The Protest Generation
Armen Aramyan, Vitaly Zemlyansky, Konstantin Mitroshenkov for Colta.ru
Translated by HereWeStand team
Text Fragment from 'The Summer of Solidarity', originally published in Colta.ru
Here We Stand is publishing a translation of the article written by the editors of our partner media DOXA. DOXA has started as a student outlet for and by students. It has written extensively on the sociology of youth and student movements in particular, economic struggles of young people and other topics of academic and societal significance.

During the Summer 2019, DOXA has established networks of social, legal and financial support for Russian students detained and arrested for their political activity.
Politically, every actor fills this ["the Youth"] abstraction with the content that is more suitable for their particular goals and orientation.
Participation of young people in the current [Russian] protest movement is usually spoken about in terms of the generation gap. "The face of the protest became younger" is a common phrase used by journalists. It came into use after Navalny's (the leader of Russian opposition - HWS) rallies in 2017, where many young people were spotted (high school students or freshmen mostly).

The summer of 2019 deservedly drew attention to student solidarity. Many people suddenly became interested in student movements, sometimes significantly exaggerating their scale. The media began to pay more attention to the extravagant statements of some university leaders, who, in particular, promised to expel students for attending protests (Moscow State Pedagogical University or Russian State University for the Humanities, for example). More attention is paid to how students respond to such statements. A response letter from the students and graduates of the RSUH addressed to the rector received tens of thousands of views on DOXA media.

Considering the "youth" concept in terms of current protests, there are two problems - one has more to do with scientific research, and another one is a political issue.

Politically, every actor fills this abstraction with the content that is more suitable for their particular goals and orientation.

On the one hand, twenty-year-old protesters are opposed to both the "Bolotnaya generation" (generation active in the 2011-2012 Russian protests - HWS) and the "fathers' generation" - those who were born and raised in the USSR. In both cases, the decisiveness of the current movement with no traumatic experience of the past and no fear of possible repressions by the state is emphasized.
The "youth" is seen as the messiah who will come and do what the "older generation" haven't had the strength and courage to do.
Historical and sociological research indicates that students should be considered as one of the most politically active social groups. Among the examples of this are the 1905 revolution in Russia and 1960s events in Western Europe and North America. However, the situation of contemporary Russian as well as Western students differs significantly from that of their French and American counterparts from the 1960s. An image of an idle student life, which allowed to actively turn ideas into life, engage in projects, and actively participate in political life, was replaced by an image of a precarious student, vulnerable both socially and economically.
"What began in 2011 as a "protest rally of dirty shoes" six years later became a "protest rally of fashionable sneakers".... Disappointed townspeople expressed hope and anger - it seems that here comes a generation that will be able to change something" - says a Wonderzine article reporting on the outcomes of the March 2017 protest rallies.

While some are sentimentally admiring "the kind of youth we have", pro-government political scientists (Valeria Kasamara - the deputy rector of Higher School of Economics - in particular) see the "generation gap" in a completely different way: "We are the generation that does something because we must, they are the generation that follows their needs". The concept of generation becomes an easy tool for ideological manipulations. It's easy to frame well-worn stereotypes as sociological research: young people are infantile, stupid, they have no clearly formed political ideas, etc.

Firstly, "youth" here is understood as carriers of new and progressive political ideas, various groups like libertarians and feminists. "Youth" discourse here remains in captivity of the "novelty" fetish, which is being reproduced by the media. Nevertheless, none of these ideas are new, they come from half-century old translations. For young active people, these political ideas likely represent platforms for political socialization. History of the 1960s students' movement shows that young political activists tend to change their radical beliefs or morph them into moderate variations.

Secondly, there is an opposite view proclaiming that student movement doesn't have a coherent political agenda and formed beliefs. This position infantilizes the younger generation and students. However, sometimes it has positive connotations: «It's good this generation never saw Bolotnaya protests / Soviet Union / something else and thus can fight without fear».

From an academic perspective, the problem is that "youth" is considered as a monolithic entity with similar behavioral patterns and goals. This one-dimensional view doesn't consider that there is no stable social group called "youth". Young people often willingly integrate into the current political regime, and due to the political conjuncture, they could be even more conforming than their parents.

When we talk about politicized students, usually it's about the students of elite Moscow institutions. The most important question we should ask is not "why students are protesting now?" but rather "why students DO NOT protest en masse?" or "how students can live WITHOUT protesting?"

Historical and sociological research indicates that students should be considered as one of the most politically active social groups. Among the examples of this are the 1905 revolution in Russia and 1960s events in Western Europe and North America. However, the situation of contemporary Russian as well as Western students differs significantly from that of their French and American counterparts from the 1960s. An image of an idle student life, which allowed to actively turn ideas into life, engage in projects, and actively participate in political life, was replaced by an image of a precarious student, vulnerable both socially and economically.

Contemporary Russian students have to sustain themselves by working or looking for internships to secure a position on the job market after graduation. Students are very dependent on their institutions since they are afraid of being expelled, in Russia especially it bothers male students since the university provides military service deferment. On the other hand, universities cannot provide decent living conditions for students, paying very modest fellowships often ranging between 15 and 45 USD per month. Various forms of financial aid such as need, and merit-based scholarships also do not provide an adequate level of support, due to its exclusive nature, only "the neediest and the most prominent" get aid. Thus, the most vulnerable groups of students are often left without any support at all.

The opportunity for political expression of students is less limited compared to that of their professors and employees because of their precarious position. However, they're still unable to create long-term political organizations and projects which are usually quite ephemeral in the context of a short period of being a student. The threat of the direct pressure on student activists also shouldn't be underestimated, especially considering the example of the initiative group's campaign in MSU protesting for the relocation of a fan zone planned to be installed near the university buildings during the Worldcup 2018.

Horizontal student movements are necessary for ruining habitual political categories and changing the way of thinking about politics. 20-year-old student activists are well aware of the "Bolotnaya case" (thanks to "Mediazona") and of the Soviet repressions (thanks to "Memorial") but they choose to act. They reject the definitive influence of these things on today's political reality and, in this sense, they actually reject the "past".
Made on
Tilda