Why Many Young Russians See a Hero in Putin
Twenty-five years after the breakup of theSoviet Union, they crave the stability that the nationalist presidentrepresents.
Kirill Vselensky perches on a cornice in Moscow as Dima Balashov getsthe shot. The 24-year-olds, risktakersknown as rooftoppers,celebrate their feats on Instagram: @kirbase and @balashovenator.
莫斯科，Dima Balashov举着相机正为站在屋檐一角24岁的Kirill Vselensky拍照。这位“冒险家（risktakers）”被称为rooftoppers（飞檐舞者？）。
He doesn’t know where to take me when Imeet him at the hotel by the train station, so we just start to walk down thedusty summer streets of Nizhniy Tagil, a sputtering industrial city on the eastern slope of the Ural Mountains. His name is SashaMakarevich, a 24-year-old cement worker, a blond ponytail falling down hisback, a Confederate flag stitched onto his cutoff denim vest. “I thought itjust meant independence,” he explains when I ask about it.
当我到火车站边的酒店接他的时候，他还不知道在哪找我。当时还是夏天，所以我顺着尘土飞扬的下塔吉尔大街走下去，下塔吉尔是在乌拉尔东坡延伸出的一座工业城市。他名字叫Sasha Makarevich， 24岁的水泥工，背后披落着一条金黄色的马尾辫，身着印有邦联国旗的齐胸牛仔背心。当我问他这是啥意思时，他解释说“我认为这寓意着独立意识”
We walk past a small, one-story cube of abuilding covered with images of red Soviet stars and the orange-and-black St.George’s ribbon that holds imperial, Soviet, and Russian military medals. “Wecould go in here,” Sasha shrugs. “But it’s full of people who survived theNineties.”
Sasha survived the Nineties too. InDecember 1991, just months before he was born, the Soviet flag came down over theKremlin and the Russian tricolor went up, ushering in the decade that hangslike a bad omen in the contemporary Russian psyche. The expectation thatRussians would start living like their prosperous Western counterparts gave wayto a painful reality: It would be a hard slog to turn a command economy into amarket one, to make a democracy out of a society that had lived under absolutemonarchy and totalitarianism for centuries.
Alexander and VictoriaKhlynin escape the everyday through cosplay(costume play) in their suburban Moscow flat. The 28-year-old banker and25-year-old interior designer own several animal outfits. Many young Russians,shaped by the chaos of the 1990s and conformity of the Vladimir Putin years,seek stable jobs and families.
Alexander 和 Victoria Khlynin 每天都在他们莫斯科郊外不起眼的小区里玩扮装游戏。这位28岁的银行经理和这个25岁的室内设计师自己设计制作了一些动物装饰。由于普京时代混有90年来的纷杂，有不少年轻人的追求是，能有一个稳定的工作和家庭。
The Wild Mint festival, a multiday extravaganza held about a hundred miles outside Moscow,draws more than 36,000 fans who camp out in a tent city to hear bands playuntil 3 a.m. Among this year’s highlights were the Accident, a popular Russianband that sings about old-fashioned values, and the WantonBishops, from Beirut.
I never got to see those Nineties. Myfamily left Moscow in April 1990. When I first returned, in 2002, the era ofPresident Vladimir Putin, the antidote to the turbulent Nineties, was in fullswing. Since then I’ve been back to Russia many times and lived there forseveral years as a reporter.
Most of the Russians I know have, to someextent, been shaped by the 74-year Soviet experiment. We know in a deep,personal way our families’ small histories and tragedies within the largertragedy of that history. But this generation coming up knows only a Russiatraumatized by the Nineties and then tightly ruled by Putin. This year—25 yearsafter the Soviet Union’s collapse—I went back again, to meet these young peoplelike Sasha. Who are they? What do they want from their lives? What do they wantfor Russia?
Inside the windowless bar, all linoleum andfake-wood paneling, Sasha and I get some thin beer in thin plastic cups andfind a seat among the heavily tattooed, red-faced men in tracksuits andsandals, blasting reedy Russian pop from their phones.
