Winter 2003 (11.4)
Former Soviet Union
of the Next Generation
by Dr. Nadia M. Diuk
More than a dozen years
have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991) and
the emergence of 15 independent states. And yet, the ruling elites
of most of these countries (with the exception of the Baltic
States - Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia - and now, Georgia) are
still firmly rooted in networks of the old Soviet state. The
upcoming, next generation, however, is waiting in the wings and
growing, both in numbers and sophistication. But who are the
members of this next generation? Very little empirical research
has been conducted on post-Soviet youth, especially in Azerbaijan.
This First Free Generation (those born after 1968) already constitutes
a large proportion of the population. The driving force of this
age group would have been 18 years old when Gorbachev announced
the policy of Glasnost and Perestroika. Across that vast expanse
of land whether they were in school in Kaliningrad [a Russian
enclave located near Poland], Kyiv [Ukraine], Baku [Azerbaijan],
Tashkent [Uzbekistan] or Vladivostok [Russia in the Far East],
they were all educated under the Soviet system and taught according
to the same curriculum, every day of the week. Throughout their
school years, they were assured that regardless of whether they
pursued a technical or an academic career, a secure job was awaiting
them until they retired.
But just as this age group was finishing high school in 1986
and moving on to further education, the political situation began
to change, and the guarantee of a secure future "from cradle
to grave" came into question. By 1991, the notion of a destined
future disappeared, together with the monopoly of the Communist
These young people were left to fend for themselves. Their younger
brothers and sisters have less memory of the "bright future"
that was promised under Communism. Those born in 1986, who virtually
have no memory of the Soviet past, will become first-time voters
in the municipal elections of 2004.
Who are the members of the next generation? How do they think?
What are their aspirations? Will they strive for justice, freedom
and equality? How do they spend their leisure time? How much
do they trust the government and its institutions? What effect
has independent statehood had on the youth in the various republics,
and how far have they diverged from each other? How much has
the past influenced their values and expectations?
Below: The Soviet Union stretched
across 11 time zones. Map emphasizes the three countries that
were selected for this survey-Russia (yellow), Ukraine (purple),
and Azerbaijan (red).
To address these questions and to compile a comparative portrait
of the Next Generation in three leading post-Soviet states -
Azerbaijan, Russia and Ukraine, a poll was conducted in each
country using a questionnaire that was almost identical.1 The
poll was conducted nationwide among the same age group. Such
polling takes place fairly frequently in Russia; to a lesser
extent, in Ukraine; but hardly at all in Azerbaijan. This article
will therefore focus on data about Azerbaijani youth and the
unique trends revealed among the younger generation, with occasional
references to Russia and Ukraine.
Now that Azerbaijan has joined the capitalist world along with
the other post-Soviet republics, salary and income has become
the determining factor for many issues, including access to goods,
education and ultimately social status. Previously, all of these
economic issues were determined by the Communist Party. Analysts
who look at the level of democratization in a country often focus
on the development of the middle class because people in that
level of income have an interest in defending their financial
gains and are, thus, interested in politics.
recent survey conducted as part of Nadia Diuk's project "The
Next Generation of Leaders in Key Post-Soviet States,
in three countries of the former Soviet Union-Azerbaijan, Ukraine
The survey attempted to construct a profile of the Next Generation-youth
born after1968-as very little is known about this group, especially
in the West. Note here that youth in Azerbaijan had the greatest
access to mobile phone. Of those polled throughout Azerbaijani,
22 percent said they had a mobile phone, while 50 percent had
them in Baku.
in Russia have estimated that the income that determines middle
class status in Russia is around $300 to $500 per month. Approximately
5 percent of young Russians fall into this category, as do 1.3
percent of young Ukrainians. In Azerbaijan, only 0.4 percent
earned this level of salary.
Income levels for young people in Azerbaijan indicated that the
majority had an income of $20 or less per month - 47.4 percent.
This included 57.8 percent of the 18 - to 24-year olds, who would
not be expected to be bringing in much income. The largest percentage
of young people - 19.4 percent - had an income of less than $10
per month, with 15.2 percent claiming no income at all.
However, walking around Baku, one can't help but notice many
affluent young people. Statistics show that youth in Baku earn
far more than those in the regions. Whereas an income of more
than $50 per month outside of Baku is relatively rare among young
people, the average income per month for young people in Baku,
who responded with an actual figure, indicated that they earned
Earning more than
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that many of the younger generation
are accommodating themselves more easily with the new economic
conditions, and are often financially better off than their parents.
