Russia by Russians [english version]
Written by Bruna Ribeiro, Manuela Nogueira, and Marcella Stewers
translated by Manuela Nogueira
pictures by Vitalii Mikhailiuk
>>Vast. Plural. Inconceivable. Contradictory. These are the words some youth interviewed by Plural Magazine used to describe their country: Russia.
Vastness regarding the territory extension. Seventeen million square kilometers are residence of 144 million people. This is the country with the largest area on the planet, covering more than a ninth of the land area. The capital, Moscow is the most populous city with around 12 million inhabitants, followed by St. Petersburg which however has less than 5 millon.
“Plural” because of the different realities. Life in the big cities and at the villages varies a lot. People have different customs, values and opportunities. In Moscow, for example, there is always movement, some people say that the city never sleep. On the other hand, villages are quite peaceful. There are not many places to go out and few opportunities.
“Inconceivable” because it is hard to learn the complexity of the country. One of the richest things about this culture is art. The Hermitage and Russian Museums, in St. Petersburg, and the Tretyakov Gallery, in Moscow, are worldwide know and recognized as great references in the artistic segment.
“Contradictory”. Rule by Vladimir Putin, reelected this year to exercise his fourth mandate, the country lives full of paradoxes. The soviet inheritance prevails in the unconscious and in the quotidian of citizens, who lives a mismatch between Constitution, Government’s actions, and the everyday life of the population.
“According to Constitution there is no censorship in Russia. However, there is a big issue of self-censorship when people are afraid of their future career, their health, and sometimes even life”, says the editor of a Russian magazine, who prefers to not be identified. The Government carries remnants of the Soviet times, and as a result maintain centralized and ultra-patriotic values.
After the pacific dissolution of Soviet Union, in other words, the independence of the Russian Federation, Boris Ieltsin assumed the presidency. However, after 1993, the Duma, a type of legislature, rebelled against the leadership causing a movement of civil unrest in the country. Six years later, the conflict, combined with the low popularity of the president, pressed Iéltsin to resign.
Vladimir Putin, vice president at the time, assumed the presidency until 2000. His government was known by profound political and economic reforms, tension with United States and Western Europe and the rescue of Russian nationalism. Since then, Putin was reelected in 2004 and try to be a candidate for the next elections, but he was forbidden. Dmitry Medvedev, his protege, assumed and Putin was designate to Prime Minister.
In September 2011, Putin announced he would go for his third mandate and even with protests he was elected a year later. During his government, he altered the law and extend in two years the time in duty, so instead of four came to be six. Now, in 2018, Putin started his fourth mandate.
Although there is no more an “iron curtain”, as in the time of the Soviet regime, the easiest way to control the thoughts and actions of modernity is to keep government policy stern. “For me, the worst is that the economic and the political systems are practically missing in Russia. There is no communication between the authority and the people, especially in the regions”, says the youth journalist Yaroslava Ryabova, 22 years old.
The approval of the Russian president goes around 85%, according to data released in 2017 by the independent center Levada. But who are these 85%? Most of the youths interviewed by Plural, said that people who truly sees the situation criticize and form their own opinion regarding the government. However, this is not the reality around the whole country. Due to the vast territory, a lot of people live in rural areas and “there is a different world in all aspects, unfortunately”, regret the graphic designer Natalia Filchakova, 28 years old.
According to the young woman it is hard to compare life in Moscow to life in the villages. The big cities are always rushed and in movement. There are a lot of events, expositions, and concerts. Furthermore, people in regions have less opportunities and sometimes suffer from poverty. But the dynamics are not the only thing that makes lifestyle different. At the villages the only way to access the news is through government-funded media, which is highly impartial.
The political situation in the country is one of the biggest regrets of the Russian youths, who try to go around the situation through creativity and optimism. However, it cannot be denied that this scenario triggers a limited system of information and education.
With the high levels of Russian training and schooling there is a lot of manpower available. The job market does what is possible to include all professionals, however the situation gets complicated with the many foreign who have flocked to the country in search of employment. “Finding a job in Russia is not hard, considering that you live in a big enough city. However, finding a nice and a well-paying job, or one that corresponds to your skillset and education, is quite a challenge”, affirm the 27 years-old student, Yefim Shulman.
