The Next Generation and its Leaders: Post-Soviet Youth in Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan
In a recent seminar at the Kennan Institute, Nadia Diuk, Director of the Central Europe and Eurasia Section at the National Endowment for Democracy discussed the next generation of leaders in Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. Diuk attributed her interest into this subject to President Vladimir Putin's autobiography, and she explained that after reading his book, she began to wonder how the next generation would rise to positions of power in these three countries. Following her initial research, Diuk compiled a series of questions that she hoped would better illustrate who comprises the next generation in Russian, Ukraine and Azerbaijan, and what kind of leaders they are likely to choose in the future.
Characterizing the "next generation" as those individuals who were born since 1968, and Diuk explained that she chose that year because individuals born around that time would have been turning eighteen when Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost reforms were first introduced in the mid-1980s. The statistics gathered from Diuk's questions provide insight into the demographical situation of the next generation in Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan and illustrate the differing opinions on freedom, equality, as well as peoples' trust of state and societal institutions that exist in the three countries.
Diuk explained that poll questions regarding demographical data found that Russian youth are financially better off than youth in Ukraine and Azerbaijan. She also found that nearly a quarter of the respondents in each country stated that they financially earn more than their parents. Diuk stated that other poll questions attempted to focus on how the social systems and values within each country have changed. Respondents were asked to prioritize the values that they found most important. According to Diuk, the more materialistic values such as the right to a job, the right to a home, the right to education, and freedom of speech were the four most important values among Russians and Ukrainians. However, she noted, Russians and Ukrainians have differing views regarding freedom and equality. Diuk explained that in Ukraine, more than half of the respondents expressed the preference for equality, while over 53 percent of Russian respondents opted for freedom over equality.
Trust in government institutions was another component of Diuk's survey. She posited that one way that societal change can be measured is by the level of confidence that people have in social and state institutions. Survey results indicate that there is a general sense of apathy and distrust of institutions in each of the three countries. Diuk stated that there is also a low level of confidence in non-governmental organizations, which does not bode well for the development of civil society. She noted that one interesting finding from the survey showed that Russian, Ukrainian and Azeri youth place the most confidence in friends and family, which might explain why institutional trust remains so low.
Diuk concluded by offering some general observations about the political significance of the next generation in the three countries. She explained that in Ukraine, immediately following the collapse of communism, there was a "romantic period" when there some authentic youth movements, evidenced by the toppling of the Ukrainian Prime Minister in 1990. However, very few of those involved in that movement have emerged as political leaders and a youth political party has never materialized. In Russia, youth wings to many of the Russian political parties allowed many post-Soviet youth to participate in the new political process, but very few have progressed into positions of party leadership. In the case of Azerbaijan, many of the youth were heavily involved in the movement for independence, but have encountered many obstacles to entering the current political scene.