This phenomenon is relatively new for countries where, under
the Soviet system, parents were generally better off than their
children, and the family budget was planned around this certitude.
In this poll, the question was posed: "Is your monthly income
more, or less, than that of your parents?" In the sub-group
(30 - to 34-year olds), 29 percent earned more, and the overall
figure was 17.8 percent. Although this figure is not high, nonetheless,
it is likely that this is the first time in generations that
a considerable number of young people are earning more money
than their parents. The psychological effects of this reversal
may have repercussions in social attitudes and political behavior
in the future.
The best way to assess income across three countries is to look
at purchasing power since currency and also the social support
infrastructure is different. Russia's youth led Ukrainians and
Azerbaijanis in being able to comfortably afford more day-to-day
items. In Azerbaijan, the largest number - 47.2 percent - indicated
that they had "enough for food, but not for clothing".
Statistics on marriage and children revealed some surprises.
In Azerbaijan, which is considered to be a conservative country,
there were many youth who were not married. The sample indicated
that 52.8 percent of the respondents were not married and had
never been married. This is rather remarkable for a country,
which is generally described as traditional. Although 3.2 percent
said that they were divorced, only 0.4 percent claimed to be
"living together" in an unregistered relationship (as
opposed to 6.1 percent in Russia). As far as children were concerned,
59.2 percent claimed to have had none (58.3 percent in Russia,
and 49.1 percent in Ukraine).
Post-Soviet concerns about low birth-rates have arisen from time
to time and were considered a particular problem in the
Baltic States in the early 1990s, when the birthrate dropped
to around one child per set of parents.
Living at Home
In response to the question: "Do you live with your parents?"
in Azerbaijan, 72 percent answered "yes". In Ukraine,
the figure was 61.7 percent; and in Russia, 58.5 percent. Young
Azerbaijanis also lived together with more people under the same
roof: on average, 4.7 people (3.6 in Russia, and 3.7 in Ukraine).
Despite low levels of income, many young people in Azerbaijan
had gained access to the symbols of modern life - automobiles,
mobile phones and the Internet. Young Azerbaijanis were not very
mobile: only 6.2 percent had access to an automobile. But Azerbaijani
youth fared better when it came to modern technology. Throughout
the country, 22.2 percent used a mobile phone, (12.9 percent
of Russians, and 14.8 percent of Ukrainians). Statistics for
Baku indicated that 50 percent of the young people polled used
a mobile phone.
Usage of Internet reveals very interesting statistics. In Azerbaijan,
while only 4.3 percent claimed to have access to a personal computer,
13.4 percent of young people used the Internet, and this figure
increased to 21.4 percent among the youngest group of 18 - to
24-year olds. Also, it is significant to note that in Baku, 37.9
percent of the young people that were polled used the Internet.
Government as "Big
This survey attempted to gauge how far the youth of today have
moved away from assumptions that were inculcated into their parents
during their Soviet education. The standard Soviet view was that
the State should take care of the individual "from cradle
to grave", and that each citizen should have confidence
in the wisdom of the State and its institutions, even though
in practice, the level of state - provided services was rarely
When asked about the level of intervention by the State into
the economy of the country, young Azerbaijanis demonstrated fairly
liberal thinking: 8.8 percent supported the idea of a completely
free market economy with no government intervention (5 percent
in Russia; 11.6 percent in Ukraine). But when the question was
posed in a more specific way: "What should be the relationship
between the government and its people?" Young Azerbaijanis
showed themselves to be more paternalistically oriented than
their post-Soviet colleagues: 68.2 percent opted for the response:
"Government should care for all of its people" (Russians
polled 64.3 percent; Ukrainians, 62.6 percent).
What explains this strongly paternalistic orientation a decade
after the demise of the command administrative system? Unlike
the Soviet government, the governments of the new independent
States do not claim to look after their citizens. Is this belief
simply part of the legacy which has been passed down from older
Trust in Close
A series of questions was posed to gauge the level of trust in
social and political institutions. Questions probed the attitudes
held about different types of institutions: (1) the level of
trust and confidence in friends and family; (2) institutions
with a "social service" purpose such as insurance companies,
banks, medical practitioners, and educational establishments;
(3) institutions of civil society such as the media, religious
institutions, trade unions, non-governmental organizations; (4)
institutions exerting power, such as the army and the military;
(5) institutions involving the justice system; and (6) political
institutions and organs of executive power, such as the parliament,
the President, the President's administration, and political
The striking feature was that, apart from the overall high level
of trust in friends and family, the youth of all three countries
generally did not trust state institutions or institutions of
civil society. In Azerbaijan, the most active distrust was against
the police (64.4 percent) and the parliament (64.4 percent) with
insurance companies (60.8 percent) and banks (55.4 percent) not
far behind. The courts received a "distrust" rating
of 52.6 percent and political parties - 50.8 percent.
