young people who care, who want to realize their potential," says Alexandra Buratayeva, a member of the lower house of parliament, the Duma, and head of the Unity Youth Organization. "A lot of time has been wasted while a new, free generation has emerged. Their brains were never washed."

Ms. Vlasova in particular approves of the politicized Moving Together, which celebrated the one-year anniversary of President Vladimir Putin's inauguration this month with a high-profile rally in Moscow's Red Square. Thousands of students wore T-shirts emblazoned with pictures of Mr. Putin, who has vowed to restore order, national power, prestige, and patriotism to Russia.

Not everyone is convinced. "When a person joins an organization, they must follow the rules, and that sweeps away their individuality," says Sergei Ryabov, a black leather-jacketed student in St. Petersburg and fan of what he calls "black metal" music.

"If people like joining a group, they are free to choose what they want," Mr. Ryabov says. "But I'm fine by myself."

For Vlasova, Moving Together - with its emphasis on rediscovering Russian culture and patriotism through mandatory readings of classical literature, music, and charity work with veterans and orphans - has turned around a destructive sense of hopelessness.

In her twenties and raising a three-year-old daughter, Liza, she joined the group at the same time she left her husband - a heroin addict diagnosed with HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS. …

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