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Riot or hype? The hardships of being young



A girl with a backpack and a giant in a bulletproof vest – this photo from a recent protest became viral. The man who made the shot – Roman Pimenov – says that he was scared for the child at first:

The girl was laughing, filmed something and tried to prove something so that he lets her go. She’s having fun, he’s escorting her – holding her by the backpack. Not as scary as it looked from a distance. It looked much scarier from a distance.

Evgeniya Altfeld, reporter: “The picture of the girl with the backpack was made here. For teenagers, going to a protest becomes the best way to experience vivid emotions – almost like a rollercoaster. And even become famous. Becoming the main hero of a photo report – as a victim – is a big luck. The main thing is not getting lost in the moment and take a good selfie”.

This grotesque photo has generated several memes. Many found resemblance between the girl and the main Soviet rascal – Neznayka.

However, you cannot accuse teenagers attending these protests of lack of knowledge. They know the risks and are ready for consequences, says Timur Rasulov – second year journalism student and prominent participant at protest rallies in St. Petersburg. In a short interview, he described the difference between attitudes to protesters in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

There’s nothing really scary about being detained – even if you are taken to a special detention center. Compared to Moscow, St. Petersburg almost feels like a resort. You are given food, talked to – plus they’re not harsh on political detainees. Those get to go out for walks 2-3 times a day.

Timur and his team like to call themselves “political detainees” – almost like revolutionaries from the last century. In reality, teenagers get detained at unsanctioned rallies to be handed over back to worried parents. Meanwhile, children have time to think about fashion.

St. Petersburg’s protesting youths already have a clothing brand – and they are in for a new collection, most likely to be worn by hundreds of students. Almost like hippie jeans – with a mass gathering of people wearing those taking place in 1967 by the Pentagon, protesting against the war in Vietnam. They inserted daisies into gun barrels of American cops – that’s why they stayed forever in world history as “flower children”. It was fashionable being one of those back then. In the 21st century hype is as important as fashion.

Half a century later, going to a protest rally remains a dangerous entertainment, depriving many parents of sleep. St. Petersburg’s MP and a regular at protest rallies, Boris Vishnevskiy, believes that children must be warned about possible consequences, but there’s no point in telling them not to go. World history proves that, he believes.

Ever since ancient Rome, youths have had a stronger anxiousness for justice. Every protest is spearheaded by the young. One of the most vivid examples to me is something I witnessed as a schoolboy – the 1967 events in France. Red May, when a lot of students took part. These protests influenced France a lot and led to the President’s resignation. Some of those who took part then have become respectable politicians. Benedict has been Euro Parliament’s MP for 25 years.

There is a famous sociological argument – those who have not taken to the barricades and protests while young and have not become conservative in adulthood – those have not fulfilled themselves as persons. Their parents fought for their rights, with “we are waiting for changes” song on their lips. At the dawn of Perestroika, dissenters assembled at Leningrad’s rock club on Rubinshteina street – under the watchful eye of the authorities. Lyrics from songs almost sounded like political slogans – which seemed to sound from just about every window.

Gathering a protest these days is much easier. Mobilizing teenagers through social media has been the tactic with rather impressive results.

Dmitriy Gavra: “For some those are, unfortunately, foot soldiers. The infantry which works as poster for a certain politician. And when these factors come together – youth radicalism, new means of communication and political interests – we are seeing what we are seeing”.

Protest movements are like an arts class – where you can paint placards and invent slogans. And, most importantly, feel as part of a team, which is following a grand idea. This is how psychologists explain this phenomenon.

Vlada Titova, psychologist and psychiatrist: “It doesn’t matter what you offer. Any idea which a teenager can understand could be attractive. The I-AM-concept. The world must see how cool I am”.

A social media “like” is not a teenager whim. It’s a powerful tool which even the youngest teenagers have now mustered. Like Timur Rasulov, who’s about to take the next level. Next year he will run for a municipal deputy. To achieve changes not through idealistic slogans, but real action. Within a particular municipal district.