Even though young Russians and Ukrainians distrusted their political
parties even more, this is still a figure that should cause some
concern for Azerbaijan's future: the key institutions of a democratic
state had so little support.
Another institution that is important for the development of
civil society is non-governmental organizations. Here again,
young Azerbaijanis showed a higher level of trust than did Russians
and Ukrainians, but the figures were, nonetheless, ambivalent
with 40.6 percent, expressing complete and partial trust, and
43.2 percent indicating complete and partial lack of trust. In
Azerbaijan, young people showed the most confidence in their
relatives (87.6 percent) and friends (87.2 percent).
Perception of Military
Surprisingly, the next most trusted institution was the army:
77.6 percent of young Azerbaijanis expressed partial or complete
trust in the army. This is a figure that, by far, surpasses the
statistics found in Russia (51.9 percent) and Ukraine (47.8 percent).
In a survey such as this, it is not possible to ask the reasons
why a certain response is chosen, although attitudes toward the
army and service may be assumed to reflect the level of patriotism
among youth, regardless of whether they themselves are ready
to fight for their country or not. The support for the army among
young Azerbaijanis also was evident in another set of questions.
A relatively high 65 percent of young Azerbaijanis chose the
first response: "Every real man should serve in the army"
when presented with a range of responses that also included:
"Military service is an obligation that should be repaid
to the State even if it does not suit your interests", and
"Military service is senseless and dangerous and should
be avoided at all costs".
The younger age group registered 61.7 percent in favor of "real
men". Among young women, 70 percent also opted for that
choice. Very few young Azerbaijanis (6.4 percent overall) considered
military service as "pointless and dangerous; people should
avoid it at any cost". In comparison, 50.9 percent of young
Ukrainians believed that "a real man should serve in the
army"; while in Russia the figure was relatively low at
The difference seen in Azerbaijan may be due to several factors.
Many young people still remember military action themselves or
seeing their older brothers fight in the war in Karabakh [against
Armenians]. The Azerbaijani military also has more prestige,
especially the Officer Corps, which has developed connections
with Turkey, where the military tradition is a pillar of the
secular Muslim society.
The next highest rating of trust was for the mass media, which
was "partially or completely trusted" by 72 percent
of young Azerbaijanis. This is a surprising statistic for those
who follow the democratic development in Azerbaijan, considering
that the TV and radio are heavily monitored by the government.
The print media, whether controlled by the government or the
opposition, is also a long way from being independent and objective.
How did the first post-Soviet generation relate to and participate
in politics? Even though the years since 1991 have not brought
a full liberal democratic system to Azerbaijan, this is still
the first generation that has had the opportunity to experience
real politics. But how interested are young people in politics,
and what do they understand by that term?
In Azerbaijan, 39.8 percent did not indicate a political party
preference, although 9.8 percent were interested in political
parties with an ecological inclination; social democracy attracted
5.2 percent, and 14.8 percent opted for a national-democratic
preference. A surprising 9.8 percent expressed support for a
communist ideology, and 4.4 percent for a political inclination
that was "religious".
Another poll conducted by the Adam Center in November 2002 named
specific political parties and came up with the following results:
31 percent of the young people claimed that none of the parties
was close to their point of view, but the top two vote-getters
were the opposition Musavat Party with 23 percent, and the pro-government
Yeni Azerbaijan party with 15 percent. According to the age-group
break down, however, it appeared that the older youth in Azerbaijan,
were more inclined to identify with the opposition Musavat Party,
which had a 27 percent rating in the 30 - to 34-year old group,
and 21 percent among the youngest 18 - to 24- year-olds. Pro-government
Yeni Azerbaijan was supported by 18 percent of the youngest groups
and by only 12 percent of the oldest.
More than a decade after communism, what are the values and beliefs
that lie at the heart of the next generation's view of the world?
Young people were asked to choose which values they considered
most important out of the following list: (1) freedom of speech,
(2) freedom of movement, (3) freedom of conscience, (4) the right
to a defense against unlawful arrest, (5) the right to work,
(6) the right to a home, and (7) the right to education.
Azerbaijanis differed from their Russian and Ukrainian counterparts
on these questions. The top four choices made by Russian and
Ukrainian youth were the same: (1) the right to work, (2) the
right to a home, (3) the right to education, and (4) freedom
of speech. In Azerbaijan, the list was (1) the right to work,
(2) freedom of speech, (3) the right to a home, and (4) right
to an education.
