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Russians Getting Older, Reducing Pressure For And Likelihood Of Change – OpEd


The average age of Russians today is much higher than in the past and will continue to rise in the coming decades, Pavel Pryanikov says; and as a result, the usual source of pressure for change, from members of younger generations, is going to fall, reducing still further the chance that it will occur in the near future.

Large numbers of Russians of all ages say they want change, the founder of the Tolkovatel portal continues; but they want changes that don’t require them to make sacrifices. Their response to difficulties as before 1917 is to run from difficulties rather than work and try to overcome them, especially in the face of certain repression (

In the past, young Russians were the group most willing to demand change and work for it, but now there are fewer of them than in the past – and demographers project that there will be even fewer in the future. Consequently, Pryanikov says, he does not see any “potential for modernization” coming from that group.

The average age of Russian residents now is “about 40;” and by 2030, it will rise to approximately 50. Those are unprecedented numbers. At the time of the 1917 revolution, the average age in Russia was 18.5, “and after World War II, in the period of ‘the thaw,’ it was 24 to 25.”

According to the commentator, “effective protests occur only in young societies. For example, the average age of the participants of ‘the Arab spring’ was 20 to 25. But in today’s Russia,” he continues, “we on the contrary see the dominance of conservativism.”

This conservatism, however, is not that of those who deify the tsar or want to ban abortions, he says. “This is the conservatism of a society which is afraid of any changes because in the last 20 to 30 years, changes have meant only one thing – a decline in the standard of living” among the population.

Older Russians and the regime view young people “as a change agent and therefore relate to it extremely cautiously, Pryanikov says. In Russia as a whole at least in the near term, the young aren’t likely to be such; but “it is possible that in certain regions it is worth conducting an experiment.”

In those few places where the share of young is higher, he suggests, it might be possible to create youth centers on the basis of an analogy with San Francisco. Russia has some such as in Moscow or possibly Vladivostok. “Allow the young to assemble there and do what they like up to the legalization of marijuana and same-sex marriages,” while the rest of the country continues to live according to the ideas of the life of ‘the elders.’”

The appointment of the children of members of the current elite does not mean that a critical mass of change agents is going to form within the regime, Pryanikov says. These people are completely socialized to be like their parents and aren’t like other members of the same generation who have brought change elsewhere.

Because there are few young Russians and will be even fewer in the future, the commentator says that “the main agent of change will be people in their 40s and 50s,” people who still have memories of the Soviet Union which shaped them but also are affected by many of the things that affect the young. In short, “a synthesis of two eras.”

What is strange, Pryanikov says, is that “not one of the political groups” in Russia focuses on this age group. The powers that be work with the archaic older generation, and the opposition focuses on involving the young. But the middle aged for the time being have been ignored.

The Kremlin is trying to hold things together by using its much-ballyhooed ‘bindings,” including war. But these work less and less well. The old still care; the middle-aged remember; but the young “do not believe in Novorossiya or Syria and do not understand why these things are necessary.” The regime can keep trying to find new threats, but the same thing will be true.

What has emerged in Russia today, Pryanikov says, is an update of the old Soviet saying that “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” Now, Russians say, “we pretend to support them, and they pretend to be satisfied with that,” given that their chief interest is elsewhere, in making and retaining money.

“If [Russians] had a real democracy … then in parliaments and local self-administrations would be sitting people who wouldn’t correspond to the desires either of our power hierarchy or the liberal opposition. Therefore, [genuine] democracy isn’t profitable for Putin or any notional Navalny.”

“Not because they are retrogrades,” the commentator says, “but because they do not want that the majority in the Duma will consist of red-browns headed by some Girkin-Strelkov and other people whom we observe in connection with Novorossiya.”

Despite all these factors, Pryanikov says, “time is working for democracy” but for reasons very different than is the case elsewhere. The powers that be will recognize that the only way to legitimize and thus hold their wealth is the rise of a law-based state and the people will want laws so that they can live without fear and with some hope of gradual progress.

The commentator says that he doesn’t believe that the power vertical could collapse overnight as some in the opposition think. Instead, there is likely to be “a transitional period, a coalition of the old and the new powers” who will be driven to conclude a certain “’non-aggression pact.’”

But in general, Pryanikov concludes, Russia will survive: it is “a reptile that is difficult to kill … Look back: after 1917, after World War II and after 1991, Russia again and again was reborn,” precisely because it was like a crocodile, with large teeth but very simple reflexes and a simple nervous system.” That makes it both dangerous and likely to live a long time.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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