A better life prevails over political protests for Russia's young people


After Russians voted President Vladimir Putin back into office in March, the Berlin-based Centre for East European and International Studies (ZoiS) released a report on young Russians’ outlook on life and politics.

One of its core findings is that Russia’s young people tend to be interested in politics and know about the aims of various political protests, but are unlikely to join rallies themselves, according to the results of a representative online survey in April of 2,000 of Russians between 16 and 35 across the country.

Interest in politics

More than half of all those polled (55 percent) reported taking an interest in domestic and international politics. But only 2 percent were able to name the most important decision-makers in the post-Soviet realm or major leaders in the West. Almost none of those surveyed knew the population of Russia or how many countries belong to the EU.

Faith in President Putin

Putin at a youth forum in 2014 (Reuters)

Putin remains popular among a majority of Russian young people

The report also provided insights on young adults’ participation in Russian elections. It indicated that 61 percent of respondents cast their votes in the country’s last presidential elections and that 67 percent of those surveyed picked Putin.

The ZoiS study showed that Putin and the Russian army are extremely popular among young Russians. The country’s media and the Russian Orthodox Church, however, enjoy little trust among Russian young people.

Well-aware of political protests

The researchers also found that young Russians were well-aware of political protests that occurred during the last year. Some 60 percent stated they knew of rallies expressing opposition to the incumbent government, including Putin, and of protests criticizing corruption. Some 5 percent of those surveyed reported having attended any protests.

That came as no surprise to Felix Krawatzek, who co-authored the report: “We have seen similar figures in other studies. In authoritarian Russia, anyone participating in political protests pays a steep price.”

He added that everyone knows protesters risk being jailed and that Russian security officers are rather merciless. “That deters many,” he said.

The study also revealed that roughly one-third of those surveyed would be willing to join protests and that 17 percent said they personally knew individuals who had done so previously.

“If you think about what this implies for everyday life then it supports the thesis that Russia’s young are interested in politics and have grown up to regard protests as legitimate forms of actions,” Krawatzek said.

A protester being carried away from a demonstration St. Petersburg (Reuters/A. Vaganov)

Young people know they could be arrested – or worse – at protests

Most want quality of life to improve

Political questions, however, are not what young Russians care about most. “Above all, they expect the government to improve the quality of life,” Krawatzek said. More than half of all those surveyed said this was of paramount importance to them. Another 20 percent said it was their second-most important issue overall.

According to Krawatzek, Russian and European youth think alike in this respect.

How young Russians follow the news

Unsurprisingly, 30 percent of those survey reported reading or watching news on social networks. Most said they relied on Russia’s Facebook equivalent Vkontakte. Facebook itself and Twitter, meanwhile, were used by only 1.5 and 1.4 percent, respectively.

A further 23 percent of those surveyed said other internet platforms were important to them. TV remained a major source of information for a third of all respondents, while newspapers played almost no role at all it the lives of Russian youth.

Youth organizations increasingly irrelevant for indoctrination

Ever since Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, the Russian state has intensified its efforts to win over the country’s young. It established numerous youth organizations, but they have little influence and have largely vanished into obscurity, according to ZoiS researchers.

The Kremlin has adopted a different strategy for winning the loyalty of young people, according to Krawatzek.

“They no longer seek to proactively manipulate the young through youth organizations but have shifted to more subtle methods,” Krawatzek said, adding that schools now play an important role in ideological indoctrination. 

Differences and commonalities with their Western peers

The researchers cautioned, however, that Russian young people should not be misunderstood as a homogeneous “unit.” The scholars identified two broad camps among the country’s youth. One side holds conservative views, supports Russia’s regime and values the importance of the Russian “nation,” while the other subscribes to a more liberal view in favor of cosmopolitanism and opportunity equality.

Despite a lack of comparative studies, Krawatzek said that in contrast to youngsters in the West, conservative views are more prevalent among Russia’s youth than liberal ones.

But asked about their views on equality of opportunity and regional self-governance, young Russian respondents said both were highly important to them.

“This thinking is traditionally considered an element of liberal ideology,” Krawatzek said. So in this regard, he concluded, Russian and Western youth are not far apart.