Russia’s not so radical youth

One of the regular themes of the ‘Putin is doomed’ crowd is the idea that while older Russians are deeply conservative, undemocratically-minded, and deeply traumatized by their Soviet upbringing, Russian youth, brought up entirely in the post-Soviet era, are of a much more liberal inclination, deeply dissatisfied with their lot and the governing system, and thus likely to sweep away the current order as soon as they grow a little older. This isn’t based on very much other than the fact that those who attend anti-government protests in Moscow contain a large number of young people. But, as I’ve pointed out before, sociological surveys don’t provide much ammunition to support the idea of Russian youth as revolutionaries in waiting – quite the opposite, in fact. So, it’s interesting to see the results of a new survey of young Russians by the German research foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, with help from the Moscow-based Levada Centre.

The research polled 1,500 people aged 14 to 29 across Russia, and also involved focus groups. These were some of the points which emerged that I found interesting:

When asked which values were most important to them, 76% said human rights, as shown below. Similarly, another chart later in the report shows 80% of respondents saying that ‘securing rights and freedoms’ should be a priority for the national government, with lower numbers for improving the economy, reducing unemployment, providing social security, and so on (with bottom place going to ‘development of private entrepreneurship’, suggesting a lack of economic liberalism). This somewhat surprised me as previous polls that I had seen suggest that Russians of all ages are more concerned with social and economic issues than with human rights.


Much, though, depends on how rights are understood, and once you dig a bit deeper things become a bit more complicated, as shown by the next diagram:


According to this, ‘the right to life, liberty, and personal security’, comes top, gaining 78% support. But lower down the chart, you see that ‘security of person and home’ is rated highly only by 57%, and ‘the right to be free from any violence, tyranny and oppression’ by only 45%, which makes me wonder what the 78% mean by ‘right to life, liberty, and personal security’. It would appear that political repression isn’t ruled out by this. In general, in the chart above, what one might call ‘classical’ civil and political liberties don’t do desperately well – only 58% for ‘freedom of speech’; 50% for the ‘right to own property’; 40% – ‘freedom of conscience and religion’; 28% – ‘freedom of assembly and association’, and so on. By contrast, 70% want a ‘right to medical care’, 62% a ‘right to social security’, and 58% the ‘right to work’. As the report notes:

In this respect, Russian citizens differ significantly from people living in established democratic societies, who more often select the right to own property, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and religion, and so on.

It is possible that to some degree this reflects a lingering Soviet influence, given the priority the Soviets gave to social and economic rights over civil and political rights. It may also reflect the economic difficulties that Russians have experienced in the past 30 years, which makes social and economic benefits more important than civil and political ones. And finally, it may reflect another fact brought out in this report, namely young peoples’ lack of interest in politics. Rating their interest in politics from 1 (low) to 5 (high), only 19% rated themselves 4 or 5, compared with 57% who were 1 or 2. Insofar as it’s possible to position them politically, it strikes me that the attitudes above (generally in favour of liberty, but more concerned with social and economic matters) make young Russians sound kind of social-democratic in orientation. And sure enough, that is borne out in the next chart, which shows their declared political views (young people on the left, the general population as a whole on the right):


What this shows is that politically speaking, young Russians aren’t very far removed from older ones, with social democrats being the largest grouping. Where youth differ is that there are fewer ‘proponents of a firm-hand approach (6% of youth, compared with 15% of the total population), but more ‘nationalists’ (16% as opposed to 10%) and liberals (12% as opposed to 7%). I suppose that to some degree this does justify the claim that young people are more liberal than older ones, but only marginally, while that claim  ignores the fact that they are also more nationalistic.

This is reflected in the fact most respondents said that they were proud to be Russian, while only 14% felt that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a good thing. Around 50% agree with the statement that, ‘Real Russians are only those who have Russian blood in their veins’, and there is a large majority which believes that Russia should not accept more immigrants or refugees. Around 15% expressed a desire to emigrate (a much smaller number than has been pushed around in some earlier reports). The primary reason cited for emigration is the possibility of earning more money in the West. This suggests that the West still has some appeal for young Russians. However, the younger generation doesn’t feel Western, as can be seen by responses to the question ‘Do you fully agree, rather agree, rather disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement “Russia is a European country”?’ As the chart below shows, only 36% ‘rather’ or ‘fully’ agree, whereas 58% ‘rather’ or ‘fully’ disagree. This provides little succour to those who hope that the young generation will turn Russia in a European direction.


Finally, young Russians consider it o.k. to use connections to find employment or ‘get things done’, but are strongly opposed to homosexuality (which rates even lower than bribe taking). 80% of them consider that it would be a ‘bad’ thing if a homosexual individual or couple moved into their neighbourhood. On the other hand, heterosexual activity before marriage doesn’t seem to bother them.

As one might expect, in general the survey finds that rich, highly educated, people in large cities are more liberal than poor, less well educated, people in rural areas and small towns. The real divide, however, is between Moscow and the rest. You can see this in the chart below which shows respondents’ answers to the question ‘Which side do you think is primarily interested in this confrontation between Europe and Russia?’ Across the country, about 50% think that it’s the United States, around 20% blame Europe, and 15% blame NATO, whereas 15% say it’s the Russian leadership and 2% the Russian military leadership. But in Moscow, things are different.  In Moscow, a massive 35% say that it’s the Russian leadership which is responsible for East-West conflict, while another 8% accuse the Russian military leadership.


