The Russian youth will be heard soon

My Independence Day was spent touring the Kremlin in Moscow, following a night out on Red Square. As a child of the Cold War, especially the Cuban Missile Crisis, I grew up thinking of all these sites as dark, foreboding places that one would never, ever visit. But I did. And the skies were blue on the morning of July 4, and the Russian guard didn’t flinch when my guide announced he was ushering Americans into the Kremlin gate nearest the Armory. My, how things have changed.

As I stood on Red Square, it brought back childhood memories of watching TV news about May days in Moscow, as I sat transfixed by images of the Red Army marching en masse before their mighty missiles, unveiled for all to see. But that is now a distant memory, as of unpleasant things. 

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Among my Russian contemporaries, however, such memories are evidently not as distant. They speak often of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s like Americans who experienced the Great Depression. It has indelibly affected them and they want to talk of it. Understandable.

But that’s not what’s really important about Russia today. It’s the youth of the nation who are most relevant. Everywhere I visited, I was surrounded by students, young couples, and families with babies. It was reminiscent of the ’60s and ’70s in the U.S., when the baby boom brought a flourishing youth market that transfixed American advertisers and promoters looking to profit. Everywhere in Russia I see street posters for concerts by rock groups, many of them American. It reminded me of the “Summer of Love” of the ’60s.

The guides I was around, mostly middle-aged Russians, couldn’t ignore commenting on the many young people. Several guides had their own children in the 13-to-29 age category or are professors who see students regularly. Although no statistics were presented, the guides said many Russians didn’t want to bring more kids into the world during the times of greatest austerity, but as conditions have improved, they started their own Russian baby boom. And it shows. The Summer of Love theme was underlined by the brides seen literally everywhere a tourist might go. The practice is for couples to get married in a civil ceremony and then go with their friends to “beautiful places,” like Red Square, the parks in Yaroslavl, the riverfront in St. Petersburg, etc. It’s quite the sight, the tuxes and wedding gowns. In one park overlooking Moscow, and near the looming tower of Moscow State University, I spotted almost 10 bridal parties in just 20 to 30 minutes of sauntering around in the crowd.

A well-traveled guide said Russian kids are pretty much like kids everywhere. They wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, want to be with friends. Descending into the Moscow metro system, I took note of the endless stream of Russian youths passing me on the huge up escalator. They could have passed for Americans at the mall or a rock concert venue: clothes, haircuts, the whole package.

One guide complained pleasantly that his students seem skeptical when he tells stories of rationing and waiting for hours to get a “prescription” for milk for his baby, which could be filled only after making a long trip to the place milk was available and standing in a second long line. They seem to greet this as a farfetched tale, saying, “Why didn’t you just go to the supermarket?” Another guide added that the youth think mostly of “the Internet and pop music.” I’m glad. 

One day these Russian youths will “rock the vote,” just as American youths have. It’ll be fun to watch.

Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.