Nizhniy Tagil, Sasha says, “is all factories and prison camps.” Once famous formanufacturing the Soviet Union’s train cars and tanks, it’s now famous for itsidled factories, unemployment, and Vladimir Putin. When Putin announced, in2011, his intention to return for a third presidential term, protests broke outin Moscow and other large cities. The protesters were largely from the young,educated, urban middle class, and that winter a factory worker from NizhniyTagil told Putin on national TV that he and “the boys” were ready to come toMoscow to beat up the protesters. Putin demurred, but the city has come to beseen as the very heart of Putinland.
Supporters of the Other Russia, anopposition party, rally in Moscow, displaying flags and armbands with theirsymbol, a grenade. The Other Russia was formed by members of a bannedultranationalist political party in 2010, but it is not recognized by Putin’sgovernment.
At a sports and military camp, paratroopersteach children as young as 10 how to handle weapons. Putin has restored Russianpride in the country’s military might by defeating rebels in Chechnya, seizingCrimea, invading Ukraine, and intervening in Syria. Young people in particularsay they want Russia to be seen as a global power.
Now Nizhniy Tagil has a new mayor, whomPutin sent in to beautify the city, and a local magnate has built a fancyhealth care clinic, but life is still tough here. Sasha went to school forwelding and worked in a factory making good money until crashing oil prices andWestern sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine sank the economy. Sasha stoppedgetting paid. He spent a year looking for work before he landed a job in aBoeing factory two hours away. Now he makes 30,000 rubles, or $450, amonth—about the local average.
I meet Sasha after a long workday, and heis tired, his hands dirty. He doesn’t feel totally comfortable—or safe—in thisbar with the survivors of the Nineties. The city he describes is a violentlyconformist place. “People here are very aggressive toward anyone who doesn’tlook like them,” he says. It’s a local, working-class uniform: tracksuit, buzzcut with a hint of bangs. His peers, Sasha says, are often children of ex-cons.“They don’t respect the law,” Sasha says. “ ‘A real man is either in the armyor in jail.’ My sixth-grade teacher told us that.” So Sasha learned to fight,with fists, with knives. Once he walked home after a fight covered in someoneelse’s blood, and he is strangely, beatifically cheerful as he tells me allthis.
What Sasha really wants to do is escape tocosmopolitan St. Petersburg and open a bar. He’s been there a couple times;it’s where he feels most at home. But his girlfriend won’t move unless he buysan apartment there. Between his salary and hers, his dream will likely remainjust that.
Popularity,Putin Style Vladimir Putin is widely viewed at home as theman who tamed a tumultuous post--Soviet Russia and the first leader in decadeswilling to stand up to the West. His strong personality, combined withnear-total control over the Russian media, has helped him keep his standing,especially among the young. If reelected in 2018, he’ll be Russia’s secondlongest serving leader, trailing only Joseph Stalin’s 30-year reign.
Heralded at Home With no powerfulopposition, Putin has remained popular despite challenges, including theadmission of three former Soviet republics into NATO, terrorist attacks, and acollapsing ruble.
Standard of Living Makes Gains Putin benefited from tough economic reformsadopted by Boris Yeltsin and his predecessor, Mikhail Gorbachev, as well asfrom increased oil revenue as prices rose beginning in 2003. Gross domesticproduct (GDP) per person has grown 70 percent under Putin, compared with 17percent in the European Union.
Stability Returns to the Job Market Soviet leaders claimed that they had “liquidated”unemployment in the 1930s. So Russians were shocked by the rampant joblessnessunder Yeltsin, then relieved by the return to prosperity and jobs under Putin.
CorruptionPersists and Wealth Rises Despitewidespread support for Putin, many Russians view their government as highlycorrupt, seeing the sudden dramatic rise in the number of billionaires asevidence. More billionaires live in Moscow than in any other city in the worldbesides New York and Hong Kong.
An ActiveEveryman Putin has publicly participated in a widevariety of traditionally masculine endeavors, in contrast to the aging andinfirm Yeltsin, whom he succeeded on December 31, 1999.
MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK AND JOHN TOMANIO, NGMSTAFF; FARHANA HOSSAIN. SOURCES: ANDERS ÅSLUND, ATLANTIC COUNCIL; WORLD BANK;TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL; FORBES.COM; LEVADA CENTER; GALLUP.COM. PHOTOS (LEFTTO RIGHT): ALEXANDER NATRUSKIN, REUTERS; RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS ANDINFORMATION OFFICE; ALEXEY DRUZHININ, AFP/GETTY IMAGES; DMITRY ASTAKHOV, GETTYIMAGES; AFP/GETTY IMAGES; ALEXEY DRUZHININ, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS ANDINFORMATION OFFICE; DMITRY ASTAKHOV, GETTY IMAGES （以上图片来源：盖蒂图片社 bluebit注）
It is a common refrain in Nizhniy Tagil:young people with young-people dreams, locked out of them by the reality ofPutin’s Russia. They want to travel, but their salaries are in rubles, thue of which has been halved by the economic crisis. Some want to open theirown businesses but don’t know how to scale the dangerous slopes of localcorruption. So they train their sights lower. They want a house or apartment, acar, and a family. The things they crave are also the things that many of themdidn’t have precisely because their families survived the Nineties.
“The Nineties were very hard for us financially,” Alexander Kuznetsov,a 20-year-old from Nizhniy Tagil, tells me. “In 1998 my dad left the family.”Alexander was three. “My mom’s entire salary went to feed me. I didn’t havemany toys,” he says. “I’m alone in the family.” That left its mark. “For me themost important thing is family,” Alexander tells me as we sip coffee in a caféoff the main square. “I don’t want to strive for high professional posts andhave an empty home.”
一位20岁来自下塔吉尔的Alexander Kuznetsov 跟我说道，“90年代，我们的经济非常困难，1998年我爸离开了家，我三岁，我妈赚的钱全给了我，那时没多少玩具可玩，我基本一个人独自待在家”，这给我留下的印象非常深刻。“对我来说家人最为重要”。“升职我就不想了，只希望全家能聚在一起”当我们在广场的咖啡馆喝咖啡时Alexander对我说道。
His father fought in the firstChechen war, in 1994. “Don’t join the army, son,” he advised Alexander. That was the sum total of his father’s recollections of theNineties. But Alexander isn’t bothering to find a way out of the universaldraft. “I always wanted to join,” he explains. “Everyone in my family was inthe military. My great-grandfather fought in World War II.” Plus, militaryservice opens up some of the more lucrative job prospects for a young man inRussia: work in the police or the Federal Security Service, or FSB, thesuccessor to the KGB. The army would give him a shot at being a cop like hisfather. “I really want to have a stable income,” Alexander says.
An energetic 27-year-old entrepreneur, RadikMinnakhmetov straightens Putin’s official portrait, prominentlydisplayed in his office next to one of the president of Tatarstan, a Russianrepublic about 450 miles east of Moscow. At 24, Minnakhmetovbecame the head of a new futuristic stadium in Kazan, Tatarstan’s capital.
Students in Nizhniy Tagil celebrate “LastBell,” the end of classes. Wearing sashes that say “Graduate,” they cavort onLisya Mountain, an extinct volcano. The day, at the end of May, is a big eventfor students across Russia.
As Alexanderand I talk, his friend Stepan, a strapping, smiling young man with a blond buzzcut, bounces in to join us. “So,” he says, flashing me a mischievous grin,“you’re writing about what it was like in the Soviet Union? People lived a lotbetter then.”
“What!” exclaims Alexander. “Lived better?!No, we didn’t!”
They argue about what it was like to livein Soviet times, until Stepan, who was born in 1992, realizes he has a questionfor me: “You Americans are pressuring us, slapping us with sanctions,” he says.“What are you preparing for us? A war?” He explains why it was right for Russiato annex Crimea and for Putin to stand up to the West.
Stepan is reluctant to tell me his lastname because I’m an American journalist, but when it’s time for me to go, heoffers me a ride. “Really, though,” he says to no one in particular as we wheelthrough the city, “I want to get out of here.”
Out of where? I ask. Nizhniy Tagil?
“No,” he says. “Russia.”
After his patriotic bluster, this wasunexpected. Why? I ask him.
“There’s nothing to do here,” he says without any bitterness. “Noopportunities, no way to grow and develop and make something of yourself.”
What’s your backup plan? I ask.
“What’s my backup plan?” he repeats, smiling broadly. “Join the FSB.”
At a drug rehabilitation center outsideNizhniy Tagil, three young men soap up after sweating in a sauna. Russia’syoung appear to enjoy this traditional pastime as much as their elders do.Almost 6 percent of the population uses drugs regularly or is addicted, a 2013government study found.
“Those who were born in the U.S.S.R. and those born after itscollapse do not share a common experience,” wrote Svetlana Alexievich,who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2015. “It’s like they’re fromdifferent planets.”
