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UKRAINE SHORT COMMENTARY: RUSSIAN PROTESTS ARE NOT EXACTLY WHAT THEY SEEM
If you have been to Russia and have been interested enough in popular opinion to talk to Russians you will have some idea of how the people divide along generational lines much of the time.
In general young Russians (with many notable exceptions of course) are similar to any young generation anywhere and have a tendency to be attracted to change for its own sake and an adverse reaction to ‘more of the same’. Young Russians who have grown up since the end of the socialist system at the beginning of the Nineties have a different set of values to those of their elders.
The more mature Russian viewpoint is that there was a lot that was right about the old system along with the knowledge of the hard times and lack of choice they experienced (but at times were hardly aware of - one type of TV, one phone, one washing machine, and so on, but all relatively well built, reliable and long-lasting.) They know what they had then that is now unavailable, expensive and quite possibly totally out of reach for them, free medical and educational services, access to spas, holidays, reliable pay; enough to build a family knowing all services were accessible for you when you needed them and your whole life through.
Young Russians have grown up aware that life is a competitive struggle not a community endeavour, that the world of western luxury they see in Hollywood movies can be theirs if they fight off the competition and are granted the freedom to generate enough income for themselves. Informed by western popular music, goods and services their mentality could hardly be more different from that of their parents and grandparents… or more different from that of Vladimir Putin and the majority of those in the Russian parliament. They hunger for the changes that might bring them access to the kind of life they hunger for, that of luxurious living, the kind they believe they deserve.
What is wrong with this exactly?
Nothing in and of itself… except its focus, which is pretty much the usual rather self-interested focus of the teens and twenties everywhere. The broader, less selfless focus takes many more years to develop. That focus takes in the needs of more than just those of frustrated youth irritated by the seeming immobility of those who run the show and who seem always to preside over the most boring aspects of everyday life and who, to them, lack all spontaneity.
Therefore, don’t be either shocked or surprised that rabble-rousers such as the jailed Navalny garner a quite large following among the young who restless for change. They will appear in their tens of thousands to protest Russia’s actions in Ukraine as they would turn out for any major protest against the ruling political elite in Russia. They want change, radical change and are determined to get it and will use any emotive issue to obtain it. What it would mean to gain the overthrow of the present president and political elites is far from certain however. Their beautiful vision of living in the lap of newfound luxury will almost certainly not emerge from the chaos that ensues from any wholesale removal of the present authorities. The Communist Party of Russia, the party that gains the next largest percentage of votes within the Russian Federation, is waiting in the wings for one thing, as are the Russian Mafia and any number of powerful and fabulously rich Yeltsin-era oligarchs.
The old phrase about being careful what you wish for holds very true in the case of the protesting youth of Russia who, if they look around them, will find that the usual suspects in any mooted revolution are also very much in evidence. These are the criminal fraternity, the vastly over-ambitious, the corrupt, and those who will use any disruption to the norm to seize power.
The young idealists, simply looking for a “better life”, will soon be swept aside by those who have the insider knowledge regarding the levers of power, and know so much better than they how to use them.