Valeria Kasamara: ‘The Putin Generation’ often has another paradigm: ‘I owe nothing to anyone’

The HSE vice rector and ex-candidate for Moscow City Duma deputy on total consumption, pacifism and youth protests

Valeria Kasamara: ‘The Putin Generation’ often has another paradigm: ‘I owe nothing to anyone’
Photo: hse.ru

The youth took “a deep feeling of violated justice” to Moscow and other big Russian cities’ streets, thinks Director of the Institute for Applied Political Studies, Vice Rector of HSE and ex-candidate for Moscow City Duma deputy Valeria Kasamara. “It feels like they have been divested of a chance of choosing something,” the expert explained. In a talk with Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent, Kasamara discoursed on how the free market made children of the late 90s a generation of new pacifists and why historical memory won’t be dear to young people if it isn’t reshaped urgently for Instagram.

“The new generation doesn’t have any tenets: if you get something from someone, you have to give someone something instead”

Mrs Kasamara, you often deliver a report named The Putin Generation. Whom do you call so?

The first thing I say when I start delivering a speech on this topic is precisely that it isn’t me who called them this way. This term was borrowed from a survey of young people in which they call themselves this way, while you can't throw a word out of a song, this s why I used this phrase in the title. “The Putin Generation” is, as a rule, youngsters, today’s students who are 21-22 years now and younger. They call themselves this way for one simple reason: understanding that their birth, adulting coincided with the political era when Vladimir Putin was either the president or chairman of the government. This is why the title in my report doesn’t have any connotations — either positive or negative. It is a kind of statement of fact.

But precisely their self-definition pushed me into further scientific inquiries. It turns out that here we can talk about not only a generation but a political generation, as it is designed by a certain political leader. We are in search. Are the German youth talking about themselves as Angela Merkel’s generation? Can we found Margaret Thatcher’s generation in Great Britain? So I thank them for the idea.

Do they really talk this way? To be honest, I haven’t heard…

I haven’t but I am looking for it. Now, having started with the Putin Generation, we are switching to studying the phenomenon itself. When we talk about a political generation, as a researcher I am personally interested, of course, in paying attention to their critical values and their political behaviour: what’s their difference, what they go by when making a political decision, first of all, it is elections, political activity, their stance. Here it is interesting to pay attention to the difference between generations of “fathers and sons”. I don’t delve into the generational theory and don’t divide generations into X and Y but clearly see that some of our youth that enters the labour market and is a student, while there is a generation of their parents who are the same age as their employers. It is two completely different generations, which formed in new political conditions, this is why it is a good subject for research.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
It is a generation living with a very wide range of options, moreover, since their birth: they always can choose — they live and understand that they can choose and refuse this choice, they can allow themselves to make a choice when they want it

How would you characterise the political ideas of the Russian youth?

The first and the main difference between these young people is that they are consumers in the broadest sense. Like their parents, they want social guarantees, want a powerful paternalistic state that would provide them with guarantees. But there is a big difference from their parents. Their parents had a high demand for care, custody and paternalism, but the parents understood that they had to pay for it and were ready to do it. While the new generation has a very high demand for what “they need”, but they don’t have any tenets that it is always a partnership and always exchange: if you get something from someone, you have to give someone something instead. The Putin Generation often has another paradigm: ‘I owe nothing to anyone’. There is no understanding that a lot will be needed from you too.

How can this phenomenon be explained?

It is a generation living with a very wide range of options, moreover, from birth: they always can choose — they live and understand that they can choose and refuse this choice, they can allow themselves to make a choice when they want it because they aren’t imposed constraints on “rigid planning”. The generation of their parents lived in such a paradigm when it was clear that there was certain consecutiveness of their actions that would certainly bring to a necessary result: kindergarten, school, university, work, work, work, retirement, that’s it, we are bringing up grandchildren. And any person who pulled out of this race was considered as a social deviation. I mean if you didn’t enter a university, something was wrong with you, you happen to end up in the street after graduation, something is wrong with you, you don’t fit into the flow of life.

Now you have a such-and-such number of options of how you can live and at what moment of your life you can change your mind. And this is what determines their attitude to life, identity. Diversity applies to everything. They got used to not only choosing but individualising, adjusting something to themselves. This is why in politics they also want to choose and have the right to choose, they want freedom. They have a completely different sense of self in this world. It is a fact that life became freer for them in general, they can allow themselves to discuss many things, this freedom applies to many other spheres of life.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
I don’t have the foundation to say that we have big protest moods because, according to the results of our research, most of the youth are apolitical”

We see clearly that a person can’t be made free only regarding the market, he immediately begins to apply this to the relationships with the state, the attitude to politics. They want to choose, and then they see they don’t have a chance to choose in politics, this irritates them a lot. This irritation immediately comes to the fore. Here I would also add that they have a burning sense of justice, social justice as well. And here they can be called not only Putin Generation but also Uber Generation.

“The foundation of the Moscow unrest is a deep feeling of violated justice”

We recently talked with the managing director of Public Opinion Foundation about Russians’ level of protest moods. She insisted that the youth were less politicised. It seems to me that the recent protests in Moscow prove the contrary. Are the youth so politically active now? Do they have a desire to choose on the political stage?

I would say that protests are a phenomenon of big cities. Nowadays it is Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. I don’t have the foundation to say that we have big protest moods because, according to the results of our research, most of the youth are apolitical. When we are talking about the phenomenon of metropolis, yes, here we saw the protesting youth that gathered here from all over the country because Moscow and Saint Petersburg students are the youth of all the country. And they show their discontent.