The Soviet Union drowned in a surge ofoptimism. Many believed Russia would quickly become a flourishing,Western-style democracy. But the optimism of 1991 dissipated in a decade ofoften depressing contradictions. With the end of the planned economy cameuntold riches or entry into a new middle class for some; for others it was asudden plunge into poverty. Previously unavailable goods flooded store shelves,while the money to buy them periodically lost its value. Crime, especially incommerce, skyrocketed. Politics came out into the open, but many Russians cameto see it as a dirty business.
Russians struggled to adjust to thisforeign reality. It was a time of unprecedented freedom, but many found itdeeply disorienting. “When these [Western] values encountered reality andpeople saw that changes came too slowly, these values receded into thebackground,” says Natalia Zorkaya, a sociologist withthe Levada Center, an independent polling organization in Moscow. Instead, shesays, the younger generations are adopting “the pillars of Soviet society.”
Sasha, Alexander, Stepan, and their cohort do live on a planet different from the one theirparents and grandparents live on, yet they are in some ways becoming even moreSoviet. It’s a strange thing: These young men and women know little of theprivations, habits, and cruelty of Soviet life. The Putin generation doesn’tcarry this wound. Their desire for staid normalcy—intact families, reliable, ifunsatisfying, jobs—is their response to what they lacked in the Nineties andfound in the Putin era.
Sasha、Alexander、 Stepan还有他们这代人，同他们的父辈人确实是在这个星球上的不同时期生活过，然而，他们在某些方面却变得更加“苏联”。可令人奇怪的是，这些年轻人只是知道一点苏联的残酷、行事风格。普京时期没了这种伤痛。 他们渴望有着稳固的正常家庭，工作要是不满意——他们会发现在普京时期，怎么也比90年代的强。
Students take a break at Muhammadiyamadrassa in Kazan, a city on the Volga River that is about half ethnic Russianand half Tatar. Most Tatars are Muslim; Islam, Russia’s second largestreligion, is followed by about 7 percent of the population. The school teachesreligion, humanities, linguistics, and Tatar history and culture.
Left: With some seven million Instagramfollowers, 29-year-old TV actress Nastasya Samburskaya (@samburskaya) is one ofRussia’s biggest social media stars. Nevertheless, like many Muscovites, shelives in a small apartment. No different from youth in many countries, youngRussians rarely part with their smartphones. Right: A 24-year-old sex workerwrites lyrically, on the wallpaper of her St. Petersburg apartment, of love,heartbreak, loneliness, and thoughts of suicide. Her paid trysts are arrangedon the Internet.
上图： 29岁的电视演员Nastasya Samburskaya（@ samburskaya）是俄罗斯网上最大的自拍网站明星，大约有七百万粉丝。然而，和不少莫斯科人一样，他也住在一个小公寓里。和其他国家的年轻人一样，她手里的智能机跟她的命根子一样、难以割舍。
Yet they are profoundly insecure.Sixty-five percent of Russians between ages 18 and 24—that is, the firstgeneration born after the Soviet breakup—plan their lives no more than a yearor two ahead, according to the Levada Center. “It’s a very egotisticalgeneration,” Zorkaya says, but adds, “It’s a very fragile generation.” They arealso politically inert: Most don’t know about news events the state doesn’twant them to know about, and 83 percent say they have not participated in anykind of political or civil society activity.
Liza meets me in the glittering white lobbyof one of the many glass towers—some blue spirals, some coppery shards—thatmake up Moscow City, a financial center that looks like a cross between Londonand Shanghai. I follow her through tunnels linking the towers underground withcafés, shops, and an exhibit with paintings of Putin and Russian ForeignMinister Sergey Lavrov. We order lunch, and Liza, a stylish young woman withlong, curled blond hair, dimples, and an expensive watch, tells me her story asshe slurps her borscht. She asks me not to use her last name because shedoesn’t want to upset her parents.
She was born in Blagoveshchensk, in theRussian Far East, in 1992. A year before, her father, a history teacher, hadbeen out in the streets of Moscow, cheering the arrival of democracy. But onreturning home after the Soviet Union’s demise, he was forced to find otherways to support the family. He began crossing the border into China andcarrying back anything from clothes to appliances for resale in Russia. “Iremember him coming home with money sewn into his shirt so that he wouldn’t getrobbed,” Liza tells me.
