Vienna, July 6 – Most discussions about the impact of generations in Russia have focused on “the generation of the 1960s,” the famous “shestidesyatniki” who having experienced the Khrushchev reforms believed they could achieve a better future, but that focus has led most to ignore the role their successors, “the ‘70s generation,” has played in defining Russian life now.
That is the conclusion Elena Travina and Dmitry Travin offer in an essay on the latter generation that has been published in the current issue of “Zvezda,” in which they not only seek to define the “the semidesyatniki” but to show how its unique experiences have shaped post-Soviet Russian society and politics (magazines.russ.ru/zvezda/2010/7/tr10.html).
Travina and Travin begin their analysis of generational politics by noting the following paradoxes: “Our country wants social justice but it humbly accepts the market, it wants the powers that be to take its views into consideration but does not actively accept democracy, and it wants to punish the oligarchs but warms supports the regime under which the oligarchs grow rich.”
Explaining these paradoxes, they acknowledge, is beyond the scope of a single essay, but the two authors suggest that a change in generation since the late 1980s and early 1990s provides some important clues. At that time, they say, the generation of the 1960s “for whom first order importance had such values as socialism, justice, and people power” was replaced.
The replacement generation, the generation of the 1970s, consisted “of people with a completely different system of values, and it was they who took control of “the political, commercial and ideological affairs” of the country, pushing aside their predecessors and redefining the nature of public politics.
“The generation of the 1970s,” they write, includes “those who came into conscious life after the illusions of the Khrushchev ‘thaw’ had dissolved but before Gorbachev’s perestroika began.” They thus became leaders of a time when “there were already no dreams but on the other did not have space for real actions.”
In sum, Travina and Travin write, “the ‘70’s generation are people united by the social-political conditions which formed their personalities.” They carried out the market reforms, they seized all the levers of power, they organized the ideological definition of Russia, and they direct Moscow’s relations with other countries.
How, Travina and Travin ask, are the members of this generation distinguished from its predecessor? And they answer: The ‘70’s generation “grew up as the first generation which did not know war.” Consequently, members of that generation did not sense that people could lose everything in an instant.
From that alone, the two authors say, came “a desire to think for oneself and not blindly follow the advice of parents or the Communist Party” because “self-realization cannot come” according to some “pre-prepared recipe and also the more general conviction that “the time of great ideas had passed.”
Unlike the shestidesyatniki, the semidesyatniki, Travina and Travin argue, “put a cross over ‘the great ideas’ of the past and occupied themselves with the day to day present, connected with the accumulation of money and depending on petty joys” rather than the achievement of any grand design.
Many of the shestidesyatniki regretted the lack of a place for “the great achievement in contemporary life,” for the chance to change things rapidly and in a dramatic fashion. But their successors, the semidesyatniki, did not have the same regret. They “rejected the idealism” of their predecessors and proceed on the basis of ideas “with no small decree of cynical content.”
By the 1970s, the two authors continue, “it had become clear that the achievement of a bright future had been put off to an indefinite future,” and consequently, the semidesyatniki focused on smaller and more immediately personal goals rather than on the more dramatic social transformations their predecessor generation had sought.
For better or worse, Travina and Travin conclude, “contemporary Russia is a country ruled by the semidesyatniki.” They are “still full of force and energy and do not intend to take their pensions. They have built the world of their dreams, a world in which” they can pursue their own personal goals without worrying about broader transformations.
The members of this generation acknowledge there are threats from the outside and problems on the inside, but for them, these aren’t the most important thing, Travina and Travin write. And because these things aren’t, the semidesyatniki are prepared to leave them for the next generation to solve.