Anne Garrels reports on Russian Youth Issues

Anne Garrels. Putin Country: A Journey Into Real Russia. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.

 

Putin preaches “family values” and the government and the Orthodox Church tell women to have more babies. Increasing numbers of middle-class business owners are leaving Russia, along with a brain drain in a country with about half the population of the US (142 million). To encourage a higher birth rate, maternity leave is among the longest in the world at 140 days of full pay, then 40% of pay for three years. The mother’s job is guaranteed for two years. Many employers don’t hire women who might have a baby or they hire young women to work off the books. It’s legal for employers to advertise age and gender restrictions. However, women’s pay lags behind men’s salaries, there’s no paternity leave, and housing costs are high and apartments cramped in cities. In addition, education and health care that is supposedly free requires bribes and state child-care centers were closed, so young women look for a wealthy husband and wait longer to get married than their mothers did. They’re hard to find because Russia has more women than men and male alcoholism is common and women worry that the good men leave the country. Garrels said alcoholism is the major reason that Russia has the highest divorce rate in the world and 25% of men died before age 55. 6260.(59) Although Russian women tend to be critical of men for being crass, they don’t like feminism. Women’s magazines do discuss changing sex roles, with women wanting romance without abuse.

 

Anne Garrels reported in Putin Country (2016) that teens aren’t activists for familiar reasons globally: their priority is doing well on their collage entrance exams, chatting with their friends on VKontaite and blogs, playing online games like “Defense of the Ancients” and listening to Western and Russian music.[i] For example, they get their news from the Internet, scorning state TV as propaganda, but don’t protest if their favorite news sites are closed down. When asked about their heroes none listed an opposition leader, many didn’t have one, and others listed Joseph Stalin, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Gandhi—the only political reformer. When a foreign teacher asked them to discuss issues in TED Talks, they said, “The government, which is wiser than us, will decide.” Students told her that although elections are rigged and the government controls mainstream media, Putin provides stability for their country. One issue young men do care about is avoiding the military draft, bribing doctors or draft board members.

 

Education is problematic now because students are expected to pay fees and give “donations.” Anne Garrels said in Putin Country, “Money is now the key to everything.” Schools only provide basics for free and don’t offer sports programs, after-school programs are fee based. With the ruble dropping in value, teacher pay averaged about $250 a month, requiring a second job such as many hours of tutoring. Good teachers are especially hard to find in villages where parents can’t pay for school fees. Universities used to be free but now departments have various quota systems for paid and scholarship students. Administrators may take bribes and pressure faculty to tolerate students who pay even if they fail or cheat. Faculty salaries are even lower than in secondary schools and even students graduating in fields like business aren’t getting jobs.

[i] Anne Garrels. Putin Country: A Journey Into Real Russia. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016, Chapter 10.

 

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