She’s a corporate lawyer at a large Westernfirm. It’s fine, but it’s not what she wanted to do. “I always wanted to be ajournalist; I was always writing,” she says, noting that her grandmother keptall her short stories. “But my parents told me journalism isn’t serious. It’s avenal profession”—a relic of the 1990s, when journalism here was bought andsold like any commodity—“You won’t make a lot of money. You’re the oldest andthe smartest; you need to go into a solid profession so you can feed yourselfand take care of your sister.” Along the way her parents separated. Herfather’s business eventually took off, and Liza was able to spend a year ofhigh school in Oregon and also study abroad in London.
A chic restaurant in an affluent suburb ofKazan attracts the young, fashionable set. Voda|Sneg(Water|Snow), on the shore of the Volga River, offers a range of entertainmentoptions that change with the seasons. In summer there’s outdoor dining, a dockfor boats, and swimming; in winter, skiing, snow biking, and dogsledding.
Left: At a classy high school prom at St.Petersburg’s elegant Grand Hotel Emerald, students help themselves to a pyramidof cocktails. The end of communism brought both poverty and wealth to Russiaand created a small middle class. For the young who lived through the volatile1990s, economic security remains a top desire.Right: Seminary students atMoscow Theological Academy in Sergiyev Posad study the New Testament,liturgical music, icon painting, and other subjects. Brutally repressed by thecommunists, the Russian Orthodox Church has seen a resurgence under Putin, whosees it as an ally in his bid to restore the nation to greatness.
A modern Westernized woman, she tells hermother about her boyfriends and the drug-fueled parties she attends. But insome ways she is very, very Russian. “Putin irritates me,” she begins, soundinglike many in the oppositional, educated milieu of Moscow. “But just leta foreigner try to criticize him! I will always defend Russia.” When she was inLondon, she says, people constantly made fun of Russia and Russian women,mocking them as mail-order brides. “It was offensive to the point of tears, tosit there and hear outsiders making fun of us,” she says.
This is as political as she gets thesedays. Back in 2011 Liza became interested in liberal politics, which was allthe rage in Moscow. She joined Amnesty International and the liberal Yablokoparty as an observer for the December parliamentary elections. Shewas assigned to the polling station at her little sister’s school and wasshocked to see teachers stuffing ballot boxes. When Liza tried to saysomething, they screamed at her and made her sit in a corner while theprincipal blocked her view. This was happening all over the country. Manyelection observers caught it on their phones and put the proof online, whichsparked a mass protest movement in Moscow and major cities unlike any Russiahad seen in 20 years.
Liza, however, lost her nerve. “I washysterical,” she tells me. “I spent two hours crying.” After that she decided,“No more politics. Ever. This doesn’t concern me, and I’m not strong enough tofight.” It’s a promise that she hasn’t broken, even as the ruble has crashed,cutting into her ability to do the other thing she loves most: travel. “Yes,it’s terrible; there are fewer opportunities,” she says, but she refuses toseek an answer in politics. “It’s a psychological block.”
Kseniya Obidina, Liza’s law school friend,sees things similarly. Also the child of divorce, she says family and stabilityare of primary importance to her. She wants a secure, well-paying job. Shewants to be able to afford travel and to support her mother and sister. Thisdream has become more remote, though, with the political and economic crisis:Kseniya wants to work at foreign law firms, but they are increasingly packingup and leaving the country. Like Liza, she refuses to think about politics. “Idon’t see the point of talking about something you can’t influence. Talk fortalk’s sake isn’t interesting,” she says as we sit in a Moscow Starbucks. As weleave, she adds, “It’s better to know and be quiet. It’s better not to speakup. Why spoil your mood?”
Tech companies like NeoPhotonics, a U.S.firm with operations in Moscow, employ young workers at good wages, helping toexpand the middle class. In Soviet times scientists were secluded in isolatedcities like Akademgorodok.
How did they come to be this way? VladimirPutin is a big part of the answer. He came to power in 2000 as an anti-Ninetiescandidate just as this generation was becoming aware of the world around them.He promised to bring prosperity and security. Coasting on historically high oilprices and economic reforms implemented in the Nineties, Putin was able tofulfill much of that promise but at the expense of democratic freedoms.