But, again, I would say that most of this discontent isn’t motivated politically. The foundation of the Moscow unrest is a deep feeling of violated justice, a feeling that they were divested of a chance to choose something and provoked many young people to turn out in the street in summer. Many of them had never taken to the street, and the protest on Sakharov Prospekt became the first. A lot of people really don’t want to go into politics because politics seems to be too difficult, politics obliges one to make decisions and assume responsibility. In this respect, they likely want to rely on someone. There is a handful among them with a really active life position, ready to leave the comfort zone, figuratively speaking, lead others.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
Volunteering can be different: one can help an old lady in the care home for the elderly, and one can volunteer in some cool events in which guys understand it is what they would want at their 20 years

In this sense, volunteering suits the most audience, since it meets several internal demands at once. And their first demand is to do good. They really want to make the world around them better, be necessary and sought-after. And volunteering keeps these feelings up well. You understand that you are in the team, in a stream, you aren’t alone, there is a chance to be offline and talk with real people. It is an action. Volunteering can be different: one can help an old lady in the care home for the elderly, and one can volunteer in some cool events in which youngsters understand it is what they would want at their 20 years.

This is why I agree that volunteering is closer here, helps them find single-minded people. Politics here, on the contrary, isn’t aimed at uniting but dividing. As for the youth in general, we can’t say it is a phenomenon across the country and all the country is buzzing and everybody is up for a revolution.

“The further we are from the Soviet era, the less militarism in the concept of patriotism is left

You said that many try to speculate that the youth are migrating, there is a brain drain. But numbers, as I understand, prove the popularity of the idea of leaving Russia: according to All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 23% of young people dreamed about going abroad in the late 80s, now they total about 44%. Where is speculation? What do you think the real state of affairs is like?

We have to say that 44% is those who want to go and see, study and return. I mean 44% in general consider the world as an open system, this is why they are interested in getting this experience, it is those who don’t want to go. Also, the comparison with the Soviet Union is absolutely wrong here because the Soviet Union was a closed country in which the number of people who had been abroad could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Now we understand that we have completely different opportunities. And the open borders is what the youth demands.

I want to add that I didn’t talk about it but we have this part in our research: when the youth said they would like to go abroad, we asked them if they had an external passport. And a lot of young people who said they would like to go didn’t have an external passport. It is like: “I want to go to the Moon, Mars”. What have you done for it? It is illustrative for me.

Photo: Dmitry Reznov
When two million foreigners arrived in Russia, we showed we were hospitable hosts. And leaving the country, people took a completely different picture of our country, we happened to like it very much

When a young man says he wants to go abroad, he has several options at his age. He enters a university abroad and for this purpose he did something — passed an exam, for instance, applied for an external passport, submitted his documents, made up a portfolio. And we can’t say we have a lot of such young men. This is why the claims that everybody wants to go abroad are unfounded for me at the moment.

In reality, we understand that we have quite high internal migration: there is an outflow from the countryside, people move from small towns to cities, from cities to big cities, from big cities to metropolises. And now one should be thinking about those measures that could attract the youth, show their demand in their home town.

What do youngsters mean by patriotism? How patriotic are they?

Here it is interesting to stay tuned for the answers to the questions: “Do you consider yourself a patriot?” Secondly, it is very interesting to see how the meaning of the concept of “patriotism” changes. Now we clearly see that the further we are from the Soviet era, the less militarism in the concept of patriotism is left. It gets closer to soft power. There is a lot of love, pacifism then. And one should take advantage of these feelings: “I want to make the world around me better”, “I want to develop, improve”.

The FIFA World Cup happened to be very illustrative here. And when two million foreigners arrived in Russia, we showed we were hospitable hosts. And leaving the country, people took a completely different picture of our country, we happened to like it very much. The openness, readiness to show the country turned out very characteristic. Many wanted to repeat it after the cup. A thought settled: “Welcome, we will be glad to see you, and welcome us as warmly as we did”. All this means that soft power is underused here. As for soft power, as a state, we have huge potential, but we don’t know how to use it. And the youth precisely have a demand for cultural industries, the environment. While their parents made money allowing them to live as they live, they have grown up different. They aren’t ready to spend their life to earn money, buy cars, allotments. They will rather go to a nature reserve to think about how to save nature. We are just starting to feel these tectonic changes, which will heavily rebuild the economy towards soft power.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
If a young man didn’t see service in the past, he was an enemy of the people. And now it is not a key criterion for them, a definition of patriotism. If you take bribes, yes, this matters for them. And if you didn’t see service, it means it is your convictions

“They consider that a patriot must know one’s country’s history. But the problem is that neither do they know it

You characterise today’s youth as a generation of “new pacifists” talking about their unwillingness to see service in the army. What research do you rely on? Is the desire to dodge the service big now? How can this be explained?

We have a lot of research that I can compare and understand what they want. It is also a manifestation of departure of hard power and militarism. If a young man didn’t see service in the past, he was an enemy of the people. And now it is not a key criterion for them, a definition of patriotism. If you take bribes, yes, this matters to them. And if you didn’t see service, it means it is your convictions.

Do the youth admit attempts at manipulating history? Do they want to save in memory?

You understand that to deal with history, one should know it. They consider that a patriot must know one’s country’s history. But the problem is that neither do they know it. Moreover, the further we go the more we see that they are very focused on today, their horizon of planning is very narrow, and the further they go the less they look back. New formats are needed so that the youth will interact with history and historical memory, all this must shift to the formats they consume — visual content that can be easily found and easily consumed.

By Olga Golyzhbina