A young woman, riding a city bus to her journalism class, enjoys using the time to scroll through an independent news site that can be scathing in its reports on Russia’s authoritarian president — leaving her to wrestle with a paradox, the paradox of her generation.
“What the Russian soul demands,” says Yekaterina Mamay, “is that there be one strong politician in the country who resembles a czar.”
In Russia’s upcoming presidential election, the 20-year-old student, who knows that journalism in her country is not free, will nonetheless vote to reelect Vladimir Putin.
Here, where the forest of the taiga meets the grassy steppe, the “Putin Generation” is no different from anywhere else across Russia’s vastness: coming of age without a rebellious streak. Today’s Russian young adults have no memory of life before Putin, who first took power as their president 18 years ago. Some have taken to the streets in protest, but social scientists say many more have grown to accept him. Polls show that Putin enjoys greater support among youth than among the public at large.
To Western eyes, young Russians such as Mamay who espouse some liberal values but back Putin live in a world of contradictions. In fact, their readiness to accept those contradictions helps explain Putin’s grip on power.
“You realize that it’s good to live with him. You don’t complain,” Dmitry Shaburov, an 18-year-old budding entrepreneur, said of Putin. “When I wake up in my apartment, no one takes me to the Gulag.”
Dmitry Shaburov, 18, is a budding entrepreneur from Kurgan, Russia, and a Putin supporter.
On March 18, Russians will go to the polls to confirm a fourth presidential term for the 65-year-old former KGB officer who turned this country’s young, chaotic democracy into an authoritarian system beholden to his rule. He has batted back the opposition thanks to his control over Russia’s main television channels, the security services and the judiciary — but also because, as even many of his opponents acknowledge, most of the country supports him.
According to a December survey by independent polling firm Levada Center, 81 percent of adults approve of Putin as president — including 86 percent of Russians 18 to 24 years old. Among the age group, 67 percent told Levada they believed the country was going in the right direction, compared to 56 percent of the general public.