FES Jugendstudien is an international youth research project dedicated to the study of young people’s opinion. It has already been carried out across Eastern and Southeastern Europe, for instance in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Russia. In the coming years, the project will cover more of Eastern Europe, but also Central Europe, Baltic countries, as well as the Middle East and North Africa. The main goal of this study is to identify, describe, and analyse attitudes of young people and patterns of behaviour in modern society.. The youth study of Russia, “Russia’s Generation Z – attitudes and values” is the most recent outcome of the project.
From May to June 2019, 1500 respondents from 14 to 29 years old were interviewed. The questions they were asked covered a wide range of topics, e.g. their experience and desires in various aspects of life, such as education, employment, political participation, familial relationships, leisure activities, digital technologies, as well as beliefs, moral values, and life principles. The results of the study were published in a report, both in English and Russian.
Results display gaps between young people from Russia and from Western Europe. Only 52% of the people interviewed believe that relations between Russia and Western Europe will ever be friendly. Nevertheless, Russian youth places Europe in higher regards for a range of social aspects. For instance, economic factors, as well as individual freedom, democracy and rule of law features are perceived as being less strict in Europe for young people than in Russia. Furthermore, the more one travels, the more likely they will be to identify as a European citizen. Encouraging exchanges of young people between Russia and Europe could contribute to the perception of Europe as a common cultural space, while preserving each country’s own culture. Such exchanges could boost a European sense of belonging.
On another note, young Russia is not former Soviet Russia. The USSR political system and its collapse generated a loss of interest towards it among young people. Up to 50% of young people confess being indifferent to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Political apathy is common. Many young people (almost 60%) said to be 'not interested' or 'slightly interested' in politics. Besides that, it is difficult for them to fully trust national government institutions. Only 26% trust the government, while 16% trust political parties, and only 24% trust the State Duma. However, the level of trust towards the president is relatively high (42%). But signs arise regarding opposite trends: autocratic methods have close to no support, and unlike most of Russians, young Russians value democracy principles more.
Two thirds of the respondents agreed that young people should have more opportunities to express their political views. We could perceive this as a sign of interest towards political concerns, which, however, is hardly expressed through specific political demands. Such a lack of trust in politics may be one of the factors that stimulate the desire to leave the country. Almost half of the respondents do not rule out the possibility of emigration, and 16% have a strong or a very strong desire to emigrate. Among those with the strongest will to emigrate, those who see the future of the country in a very pessimistic way and who tend to distrust government institutions, are disproportionately highly represented. Finally, young people’s political views do not drastically differ from the views of the entire country’s population.
The greatest difference between young people and older generations is the large part of those who sympathise with ideas of liberalism (12%) and those with Russian nationalism (16%). In other words, youth seems to be slightly more polarised than the rest of the population. Moreover, social democracy has the most support (28%) across the full political spectrum. However, 74% of the respondents agree that the income gap between rich and poor citizens should not be excessive, and 86% believe that the government should take more measures and responsibility for the prosperity of all. More than two thirds of youth want the government to protect human rights and the environment, to take care of economic growth and development, to fight unemployment, crime and corruption, as well as to ensure social justice and safety for everyone.
Only 52% of young people believe that relations between Russia and the West can ever really be friendly. Only 20% of respondents consider their identity to have been shaped by what they perceive as Western culture, only 20% identify themselves as Europeans, and only 36% consider Russia a European country. The alienation between Russian youth and Western Europe cannot be denied. However, the results of the study also reveal the key levers for bridging this gap: individual freedom, economic success, democracy and the rule of law – all of these values are perceived by most as being more often realized in Europe than in Russia. Two of the three most popular destinations for Russian emigrants, Germany and France, are in Europe; and the more a person travels, the more likely this individual is to establish a European identity. An in-depth exchange in both directions can therefore help young people to understand Europe as a common cultural space where all countries have their place, which in turn could assist in promoting greater enthusiasm for the European idea
The age groups that were interviewed grew up in a very different political system from that in which their parents were raised. Accordingly, the breakdown and evaluation of the political system of the Soviet Union are becoming less and less interesting for young Russians. 50% have no opinion on, or are indifferent to the dissolution of the USSR. The break with the Soviet generation can also be seen in the fact that despite mostly good relationships with their parents, 38% of young people would raise their own children differently. The youth are slowly moving away from the past, but it is unclear where the new path is leading to.
There is little interest in politics - almost 60% of respondents are not or not at all interested in politics. There is hardly any trust in the national institutions. Only 26% trust the government, 16% political parties and 24% the State Duma. Nevertheless, trust in the president is comparatively high at 42%. At the same time, the youth themselves are hardly involved in politics. But there are also trends in the opposite direction. There is hardly any support for autocratic behavior, and approval of democracy is slightly higher among young people as compared to the general population. At least 2/3 agree that young people should have more opportunities to express themselves in politics. There seems to be an interest in political participation, but this is not expressed in specific political demands.
This study also shows that “Moscow is not Russia”, because Muscovites have a different mindset. Nevertheless, Moscow’s young people make up a considerable part of the whole: 7.52% of young people between the ages of 14 and 29 live in the capital of Russia, and a large proportion of them are among the most privileged. They have the potential to become trendsetters for developments across the country. They are more politically engaged, have rather liberal attitudes, are more distrustful of state institutions and are more likely to see themselves as cosmopolitans and Europeans.
Russia risks losing a significant part of its youth to emigration, including many of the best educated. Just over half of the respondents do not rule out migration, and 16% have a strong or very strong desire to emigrate. The main motivation cited by young people with a strong desire to emigrate is improvement in living standards at 44%. However, a more important factor is the attitude of young people to the state of the country: those who see the country's future much more pessimistically and remain more suspicious of the state institutions have the strongest desire to emigrate. Russia risks losing a part of its youth who are ambitious to start a new and better life in another country. More than a quarter of respondents want to emigrate to earn higher wages, enjoy more political stability or more cultural diversity.
The political views of young people hardly differ from those of the general population. The biggest difference is the higher proportion of those who agree with Russian nationalism (16%) and liberalism (12%), so the youth are slightly more polarised than average. However, Social Democracy with 28% received the most approval among those asked about political views. At the same time, 74% agree that the incomes of the poor and rich should be more equal and 86% agree that the government should take more responsibility for ensuring that everyone receives proper care.
More than 2/3 of young people want a state that cares about human rights, the environment, economic growth and development, fighting unemployment, crime and corruption, and social justice and security for all. Through their expectations from the state and strong support for social democracy, most young people demonstrate their desire for a strong and rules-based state that guarantees fundamental rights and social justice. At the same time, distrust of the state is a sign that the state faces challenges in matching these expectations. Meeting these expectations could be the best way to restore young people's trust in politics.
The FES Youth Studies are a contribution to advancement of youth politics and youth sociology. The questionnaires and data sets of the survey are shall be accessible for further use without restrictions. We gladly offer the download of the respective files. In order to be able to understand how the information is used, we ask you to leave us your contact details and the purpose of use.