In recent years, a new trend has been observed in the Russian government's messages to young people: public statements and official documents have increasingly focused on themes such as patriotism and traditional values, as the country's political elite seek to promote conformism and thus remain in their positions of power.
This is the main finding from a study conducted by Yasaveev as part of the HSE Youth Research Centre's project.* The study results are published in the paper 'Key Motifs of Government Rhetoric Addressing Young People in Russia' published in Sociological Review.
The Russian government's strong focus on youth is reflected in numerous government-sponsored programmes targeting young people and in politicians' statements. Yasaveev analysed Russian politicians' youth-focused rhetoric by studying the texts of presidential speeches, government reports and federal policy documents containing key words such as 'youth' and 'young' and dated between May 2012 and May 2016.**
His findings illustrate a number of recent policy trends. In particular, official texts often emphasise the need to protect young people from a "destructive informational influence."*** Without specifying its source and mechanism of action, the Russian authorities refer instead to "successful foreign practices" of counteracting such influence, such as "Japan restricting youth access to unsafe and undesirable websites."
Prominent in official discourse are 'crime and punishment' themes, such as drug offences, imprisonment, etc., while other really urgent issues such as the spread of HIV/AIDS and lack of opportunities for self-fulfilment for many young people are rarely addressed.
An unspecified 'external threat' is often mentioned in official messages addressed to young people. Other phrases often used in official speeches and documents include 'battle for minds', 'manipulation of consciousness', 'attempts to impose [alien] norms and values', 'provocation of conflict', and 'information warfare'.
On one hand, young people, according to official rhetoric, need to be protected from the above, and on the other hand, the youth are expected to defend community: 'patriotic education' of young people and encouraging them to defend their country is emphasised as a policy priority.
Increasingly defence-oriented, patriotic education programmes today use the word 'military' far more often than just a few years ago, totally ignoring the idea of work as patriotic contribution. Rather than 'loving one's country', patriotism is conceptualised as 'being willing to fight for the government' and emphasised as a universal trait of the Russian youth and a new national idea.
Values are often mentioned by Russian politicians addressing young people, mainly in the context of 'true and traditional values' as opposed to unspecified 'quasi-values'. According to Yasaveev, the official rhetoric assumes a division into 'true' and 'false' values as something obvious without further clarification.
Addressing students and teachers at the Sirius educational centre for talented youth in September 2015, President Putin explained what is meant by 'true values': "Of course, life today has changed cardinally, but the true values will always remain. These are honesty, patriotism, love, kindness, courage, dignity, compassion, responsibility and a sense of duty." A similar list of 'moral values' can be found in the government's Strategy for the Development of Education in Russia for the Period up to 2025.
From Yasaveev's paper.
While the values of responsibility and duty are on the list, liberty is not.
According to Yasaveev, this means that the 'traditional' values emphasised in the official rhetoric are designed to promote conformism and 'stability' rather than change, as the ruling elite seek to preserve their current positions.
*The project 'Fields of positive interethnic interactions and youth cultural scenes in the Russian cities' is implemented with support from the Russian Science Foundation.
**The study’s objective is to identify the key themes of the official rhetoric targeting young people. The study is based on a constructionist approach.
***In particular, these are mentioned in the main youth policy document, 'Fundamentals of the State's Youth Policy in the Russian Federation for the Period up to 2025'.