“For those who live in the outlying areas, is not that simple. unless you are a military. A lot of people choose to work for the army to secure social guarantees”, comments the journalist Yaroslava Ryabova, 22. Another difficulty lies in the aging, “for people around 40s and 50s it is hard to have a job”, complements Shulman.
Even with the political crisis that young Russians say it is being installed in the country, the level of unemployment is low. Nowadays, the rate is only 5%, less than half of Brazil’s, which reaches 12,7%, for example. As well as Brazilians, Russians work 40 hours per week and take 28 days of payed vacation.
Presently, the minimum wage is 9489 rubles, which is equivalent to R$ 538. On the other hand, the subsistence index evaluated by the Russian authorities is 11,163₽. Therefore, the current president, Vladimir Putin, promised equal pay and subsistence rate to combat the poverty level in the country.
An alternative found by the youths to escape from the crisis is to work abroad, where it is possible to find more lucrative opportunities. Meanwhile, Russia open its doors to multinationals and foreign, who without expectation in their own country, take jobs in Russia.
Access to information is guaranteed by law. According to a survey made by the independent institute Levada Center, 85% of the population uses television as primary means of receiving news, in spite of only half of them truly believe in what is being transmitted.
“The TV content is practically all governmentally controlled, there are some independent cable channels, but their reach is practically none comparing with the public TV giants”, explains Yaroslava. The Russian editor, who prefers to be anonymous, say that there are just five independent channels and if you are living in the regions further away, you can’t program your television to tune in to them.
Even though television journalism is the most important when it comes to information, there are other ways to get knowledge of the facts. The question is if it is easy or not to access them. “There are all sorts of news outlets there, some of which are very critical of the government. One of the most popular, the Meduze, has its headquarters in Riga, while the commercial department is located in Moscow”, says the editor. He explains that the change happened in fear of being banished by the local authorities.
There are some foreign media operating in Russia who approach critical topics. Media is highly regulated in the country and recently all communication vehicles with more than 20% of foreign capital were banished. “Internet is starting to be more and more regulated as well in Russia. There are more laws which are supposed to fight terrorism, but eventually lead to less freedom of speech”, completes the editor.
In a modern scenario, the internet allowed the emergence of a journalistic model in which everyone produce and consume at the same time. With this, fake news arrived. For the anonymous editor, the problem in Russia is that the fake news are published with the help of television, where in your essence the audience is “of older people, who rarely question what is being said on the screens”.
For the 27 years-old student, Yefim Shulman, the access to the internet is uninterrupted because he knows how to reach information. However, in Russia the problem is language. Most of the population don’t speak other languages beyond the national one, which makes accessing websites harder. Furthermore “TV, radio stations, and websites are controlled by people associated with the current political regime, so most people are constantly exposed to information given by those in power”, completes.
On the other hand, the respectable media have a fact-checking process and some more modern portals help the fight against fake news disclosures. The journalist Elena Smychkova, 22 years-old, believes that there are several communication vehicles who fight that, in addition to positioning themselves against the government.
“Nowadays I don’t work in the area. So, I can only say what I hear from my friends who work in magazines, journals and TV stations. I keep thinking that we can write or film stories about anything, but of course in big editions or in federal channels there is censorship and government propaganda”, points Elena.
Educate involves the process of teaching and learning. The love for knowledge is something that develops man skills, intellectual or morally. In Russia, the level of illiteracy is one of the lowest in the world. According to data from IBGE Countries, 99,7% of Russians over 15 are literate.
“Kids are obliged to go to school and they are pressured by their parents to have excellent grades. Beyond all, the system is pretty soviet”, affirm the 22 years-old journalist Yaroslava Ryabova.
Hearing lectures, not disagreeing with teachers and promoting debates are common characteristics of the Russian education. “There is an abyss between professors and students, which happens because authority was lost and, nowadays, methods are more severe”, says the engineer Danil Starobogatov, 27 years-old. However, he affirms that education in Russia is spectacular, because the base knowledge is unbeatable.
