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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

ESSAY: Searching for the Future of 'Generation Nyet'




In the middle of August, three days before the onset of the infamous economic crisis that has brought the Russian economy to the brink of collapse, MTV, the world's biggest music television network, started to broadcast in Russia. While many Western newspapers and television stations were trumpeting the flashy arrival of MTV, those whom the entertainment giant was supposed to serve - the masses of Russian youth - seemed more or less indifferent.


MTV was already a known quantity because of indigenous Russian music channels, many of which tried to be carbon copies of the MTV package. MTV Russia itself merely slipped into the time slots of one of those channels, BIZ TV, which was owned by the powerful television mogul Boris Zosimov, who now owns rights to MTV Russia.


Zosimov, a New Russian businessman, was smart enough not to try to scale down MTV's launch in the face of the country's economic crisis, counting on the boost his ratings would get if he threw a party amid all the gloom. He did cancel an event at Moscow's largest the Manezh shopping mall. Buteven if there had been no economic crisis, MTV, as a product of the American music industry, arrived too late in Russia. My generation already knows all about American culture. In fact, they are beginning to get fed up with it and the Western-style democracy it represents in this country.


While many foreigners who arrive in Russia still believe most of the well-dressed, English-speaking young people are adherents of the American way of life, they are not. Several years of so-called reforms, a weak and incompetent president, the incessant threat of the draft and economic hardship has forced thousands of Russians in their early 20s to question the Russian path to democracy. Was democracy really worth the bloody war in Chechnya and the attack on the parliament meant to clean out the bad guys? Frankly, it was not for chewing gum and blue jeans that we fought when we stood by President Boris Yeltsin back in 1991.


As a 23-year-old Muscovite, I see that many of my young friends who had supported Yeltsin and Anatoly Chubais, the father of privatization in Russia, now see things differently. They see that they are once again being manipulated as they were during communist times, when they were falsely heralded as "the driving force of the Party."


A perfect post-Soviet example of this kind of manipulation was the 1996 presidential campaign, when as part of Yeltsin's drive to win over the youth vote under the slogan "Vote or Lose," hundreds of prominent pop stars called upon their fans to support the "right" man to save Russia from Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov. While many of the stars spoke of courage and patriotism, money was the deciding issue in the youth campaign, which was orchestrated by the young Sergei Lisovsky, a former communist boss who is now an advertising mogul.


During the campaign, Lisovsky was caught leaving the government headquarters with a box holding $500,000 in cash. He was never charged and in September 1998 he ran for a seat in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, but failed.


The lack of morality and even love for their own country on the part of the "young reformers" has turned many younger voters against them, paving the way for more nationalistic politicians such as Alexander Lebed, whom many people, including myself, once considered the best leader for Russia. In 1996, it seemed to me voting for Lebed was the only way to escape both evils: the hypocritical "democrats" and the boring old Communists. Ironically, by voting for Lebed, I found a point of agreement with my stepfather, a 60-year-old former KGB colonel who also viewed him as the kind of strongman Russia needed. I thought the never-ending battle between fathers and sons was over, but soon my pragmatic stepfather started to realize that Lebed, with his military-style economic ambitions, would not bring anything positive to the country's development.


We all were mistaken in viewing Lebed as Russia's General de Gaulle when he is just a cruel G.I. Joe. But at the time, that was the only answer for what I call "Generation Nyet," a generation who has had enough of Yeltsin and doesn't want the return of communism but can't find any viable alternatives.


Some of us, after graduating from prestigious schools, went to work for Russian and Western companies, but others fell in with the extremist organizations that have become fashionable recently, such as Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party.


Limonov rejects both Soviet communism and Western democracy and finds a common language with Generation Nyet. His politics are a sort of Stalinist totalitarianism of youth, in which anything old is equated with the bureaucratic ills of communism and should be swept away by the young.


It is hard for a young romantic like me to escape the influence of such radicalism - especially in a country that has given its young people so little in the past few years. To appease a potentially explosive Generation Nyet, young Russians will need more than MTV.


They need their own icons. One possibility is Ilya Lagutenko, the ambitious leader of Mumy Troll, which is probably the country's most popular band today. A young intellectual, Lagutenko is not just a talented singer: He represents both the Soviet past and the Russian present; he formed one of the first rock 'n' roll bands in his native Vladivostok, served in the Red Army on a secret military base in the Pacific Ocean, worked in China as an interpreter, then moved to London to work for a consulting agency and finally formed his band. He now lives in Moscow, where Mumy Troll rehearses. Lagutenko, like Limonov, was talented enough to also find himself a niche in the West. But there is a big gap between the two: Limonov is not fighting for the new, but for the past, whereas Lagutenko represents the best of a generation that would like to look to the future.


Like the country's older generation, young Russians need a genuine "national idea" that can unite people of different races, religions and musical tastes for the sake of their country. Prominent Russian sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, who now lives in New York, told me when I interviewed him there that Russian youngsters need a flag to hold. He pointed back to American youth: "You see all these young people here: liberals, conservatives, gays, communists. Even when they go on strike they go under the American flag." I could only agree with him.


Alex Bratersky is a freelance journalist who covers the Russian entertainment industry.