Stability and economic well-being becamethe ideology of the day, peppered with a heavy dose of nostalgia for theU.S.S.R. and a whitewashing of its sins. Putin called the disintegration of theSoviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.Whoever didn’t feel that, he said, “doesn’t have a heart.” Joseph Stalinbecame, in the business-friendly lingo of the day, an “effective manager” whowent a bit too far. Textbooks and television came to reflect this new, state-sanctionednostalgia. Today 58 percent of Russians would still like to see a return of theSoviet order, and some 40 percent see Stalin favorably.
THEPUTIN GENERATION WANTS INTACT FAMILIES AND RELIABLE, IF UNSATISFYING, JOBS. ITASSOCIATES THE SOVIET UNION WITH LONGED-FOR STABILITY.
Much of post-Soviet life has been a haplesssearch for a uniting idea. At first it was democracy; then consumerism became astand-in for Westernization. “Modernization came through consumption, butthat’s not enough,” says sociologist Zorkaya. Ikea,which came to Russia in 2000, became wildly popular among the new middle classas a way to affordably live in a stylish European—that is, non-Soviet—way. “Itbecame a symbol of how you could civilize your life without a lot of money,”she says, “but the fact that behind this decor is a totally different conceptof human beings and values, somehow it doesn’t connect for Russians.”
Since the beginning of his thirdpresidential term, in 2012, Putin has promoted an even more aggressiveneo-Soviet ideology, both at home and abroad. He fought to keep former Sovietrepublics, like Ukraine and Kazakhstan, in Moscow’s sphere of influence andflexed Russia’s military power in distant Syria. A series of laws promotedtraditional social values and made dissent even more dangerous. One result is ageneration whose dreams are the embodiment of everything Putin desires them to be:conformist, materialist, and highly risk averse.
Much is made of Putin’s stratosphericpopularity—at the time I reported this article, Putin had the approval of 80percent of Russians polled. But Russians between the ages of 18 and 24 approve ofhim at a higher rate than any other age group: 88 percent. More than any othergeneration, they are proud of their country and its stature in the world,associate its military prowess with greatness, and believe in its future.
Before the “Day of theVillage” celebrations in Nikolskoye, 175 miles northeast of Moscow, youngpeople do what young people do everywhere entertainment is sparse: hang out andflirt. Until the recent downturn, the country’s oil-fueled economy expandedrapidly, and Russia’s young flocked to its cities to seek higher paying jobs.
In a dark, narrow courtyard in Novosibirsk,between two 19th-century brick buildings, I find the local bohemians drinkingbeer and listening to electronic music. It’s here that Filipp Krikunov,born in 1995, opened an art gallery. Ducking away from the gathering, he showsme around. One room is lit with a fluorescent pink light, the wall arrayed withshelves holding mini-busts of Lenin, painted in silly patterns. In the nextroom young artists have cobbled together mind-bending waysto take selfies: Stick your head into this cardboard box full of shatteredmirrors. Stick your head in another to find the remains of a Burger King meal.
One of Filipp’s friends and partners in thegallery bounds up and shakes my hand. “We just found out that they didn’t buryanyone under this space,” he gushes. After Filipprented the rooms, he and his friends realized that the building next doorhouses the FSB. In the 1930s it was called the NKVD, and it killed as many as1.2 million people. Often the NKVD’s victims were shot and buried on-site. ButFilipp’s gallery, Space of Modern Art, lucked out. No bones in thebasement here. Just hipsters in the mild Siberian summer night.
I had met Filipp earlier that day at a chicNovosibirsk café, surrounded by impossibly fashionable young women with veryobvious lip jobs. Novosibirsk is Russia’s third largest city, a center ofindustry and scientific innovation. There’s a lot of money here. Filipp,though, didn’t see much of it. He grew up without a father. Like many youngRussians, he was raised by his mother and grandmother. His great-grandfatherfought in World War II and was later purged by Stalin. His grandmother became arenowned chemist, and his mother also worked in science. But the women’spassion was politics. “All the main hashtags at home are politics,” Filippsays.
Mikhail Vasilev, a 29-year-oldbilliard-equipment salesman, practices his skateboard moves in Moscow’s TriumfalnayaSquare near a statue of Vladimir Mayakovsky, a poet whoextolled the 1917 revolution. Russia’s young people have more freedoms thantheir parents and grandparents could ever have imagined.
