National Geographic : 2016 Dec
94 national geographic • December 2016 Much is made of Putin’s stratospheric popular- ity—at the time I reported this article, Putin had the approval of 80 percent of Russians polled. But Russians between the ages of 18 and 24 approve of him at a higher rate than any other age group: 88 percent. More than any other generation, they are proud of their country and its stature in the world, associate its military prowess with great- ness, and believe in its future. in a DarK, narroW courtYarD in Novosi- birsk, between two 19th-century brick buildings, I find the local bohemians drinking beer and lis- tening to electronic music. It’s here that Filipp Kri- kunov, born in 1995, opened an art gallery. Ducking away from the gathering, he shows me around. One room is lit with a fluorescent pink light, the wall arrayed with shelves holding mini-busts of Lenin, painted in silly patterns. In the next room young artists have cobbled together mind-bending ways to take selfies: Stick your head into this cardboard box full of shattered mirrors. Stick your head in another to find the remains of a Burger King meal. Westernization. “Modernization came through consumption, but that’s not enough,” says sociol- ogist Zorkaya. Ikea, which came to Russia in 2000, became wildly popular among the new middle class as a way to affordably live in a stylish Eu- ropean—that is, non-Soviet—way. “It became a symbol of how you could civilize your life without a lot of money,” she says, “but the fact that behind this decor is a totally different concept of human beings and values, somehow it doesn’t connect for Russians.” Since the beginning of his third presidential term, in 2012, Putin has promoted an even more aggressive neo-Soviet ideology, both at home and abroad. He fought to keep former Soviet repub- lics, like Ukraine and Kazakhstan, in Moscow’s sphere of influence and flexed Russia’s military power in distant Syria. A series of laws promot- ed traditional social values and made dissent even more dangerous. One result is a generation whose dreams are the embodiment of everything Putin desires them to be: conformist, materialist, and highly risk averse. At a classy high school prom at St. Petersburg’s elegant Grand Hotel Emerald, students help themselves to a pyramid of cocktails. The end of communism brought both poverty and wealth to Russia and created a small middle class. For the young who lived through the volatile 1990s, economic security remains a top desire.