In short, Moscow is a world of its own. That raises the question of why that is. If it’s simply because Moscow is richer, then as the rest of the country develops economically we should expect its attitudes to converge with those of Moscow – i.e. become more liberal. But if it’s for some other, more structural, reason (perhaps the greater concentration of artistic and cultural elites in the capital), then such convergence is unlikely, and the divide between Moscow and the rest will endure and maybe even widen. In the meantime, any conclusions about Russia drawn from observations of Moscow are likely to be very wide of the mark.

9 thoughts on “Russia’s not so radical youth”

  1. Some words have undergone changes in definition. Regardless, “the West” isn’t synonymous with “Europe”.

    Of course Russia is a European nation, which competes in the European zone of major athletic competitions – UEFA et al. Where’s the movement in Russia to changeover to Asia?

    Historical disagreements aside, are Russians more closely related to Poles or Chinese?

    Upon further follow-up questioning, Russians en masse are more likely to reasonably believe that Europeans have different characteristics among themselves – Russians included in this continent grouping.

    All these points aren’t intended to dispute the geographical Eurasian predicament of Russia.


  2. “Russian youth, brought up entirely in the post-Soviet era, are of a much more liberal inclination, deeply dissatisfied with their lot and the governing system, and thus likely to sweep away the current order as soon as they grow a little older.”

    So true! One only has to read the twitter of such luminaries as Darya “Dasha Samokat” Besedina, Max Katz, Ilya Varlamov, ProstoMartin or Mark “Urbanist” Barovsky 😉

    “with help from the Moscow-based Levada Centre.”

    Important correction – officially recognized and personally admitted (as per court’s ruling) foreign agent Levada Centre.

    “In the meantime, any conclusions about Russia drawn from observations of Moscow are likely to be very wide of the mark.”

    What, you suggest all these people with good faces, shy and conscientious intelligents, members of hipsteriat, gays and democratic journalists are not the sum total of the Russian population (as propagated by the “Russia Watchers” who decide to go on a “field trip”)? That there is a life beyond the MKAD?! Heresy! Where’s your sneering elitism of a true Anglo, Professor?


    The belief in “future generations of Russians will be freer in thought!” is just that – a belief. I.e. – a lack of strategy, inasmuch as suggesting to sit tight on your ass and Russia will miracliously turn pro-Western/collapse is a strategy. I remember how it’s been touted during the 2003-5 protests (“young Russians are learning from Maidan”), in 2007-8 (“Symbolism of post Yeltsin generation! Strategy 31!”), 2011-12 (“Internet is the final frontier! Young Russians will repeat the Arab spring!”), 2015 (“Nemtsov is a sacral victim! This will spark a revolt”), 2017-18 (“Sisyan” Navalny – fuhrer of the youth and totally legitimate candidate to the president! ПЖИВ-ПЖИВ!”).

    In fact all of them (politically active youth that won’t stop) are just lemmings. Western handlers might imagine that they will under the forces of evolution grow into a mammoth sized critters. Instead, they:

    But because like any long-held belief it does not require you to think with your head, this concept took a proper, hallowed place in the Western doctrine. Once again, professor – surely, you are not a heretic, are you?


  3. Where’s your sneering elitism of a true Anglo, Professor?

    So you are fully covered, theoretically? Any idea why the qualitative part of the study did not cover Moscow’s younger from 24 to 29, while in other locations they extended their second groups to 34? But yes, theoretically Moscow’s younger may get a fair amount of our media attention, maybe St. Peterburg too? And yes, strictly two groups would overrepresent them.


    I wondered about your feedback concerning the cooperation of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung with the Levada Center. You didn’t disappoint me.

    What about the authors? Lev Gudkov, Natalia Zorkaya, Ekaterina Kochergina, Karina Pipiya, Alexandra Ryseva? Anything about them you would want us to know?

    Admittedly I only scanned it superficially, admittedly felt the need to look at the questionnaire, but overall felt they conveyed quite well the occasional insecurity and hesitation every one of us may have felt beyond borders confronted with a similar endeavor, at points, items, matters.


  4. I personally believe that the growing divide between Moscow and the rest of the Russia is a danger-point for the Russian government, and should be addressed in a creative fashion.
    For starters, Moscow is way too crowded and congested, and it’s kind of crazy for the capital of the government to also be the capital of culture and everything else. Some kind of intelligent (but benign) policy should be implemented to “de-populate” Moscow while symmetrically building up other towns.
    Secondly, it’s not a good situation for any nation when the youth in the provinces can’t find work or a meaningful life, and feel they have to flock to the major cities. Something needs to be done to develop the regions into flourishing centers.
    Thirdly, it’s horrifying to hear that 35% of Muscovites blame Russia for the confrontation with NATO!? More evidence that Moscow is fast becoming the capital of the Fifth Column, – egads!


  5. Professor,

    I don’t believe in opinion polling. Polling is done to shape opinion- not to measure it.

    Why do you quote these polls ? Can you say why please

    Levada is a foreign agent and I do not understand why they are allowed to do this in Russia.

    Could Russia do this in other countries???
    We know the answer is no.

    This information is used to develop strategies to target the youth or other groups – to move them to be opposed to the country they live in.

    This information will be weaponised.

    How many people want to participate in opinion polls?

    How many say no to participating? Before you get your sample?

    Who are the people asking the questions? How do they ask the questions?

    How are the questions structured?

    Who is the customer for all this questioning?
    Then you will know what the purpose is for all this questioning. !!!

    As soon as Levada produce polls with negative information about Putin popularity falling – or the previous poll about “40% of youth want to emigrate” – it is immediately picked up and trumpeted in the western media. It just becomes a weapon to be used against Russia.


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