The lack of resource is one of the factors that compromise the quality of the system, but “despite few resources, low pay, and other mishaps, I believe that we have the most dedicate and incredible teachers”, says the graphic designer Natalia Filchakova, 28 years old.
At age 7 children go to school, taking their school year between September and May. The necessary material and the monthly fee of the institution are free according to the law, when it comes to public institutions. In this case, the family’s financial contribution goes only to cover the cost of food and uniform.
As in Brazil, students who come from private schools have advantage over those who depends on public education. In the country the proportion is 48,809 schools ruled by the state for only 665 privates. However, a major school reform is being developed in attempt to level set education.
“Most Russians are orthodox, a historical country religion. It was the official religion in times of Russian Empire, then banned in Soviet Union. And revived in modernity. Nowadays, religion is encouraged and spread by the state. The head of the church is a very powerful person in the country, close to the government. There are TV propaganda, as well as special classes on this religion at school”, Yaroslava Ryabova, journalist, 22 years old.
As it predicts the Russian Constitution, Religion and State function separately. All kind of faith are respected equally before the law, giving each individual liberty to practice their religion, no matter what. The biggest church in Russia is the Cristian, in which highlights the Orthodox Christianity, followed by the Roman and Protestant Catholic Churches.
The Orthodox Christianity was adopted as official religion of the Russian state in 988. Propagated in spaces that should be secular, schools and state television channels are encourage by the government to spread that belief, considered the most rigid doctrine of the Catholic Church. “Most Russians identify themselves as Orthodox, but that doesn’t mean that people actually attend church”, says the engineer Danil Starobogatov, 27 years old.
Apart from that, in the Russian territory the Islam is strongly present, appeared in the VII and VIII centuries and settled mainly in the southern and eastern regions. Because it was peaceful and friendly gained the support of the State in the development of Islamic theology, being the second most popular religion.
“I can say that we appreciate a lot our cultural patrimony. Especially people born in Moscow. We truly love theater and art, and we go regularly to museums and cinema. Young people as well”, Yaroslava Ryabova, journalist, 22 years old.
“Besides of being homesick sometimes, I miss the food I was used to. Not specifically the Russian cuisine, but the basics. There is no typical food, but I like the taste. It is peculiar”, Yefim Shulman, student, 27 years-old.
“I think that Russians just appeared serious and not friendly, but if you get close to and become friends with them, they opened their heart. Of course, that, as In any other country, there are people who behave aggressively and closed, but that happens anywhere”, Elena Smychkova, journalist, 22 years old.
Marked by traditions and historical heritages, Russia values their culture and goes beyond stereotypes. As the country is known for its cold weather and negative degrees, people are seen as frosty and introspective. The youth spread all over the country have a different way of living, they seems to be more friendly and receptive.
Over time some habits have emerged, “older generations liked knitting, making kitchen tools, vine basketry and fishing. Nowadays, we have international hobbies like other countries”, points Shulman. The country, indeed, opened space for globalization, however some things don’t get lost over the years. Russia is singular in many aspects.
In the pre-industrial time, farmer women and girls had a clothing feature that turned out to be a typical costume for special occasions. The dresses, called sarafans, are used with corsets and long skirts. The floral and chess prints draw attention to the apparel that goes with a head accessory known as kokoshnik.
Home of ballet, theater and literature, the country keeps alive its art. New generations have their interests encouraged and developed since childhood, being natural to wait hours to watch a show. “People can stand in line for a ticket if the promotion is good enough. They really want youths to be interested in art”, comments Olga Brazburg, a 23 years-old journalist. She tells that there is a discount for students in which a ticket for Bolshoi can be bought for 2 dollars. But the competition is big, and a lot of people spend a whole day waiting in line.
For some youth interviewed by Plural, culture is still the best thing in the country. “our artists, authors, and scientist are extremely talented. This, in my opinion, is the biggest wealth of Russia”, Natalia Filchakova, graphic designer, 28 years-old.