Beyond Putin: Russia’s Generations Y and Z PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 579, March 2019
Of Russia’s 146 million citizens (if we include those in Crimea), 63 million—or 43 percent—are under 34 years of age. Of these, 30 million belong to Generation Y (millennials in their 20s and early 30s), 15 million belong to Gen Z (teenagers), and a further 18 million are part of the youngest generation (less than 10 years of age).
Russia’s youth have recently become the object of Western media interest with articles exploring everything from their support for President Vladimir Putin to their musical taste. Yet questions about Russia’s next generation remain largely understudied in Western academia (in contrast to its development in Russian scholarship), with only a handful of already dated analyses, a few studies on Russian students’ geopolitical visions, a couple of think tank reports, and a comparative book by Felix Krawatzek. The majority of these studies focus on interpreting the political role of Russia’s youth: for or against the Putin regime? Yet this politicization of our reading of young Russians misses the most interesting points: that one can be simultaneously for and against Putin, and that life is much more than formal political positions. First, Russia’s youth displays similar features to youth in other countries, chiefly its consumerism and social media savvy. Second, it is ambivalent on today’s Russia, both embracing it and taking critical distance from it. Third, the youth cultural scene—and especially the hip hop scene—is blossoming, becoming one of the most vivid contexts for expressing Russia’s evolving cultural norms and values.