National Geographic : 2016 Dec
the putin generation 93 the other thing she loves most: travel. “ Yes, it’s terrible; there are fewer opportunities,” she says, but she refuses to seek an answer in politics. “It’s a psychological block.” Kseniya Obidina, Liza’s law school friend, sees things similarly. Also the child of divorce, she says family and stability are of primary im- portance to her. She wants a secure, well-paying job. She wants to be able to afford travel and to support her mother and sister. This dream has become more remote, though, with the politi- cal and economic crisis: Kseniya wants to work at foreign law firms, but they are increasingly packing up and leaving the country. Like Liza, she refuses to think about politics. “I don’t see the point of talking about something you can’t influence. Talk for talk’s sake isn’t interesting,” she says as we sit in a Moscow Starbucks. As we leave, she adds, “It’s better to know and be quiet. It’s better not to speak up. Why spoil your mood?” hoW DiD theY come to be this way? Vladimir Putin is a big part of the answer. He came to power in 2000 as an anti-Nineties candidate just as this generation was becoming aware of the world around them. He promised to bring prosperity and security. Coasting on historically high oil prices and economic reforms implemented in the Nine- ties, Putin was able to fulfill much of that promise but at the expense of democratic freedoms. Stability and economic well-being became the ideology of the day, peppered with a heavy dose of nostalgia for the U.S.S.R. and a whitewashing of its sins. Putin called the disintegration of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastro- phe” of the 20th century. Whoever didn’t feel that, he said, “doesn’t have a heart.” Joseph Sta- lin became, in the business-friendly lingo of the day, an “effective manager” who went a bit too far. Textbooks and television came to reflect this new, state-sanctioned nostalgia. Today 58 percent of Russians would still like to see a return of the Sovi- et order, and some 40 percent see Stalin favorably. Much of post-Soviet life has been a hapless search for a uniting idea. At first it was democ- racy; then consumerism became a stand-in for Students take a break at Muhammadiya madrassa in Kazan, a city on the Volga River that is about half ethnic Russian and half Tatar. Most Tatars are Muslim; Islam, Russia’s second largest religion, is followed by about 7 percent of the population. The school teaches religion, humanities, linguistics, and Tatar history and culture.