Russia’s youth are more politically visible than ever before. They are more active and less afraid of making their voices heard. They want a real fight against corruption and are eager to get involved in social activism. For them, individual rights and the freedom are crucial and unlike Soviet citizens, they are less willing to tolerate police intimidation and government threats. This generation want to earn a decent living and they relate less to the financial collapse of the 1990s than previous generations – they also see and actively compare their own lives to how their contemporaries live in the United States and Europe.
As part of our ongoing Illume Guide featured blog posts, we interviewed our Russian Guide – Evgenia, to help us understand more about the core culture and how Gen Z view contemporary Russia, as well as its future.
Hi Evgenia! Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from, how old are you and what are you passionate about?
I’m Evgenia, I’m 19 years old and I study law at the School of Economics in St Petersburg. I’m from a small city and moved to St Petersburg 2 years ago. I came to this big city for the great education, and I don’t really want to go back to my hometown because as well as an education, St Petersburg offers me opportunities for things to do in my free time such as going to the cinema, theatre, clubs and to be able to spend time in the outdoor parks.
I’m a freelance model so take part in photo shoots from time to time. Originally, I entered into this industry through social media (VK, which is massive in Russia) which allows you to build up your own network of contacts and work for yourself. Through my studies, I’ve also worked as a hostess for the International Economic Forum where many foreigners join congregate in St Petersburg. I once met Putin at the event and I really enjoy events like this.
Outside of my work and studies, I go gym 3 times a week. Sport is very important in Russia and especially to people in my age. In Russia, women will be judged if they don’t have an appropriate shape, so Russian girls try to work hard to look good in this society. I also enjoy travel and I save all my money I earn to travel – I’ve travelled to over 30 countries so far!
How would you describe Russian culture to somebody who is not from Russia?
Actually I don’t want to judge Russia but I don’t really like to live here. There are many problems around the government, and younger people aged 15-25 really understand the situation and are trying to do something about it. I believe that we have many problems in this country but every country has that.
As for media, it’s pushed by the government, for example Telegram has been blocked in Russia. There’s a lot of websites hiding the truth from people, so nowadays young people are trying to find the truth through other means.
Education is also good and very liberal. I’m studying at one of the best universities in Russia where we have students come from all over the world to study, as well as more liberal-minded Russian students.
The natural resource in Russia is also amazing and we have really beautiful views here. I’ve never seen any foreign country has better views than in my country! Natural is very important for every Russian. We always pay attention to when and where the product is made, and what the ingredients are – the hair product brand Siberica (https://www.naturasiberica.co.uk/) is very good as it is natural and not expensive.
How do you see Russia and Russian people? What are you proud of and is there anything you are less proud of?
Younger Russians see what’s happening in the world and are open minded to share their thoughts. But the older generation tends to reject this new thinking because they have inherited views from their parents and don’t really want to change.
The main generation gap seems to be that the older generation has their own view about how this country should work and they tend to love Putin and the old way of life, which they don’t want to change. But our generation want to move forward and make changes.
In terms of the role of women, people think that a good woman should be married and her life should depend on that. Many girls thinks they need a good husband then they don’t need to do anything else, so this puts pressure on for women to look good, have a nice body shape and wear nice make up. In the big cities, men and women are more equal in the family, but in smaller towns, men are still considered to have the higher position in the family.
As you’ve grown up, what’s the most significant change you have witnessed in Russia?
When I born, the country was worse than it is now. Compared to 10 years ago, people have more freedom to go out and let their voices be heard without worrying about being punished.
From a consumer perspective, there are now more products for people to choose from but spending power is still quite low in Russian. Not many people have the opportunity to buy what they want or buy good quality product and have to go for a cheaper option. Foreign brands are very popular in Russia, especially clothes and cosmetics, but fake products are also common in Russia, e.g. alcohol, designer handbags.
Technology is also having a big impact on our lives. Delivery services are much quicker in big cities and social networks are also influencing our lives and are helping to increase liberal opinions.
Instagram and other apps are particularly having an influence on younger people in Russia. There is a trend for app development in Russia which started around 5 years ago – many smart people are replicating apps that come from Europe, but are making them more suited to Russian people.
What do you think is important to people at your age in Russia?
Friends and family are the most important to us. We can’t live without them. Friends and family are very connected in Russia and people maintain this relationship until an old age. I call my mum 5-6 times a day and I believe a lot people are the same.
Can you give an example of a person in the public eye that you think Russian Gen Z look up to?
The founder of VK and Telegram, Pavel Durov. He started the company on his own. Although he is openly against the Russian government and is not living in Russia now, he is still trying to help Russian social media platforms. He’s so smart and very well respected among young generation, but unfortunately, the older generation don’t like him.
What’s your hope for the future?
I do hope that the older generation can be more open-minded and that they can have more communication with people from other cultures. That’s probably just part of our culture and it seems difficult to change the situation, especially because in a lot of the smaller towns, the internet is not good and some people only have access to TV, so they love Putin and prefer the way of life under the Soviet Union. Young protesters don’t really have the chance to speak out against him because the punishment can be serious, so I hope that this can change.