Azerbaijan International

Winter 2003 (11.4)
Pages 36-41

Former Soviet Union
Portrait 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 Party.

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).

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.

A recent survey conducted by the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C., compared youth in three countries of the former Soviet Union-Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Russia. 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.
Left: A recent survey conducted as part of Nadia Diuk's project "The Next Generation  of Leaders in Key Post-Soviet States, compared youth in three countries of the former Soviet Union-Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Russia.

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.

Sociologists 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 $50.

Earning more than Parents
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).

Mobile Phones
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 Daddy"
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 satisfactory.

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 generations?

Trust in Close Relationships
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 parties.

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 38.7 percent.

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.

Political Parties
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.

Which Freedoms?
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.

International Affairs
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.

Favored Countries
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 percent.

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 Ukrainians.

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.

Language Choice
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 just Azeri.

Ethnic Tolerance
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, among entrepreneurs.

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 said "yes".

Significance of the Poll
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 issues.

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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