The Institute for Globalization and Social Movements (IGSO), a left-leaning think tank in Moscow, is arguing
that the conditions are ripe for a new wave of political activism among Russia's youth.
The reason, of course, is the economic crisis, which is eroding Russia's fragile social contract: the authorities insure prosperity and stability and the population gives the authorities loyalty, or at least tacit consent.
Vasily Koltashov, head of IGSO's Economic Studies Center, says the sagging economy and the government's ruble devaluation will ultimately cost it support among students and young adults:
Most young people still trust the authorities. But they don't understand why nobody is making haste to help them cope with their material difficulties. On the contrary, the government's anti-crisis measures are hitting young people hard -- undermining their already-low incomes with devaluation.
Anna Ochkina, head of IGSO's Center for Social Analysis, adds that the youth is quickly losing trust in the government and the economy:
Today, attitudes toward the market and the government's anti-crisis measures are radically changing. Happy illusions have been replaced by steady skepticism. In many cases this is because the parents of many young people, even those who have prospered, are now facing hardship.
Analysts at the IGSO argue that it is unlikely that newly active youth will gravitate toward Russia's liberal opposition. This, they argue, is because liberalism had its chance in the late 1980s and early 1990s and is perceived to have failed (I would argue that it was never actually tried).
Aleksei Kozlov, a IGSO specialist in youth, argues that they will move either to right-wing nationalist groups or form a new radicalized left:
The youth can go in two directions, left or right. At this time, the nationalist view is dominant. But there is also a possibility for the idea of a radical leftist transformation to grow.
The daily "Novye izvestia
" quotes IGSO Director Boris Kagarlitsky as saying that in the short term the nationalists have the upper hand, but in the long run most will gravitate left:
This increase in activism is becoming apparent already. Look at the intense battles between skinheads and anti-fascists on the streets of our cities. At this stage, the nationalists are ahead on publicity efforts. They are more active. Their ideas are more accessible for the masses. But the neo-Nazis don't have any answers to the big questions of today. What if we do expel all migrants from Russia? In economic terms, that would only make things worse. Unfortunately, it will take some time for people to understand this.
This might be wishful thinking. Kagarlitsky, after all, is one of the most articulate and intelligent voices on the Russian left.
But the IGSO's conclusions that a wave of discontent is gathering strength in Russia are certainly consistent with the anecdotal evidence
we have been chronicling here
The subtext of the IGSO report is that Russia could be on the verge of what social scientists call a "revolution of rising expectations." According to this theory -- popularized in Ted Gurr's 1970 book "Why Men Rebel
" -- mass dissent and rebellion happen when a period of steadily increasing prosperity is suddenly halted and people are no longer able to achieve the rising living standards they came to expect. The resulting "relative deprivation" then becomes a catalyst for rebellion.
This certainly appears to fit what Russia's youth are going through now.
Just one more thing for us to keep an eye on.
-- Brian Whitmore