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Monday, June 04, 2007

On Russia's Lost Generation

Blogger Paul Goble writes about Russia's "lost generation" and the nightmare posed by the prospect of its coming to power:

Many Russians born between 1978 and 1985 form “a lost generation,” one “that has lost out” in the course of the enormous social, economic and political changes that have swept the country over the last 20 years, according to a commentary in “Novaya Politika.” And its national “nihilism,” Mikhail Diunov writes, could threaten Russia’s future because unlike the attitudes of those just slightly older who have found places for themselves and of those slightly younger who came of age after the worst traumas were over, this generation is not loyal to the country or its residents. “For them,” Diunov continues, “state thinking does not exist; they grew up in a period when instead of conversations about honor and responsibility were more common conversations about who was able to grab how much. … Consequently, they would bury the country to achieve what they want.”

That attitude, combined with their contempt for the earlier weakness of the state that could not prevent the collapse of the USSR or create the conditions for their integration and rise, means that for Russia and the Russians, “the coming to power of these people would be a catastrophe." In his essay, Diunov that many members of this age cohort received poor educations both because of the sense of collapse that hovered over Soviet society in the 1980s and because of the weaknesses of the Russian schools and universities after the USSR came apart. Members of this generation, he continues, were too young either to take advantage of the division of property that made some of those just older than they rich or to go abroad. Indeed, when they tried to find jobs outside Russia, they discovered that slightly older Russians already had occupied the key positions available.

Such “lost generations” have appeared before both in Russia and abroad, the “Novaya politika” writer notes. After the great reforms of the 1860s, a new generation that could not find its place became the populist-terrorists. And the cataclysmic changes started by World War I and the Great Depression produced equally lost groups. In most countries, including Russia in the past, the government and society were able to make the kind of progress that reintegrated most members of such generations, but doing so now may prove more difficult, although Diunov suggests that one should not exaggerate the possibility that this will not happen.

“Only the development of our country, the growth of the economy, the rise in the level of life, and the overcoming of depressing factors will be able to influence the generation that has lost out and to return them to the common task of all citizens of Russia,” Diunov argues. But if there is a good chance that Russia will do so again, he concludes, the stakes are nonetheless very high: This generation, now aged 22 to 29, is “precisely” the group that, it it is integrated, would be the basis of “a new middle class – the foundation of Russia’s national and state stability.”

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