Another question was posed to measure how far the youth have
moved from the Soviet ideal that valued equality over freedom.
They were asked to make a choice between two formulations of
the question: "Freedom and equality are both important,
but if it were necessary to choose between them": (1) "I
choose freedom as the more important because people should live
as they choose without limitation", or (2) "I choose
equality as the more important because social differences between
people should not be too great and nobody should be able to take
advantage of undeserved privileges."
In Azerbaijan, 53.8 percent opted for equality, while 43.4 percent
chose freedom. As expected, men chose freedom more often (47.4
percent) than women (39.6 percent). Differences in Azerbaijan
also depended upon age and level of education: the 18 - to 24-year
old group broke down evenly at 48.1 percent between freedom and
equality, while the older youth more often chose equality. Those
with higher education were also more likely to choose freedom
- 62.2 percent.
Regional distributions in Azerbaijan were revealing: Shirvan
expressed the most interest in freedom - 75 percent. Ganja indicated
only 20 percent support. Surprisingly, the figures in Baku were
47.1 percent for freedom and 52.3 percent for equality.
In the past 10 years, there has been a complete turnaround in
official attitudes toward foreign countries in the post-Soviet
region. Countries that were considered "the Enemy"
during the Cold War, have become "strategic partners"
during the 1990s and, in some cases, even close allies after
September 11, 2001 [the date when terrorists attacked New York
Trade Center and Washington's Pentagon].
With NATO and the European Union on their borders, and as members
of the Council of Europe, these three countries - Russia, Ukraine
and Azerbaijan - are now all well on their way to becoming integrated
into the international community. Private attitudes toward the
outside world and especially toward the West were different,
however. Young Soviet citizens in the 1960s and 1970s, treasured
their bootleg cassette tapes of the Beatles and sought denim
jeans on the black market, convinced that their government was
presenting a false picture of the West. But now that young people
are free to travel as finances will permit, what does this generation
think about the outside world?
The survey included questions on how young people viewed the
international environment with regard to their own country, as
well as pragmatic assessments of where they themselves would
choose to travel to live and work for a while, or even to emigrate.
Young people were asked which geopolitical alignment would be
best for their country. Most young people in Azerbaijan - 29.4
percent - considered Turkey to be the best partner for their
country's future development, narrowly surpassing Russia for
first place - 28 percent. Europe trailed in third place - 21.6
percent. The United States was rated first place by only 15.6
percent of young Azerbaijanis.
Young Azerbaijanis were more eager to leave their country and
also more likely to emigrate permanently than Russians and Ukrainians.
When asked for how long they would like to leave Azerbaijan,
15.8 percent responded "forever". This suggests that
these young Azerbaijanis see better prospects for themselves
elsewhere, with no confidence that the situation will improve
for them. This was borne out by the response to the question:
"Why would you like to leave your country?" "Work"
was cited by 22 percent; 18.6 percent said "to see different
countries", and 4.8 percent would pursue studies. These
figures contrasted with young Russians, who now appear most comfortable
in their own country. Only 4.4 percent of young Russians wanted
to emigrate "forever" and when asked why, the most
frequently cited reason was "to see different countries"-25.8
These figures corroborated other statistics in the survey, which
show young Russians as having achieved a higher level of income
than their Ukrainian and Azerbaijani counterparts. When asked
their occupation, 27.2 percent of young Azerbaijanis claimed
to be "unemployed, temporarily without a job, or not working"
as opposed to 7.2 percent of the Russians and 16 percent of the
In Azerbaijan, the top choice for personal travel was Russia,
followed by Germany. Turkey and the US nearly tied in fourth
place. These selections appear to reflect the more realistic
possibility of young Azerbaijanis traveling to Russia for work.
The 30-year olds of Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan still remember
an educational system where the curriculum for all three republics
was almost identical on any day of the school week, and where,
despite the existence of national languages, everyone needed
to know Russian in order to progress in their career. For the
20-year olds, educated in independent states, the use of Russian
has not been so clear-cut. Although it is no longer the state
language in either Ukraine or Azerbaijan, all those years of
Soviet language policy have left a persistent use of the Russian
language and a complex set of psychological attitudes.
In Azerbaijan there has been a strong countervailing policy with
the introduction of the Latin alphabet and the use of the Azeri
language. The surveys conducted in Ukraine and Azerbaijan started
with a set of questions on language preferences. In Azerbaijan,
89 percent considered themselves Azerbaijani, with 6.6 percent
Russians and 2.8 percent Lezgians. However, when presented with
a choice of which questionnaire to fill out - Russian or Azerbaijani
- 23.6 percent preferred Russian, even though only 11.6 percent
claimed Russian as their native language.
