Investing in the Future
Нигде время так не бежит, как в России.
Иван Сергеевич Тургенев. Отцы и дети.
Nowhere does time fly so fast as in Russia
Ivan Turgenev. Fathers and Sons.
An article in Vedomosti has contemplated the prospects of Russia’s youth, including their ‘protest potential’, in the current economic climate. The piece observed that some western views cast a gloomy picture over their future direction and question whether the youth will ever rise in revolt. I would argue that Russia’s millennials actually hold a positive attitude towards education, travel and particularly business. Therefore, the country’s future is in good hands, provided that this generation has the right environment in which to thrive.
The Vedomosti piece reflects on a book review published in Foreign Affairs, which states that Russia’s youth is averse to protest, and argues that little political change can be expected in the country over the coming decades. Yet, as Vedomosti authors Denis Volkov and Maria Snegovaya observe, a lack of desire to march down the streets shouting slogans does not automatically make Russia’s youth opposed to the idea of change.
More than any previous generation, young people in Russia today see money both as key to realising their aspirations, and as a hallmark of success itself. A recent study of consumer habits by the Franco-Russian Courrier de Russie suggests that Russia’s urban youth consumes more luxury goods than their French counterparts. This tendency might in part explain their reluctance to protest. Although they are far more open to change than their parents (as Vedomosti notes), young people are also focused on prosperity, and are thus unlikely to risk compromising their status unless they are sure change will be in their favour.
One particularly telling piece of evidence for this refers to what young Russians want out of life, and how they see themselves achieving those goals. Research by the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) found that 20% – the largest single group – named starting their own business as their primary goal, with the next biggest groups’ goals being the desire to succeed in all areas (19%), and seeking a good education and securing employment that they enjoy (17%). As noted in a 2010 UNICEF study of young Russians and their socioeconomic backgrounds, these are the sorts of answers one would expect in a positive economic environment. Furthermore, the internet journal Gefter notes that young people feel far better suited to market conditions than their parents (43% vs 89.5% of those aged 18-25, 52% vs 11.3% of those aged 26-30) and, unlike previous generations, consider businessmen and entrepreneurs to be amongst the most respected of professionals.
Of course, in order to be successful, a good education is important. Vedomosti points out that this has improved substantially in recent years, particularly in the spheres of foreign languages and knowledge of the outside world. RAS found that 36% of Russians aged 17-26 felt that they had received a good education and a further 51% were confident of doing so – an overwhelming 87% in total. And, a full 90% of young Russians felt that they had already secured or were able to find interesting work, something which most considered a priority.
All of this points towards a promising conclusion. More than ever before, Russia is equipped with a business-savvy and well-educated youth workforce, which is confident in its abilities and hungers after interesting opportunities. Of course, there is a need for caution: this group will require the right incentives in order for their dreams to be realized, and they must not be alienated by the current crisis. Should plans such as the Government Youth Agency’s 2000-2015 Development of Human Capital programme be successful, there is much reason for optimism regarding young Russians’ ability to build a dynamic base for the country’s future growth.