Mikhail Vasilev，一位29岁的台球设备销售上，他在莫斯科Triumfalnaya广场的Vladimir Mayakovsky塑像附近玩他的滑板车，Vladimir Mayakovsky是位诗人曾参加1917年革命。俄罗斯的年轻人比起他们的爸爸妈妈奶奶们有着更大的自由。
Filipp was 16 when the pro-democracyprotests broke out in Moscow and spread to cities like Novosibirsk. Tens ofthousands poured into the streets to demand free and fair elections, yet theprotests felt more like block parties than demonstrations. Filipp too was fedup with Putin. “Messages were being sent to him, messages of discontent, andyet there was no dialogue with those people,” Filipp says. He didn’t recognizethe Russia that Kremlin-controlled television showed. “That was a differentcountry,” he says. “I didn’t know a single person like that.”
“I went to the protests. I tried to be politically active,” Filipptells me. “It was boiling inside me. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. Thewhole country is rising in protest, and I’m part of it.” But he was soondisappointed. “I looked around, and the people at the rallies weren’t mypeople. I wasn’t totally comfortable,” he says. “And it didn’t lead to anything.”
That’s not quite true. The protests didchange things, just not for the better. In May 2012 the Kremlin cracked down.Since then dozens of people who attended protests have been rounded up, tried,and jailed. The political situation in the country only worsened asPutin—feeling betrayed by the middle class he felt he had created with hispolicies—pursued an increasingly authoritarian line. He publicly labeledliberals who advocated for freedom and democracy “national traitors” and “afifth column.”
The harsh response left a deep impressionon the Putin generation: It taught them to stay out of politics. “I decidedthat either I fight this system,” Filipp says, “or I live in a differentsystem”—the world of art. “There’s more good in it,” he says. “Politics arenerve-racking. You’re constantly unhappy; you’re not enjoying your life.”
Putin is up for reelection in 2018. Thereis little doubt that he will run again and even less that he will win anothersix-year term. That would mean he would be in power until 2024,if not longer. By then Filipp,who was five when Putin first became president, would be 29. Is he comfortableliving with Putin until then? He shrugs. “I’ve lived my whole life with myright hand, and it’s fine.”
In Akademgorodok, a small academic townbuilt around Novosibirsk State University and its many labs, I meet AlexandraMikhaylova. She’s 20, with cutoff denim shorts and the dyed red hair of a punkrocker. Alexandra came from a family of scientists—her mom is a geologist andher father a physicist—who gravitated to this little town, which was founded in1957 as an incubator for science and the engine of the Soviet Union’stechnological race with the West. Since the Soviet collapse, underfundedRussian scientists have fallen behind their Western colleagues. Both ofAlexandra’s parents have gone into business.
Now, as a third-year journalism student,she is working on a documentary about the town and its lively intellectualhistory, specifically the underground of the 1960s. “They had their own systemof government until 1966,” Alexandra tells me as we stand in the gleaminghallway of the university’s new building. Her eyes light up as she tells meabout her research into this little corner of freedom and intellectual fermentin a sea of totalitarianism. In 1966 some of these free-spirited youngscientists wrote a letter to Moscow, complaining about things they didn’t like.The response, Alexandra says, was swift. Many were fired, and strict politicalcontrol was put in place. But Alexandra’s documentary picks up again in the1980s, with the Soviet punk rock underground that spread all over the country.
These days, Alexandra says, “it’s stagnant.Something’s missing. People aren’t politically engaged. When it comes to thegovernment, young people are either neutral or positively disposed. No onestands up for their opinion, and there’s a thin line between indifference andagreement.”
The government is again in the censorshipbusiness. A classic rocker from the 1990s had his concert canceled here becausehe spoke out against the invasion of Ukraine. “Year after year they closeanother media outlet, the ones that show things more objectively,” Alexandrasays. More than anything, though, she is saddened that the Akademgorodokshe lives in lacks the creative fervor of the Sixties and Eighties. The societyaround her, unlike the one her parents experienced, is cautious and stale. Shelongs for a change, a shake-up. But she knows it won’t be her generation thatbrings it.
“It’ll be the kids who are 13, 15 now,” Alexandrasays wistfully. When they are the age she is now, her generation will haveother priorities. “We’ll try to help, but if you’re 30, you’re not going tolead a revolution with a baby in your arms.”