The survey posed a broad range of choices on language. In Azerbaijan,
33.9 percent claimed knowledge of Russian "as a foreign
language". Inside the home, 74.2 percent claimed to use
Azeri exclusively. With friends, 23.2 percent of young Azerbaijanis
used both Russian and Azeri, and 17 percent used both in the
workplace. Among friends, 69.4 percent of Azerbaijani youth used
The survey attempted to determine attitudes towards different
nationalities. After decades of trying to cultivate the notion
of Soviets as the same nation, it might be expected that these
youth would hold tolerant attitudes toward one another. The data
showed significant differences. Each nationality was asked to
specify how it views the other two: (1) "with sympathy and
interest", (2) "calmly, without any particular feelings",
(3) "with irritation and hostility," or (4) "with
mistrust and fear".
Young Azerbaijanis viewed Russians and Ukrainians as rather benign
and friendly. But the level of tolerance by Russians and Ukrainians
towards Azerbaijanis was much lower. Among young Ukrainians,
71.9 percent viewed Azerbaijanis with interest or without particular
feelings, while 11 percent had a hostile attitude and 10.2 percent
viewed them with fear.
Young Russians had an even less favorable view of Azerbaijanis:
50.2 percent viewed them without particular emotions (among those,
only 2.6 percent indicated any sympathy and interest), 28.1 percent
viewed them with hostility, and 17.3 percent with fear.
The differences in these figures as they relate to young Russians
may be partly explained by the active negative propaganda that
has been carried out in Russia regarding people of Caucasian
origin in general. The campaign in Moscow against traders (low-class
people selling fruit and flowers in Russia's markets) from the
Caucasus creates an unfavorable image for all citizens of this
region. The relentless negative press about Chechnya and the
other republics located in Russia in the North Caucasus (Daghestan,
Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria) influences
Russian youth against citizens of Azerbaijan. The responses from
young Russians was not unusual. Such expressions of xenophobia
tended to occur mainly among those with a lower level of education
and those who were unemployed, serving in the army, or, interestingly,
These findings bear out the general perception that Azerbaijanis
are a very tolerant nation. This tolerance is reflected in the
rather low level of violence in the political culture (especially,
when compared with the seemingly routine assassinations of journalists
and politicians in Ukraine and Russia). Conversely, the rising
xenophobia and intolerance towards foreigners, especially in
Russia, is a trend that has been identified with some alarm by
Russia's leading sociologists. The most recent Parliamentary
election results in Russia, which showed rising support for Vladimir
Zhirinovsky and the newly formed nationalistic "Motherland"
Party, also demonstrated this as a worrying trend.
The comparative data on religion also shows some interesting
differences between Azerbaijan and the other two countries: When
asked about which faith they belonged to, 89.2 percent of young
Azerbaijanis claimed Islam (6.8 percent Orthodoxy) with only
2.6 percent non-believers ["imansiz"]. Non-believers
in Ukraine constituted 18.9 percent of the youth, and 25.5 percent
in Russia. However, the frequency with which Azerbaijanis visited
their place of worship was about the same as in the other countries.
1.6 percent every week, 6.4 percent once a month, and 31.2 percent
once a year.
The question was also posed: "Would you like your country
to be ruled by Sharia law [Islamic religious law]?" Among
Azerbaijanis, 86.6 percent said "no", and 8.8 percent
Many of the statistics from this survey could have been predicted.
Some came as a surprise. The high number of unmarried youth should
be of some concern for the future, as well as the high number
of unemployed. The relatively large number of young people ready
to leave their country should also cause policy makers to pay
attention to this generation's needs. Statistics also show something
that is obvious through casual observation, that there is a marked
discrepancy between Baku and the rest of the country on many
In terms of how the young people of Azerbaijan compare with the
youth of other post-Soviet countries, the survey indicates that
all of them are still under the influence of some Soviet-style
assumptions of their parents' generation. But, in general, even
though the youth of Azerbaijan are less well off financially
than their Russian counterparts, their responses were not so
very different from those of their post-Soviet neighbors.
Dr. Nadia Diuk
is Director for Europe and Eurasia at the National Endowment
for Democracy in Washington, D.C. This article is based on research
for a study, "The Next Generation of Leaders in Key Post-Soviet
States", soon to be published as a book. Contact Nadia Diuk:
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