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Welcome, Russia’s Internet generation

Today’s young Russians connect with the world on their laptops instead of around the fabled kitchen table, where their parents sat in Soviet times, the only place they could speak openly and safely.

world Updated: Dec 17, 2011 22:40 IST

Today’s young Russians connect with the world on their laptops instead of around the fabled kitchen table, where their parents sat in Soviet times, the only place they could speak openly and safely.

Their vastly different expectations have made these young Russians the vital force among the tens of thousands who have protested the December 4 parliamentary elections. Informed and motivated by blogs and social networks so far unfettered by government limits, they have emerged with the potential to confront the authorities and demand change. The months and years ahead will reveal whether they will achieve this promise.

Much of this under-40 generation calls itself apolitical — the authorities have given politics a bad name, and no leaders have emerged who appeal to these young Russians. But their independence poses an obstacle to the Kremlin, which relies on its control of the flow of information, primarily through television, to keep its rule unchallenged. The government appears unsure how to handle them, and officials have periodically hinted at curbing the Internet. But this week, as he tried to portray himself as conciliatory toward the young and their concerns, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said restrictions would be technologically difficult and politically wrong.

With the number of daily users tripling in the past four years, the Internet has been booming in Russia, particularly among the young, offering them greater space for dissent. Three in four Russians ages 25 to 34 go online every day, according to the Public Opinion Foundation. Twenty years after the Soviet flag was lowered at the Kremlin on Christmas Day 1991, this new generation knows more freedom than fear. These young Russians have made clear that they are unafraid to call the government to account.

With more demonstrations planned for December 24, the path ahead is far from clear. Putin remains far and away the front-runner in the presidential election scheduled for March; his United Russia party, declared the victor in the contested parliamentary elections, retains a majority — though much reduced — in the parliament.

But the sheer numbers of Russians who have turned out to protest in recent days have left organisers astonished. In a Russia better known for cynicism and apathy, what emerges from conversations with some of these young Russians is a tone of confidence and strength.

In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post.