Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 7 (2017), 4 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Leibniz-Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: Alla A. Sal’nikova


Eastern European Youth Cultures in a Global Context. Ed. by Matthias Schwartz / Heike Winkel. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. XII, 374 S., 3 Abb. ISBN: 978-1-137-38512-3.

Youth studies seem to be one of the most popular and highly developed areas of generation history, especially when contrasted with other areas, such as children studies, which, in spite of the efforts of numerous researchers, have only recently managed to occupy a mainstream position in historiography. Nevertheless, the reviewed book is of great importance for understanding the experience of young people in a global context and for further investigations in this significant field of research. It examines a wide range of problems concerning the actual role of youth in modern society not only in Eastern Europe, as mentioned in the title of the book, but all over the world.

The volume consists of an introduction and eighteen chapters divided into four parts. The editors’ introduction is of great theoretical value. Besides the attempt to redefine the term “Eastern Europe” from a contemporary point of view as a unique political, economic and socio-cultural region influenced by internal (post-socialist) and external (global) factors, Matthias Schwartz and Heike Winkel try to rethink and explore the notion of youth itself. They question the widespread, but rather simplified, understanding of youth based on social status (a limited transitional chapter of life between the end of school education and the beginning of steady employment) and assert that in times of radical global change “life trajectories become increasingly complex” (p. 4). This is especially important for post-socialist Eastern Europe because of its heterogeneity and the multiplicity of developmental paths chosen by Eastern European societies.

All articles in the volume confirm this statement. The first part of the book explores youth as a potential and as a real agent of change. It includes a historical survey on the representations of childhood and youth in Soviet propaganda, examinations of post-socialist youth life trajectories in Eastern Europe (both on macro and micro levels), and analysis of the influence of cultural trauma caused by the wars and other dramatic events based on post-Yugoslavian and modern Ukrainian cases. In the second part of the volume, the authors explore different forms and functions of popular youth cultures in the post-socialist realm and their connections with both global trends and former underground dissident subcultures, such as Czech hip-hop and rap subcultures, Polish football fanatics archipelago, and some others. The third part is devoted to the ways and manners of youth engagement in political activism in extraordinary times with special attention paid to youth mobilization in contemporary Russia and Ukrainian Euromaidan. The fourth part concerns everyday youth practices, such as taking part in volunteer youth militias, using Internet or other new media technologies, and walking (gulianiia) as unique ways of youth self-representation and self-mobilization beyond direct involvement in political movements.

While analyzing social activities and everyday youth practices in post-Soviet Russia and former Soviet Ukraine, Lithuania and Kyrgyzstan, post-Yugoslavian Serbia and the Czech Republic, modern Poland and even East Germany, it becomes clear that the diversity of youth statuses and experiences in different post-socialist states is substantial. It is true that the collapse of socialism, the development of the market economy and globalization totally transformed Eastern European youth cultures. The transitional age period of “youth” coincides here with a transitional period in economics, politics, social stratification and culture. Such “overlaying” is not new historically: it is possible to compare it with the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, for example. It used to be believed that “revolutionary” Russian youth and even children were the main forces and power in confronting the “old world” and in the creation of a new society, as well as the main bearers of Soviet socialist ideas, ideals, and hopes (indeed, Soviet power tried to convince itself of this). However, it was not so in reality, especially concerning the transitional 1920s – the so-called Soviet “quicksand society”. The same differentiation of youth we can trace in modern Eastern Europe as well.

The book’s major conclusion is the following: generational change in Eastern Europe “has lost its conflictive, confrontational potential”, and “has become a fluid, partly ‘accelerated’, partly ‘melancholic’ transitory stage without a specific goal or point of reference”. Instead, Eastern European youth long only for conformity and solidarity, adopting “quite mainstream conservative views or conventional globalised life style” (p. 16). Some of the authors are even sure that a new transformative political generation is likely to appear not in the European East, but in the West (p. 61). Even if it is so, such a thesis requires more explanation of the methodological framework of study. The difficulty of hermeneutic reading and interpretation of the verbal and non-verbal youth texts with their hidden, latent information is evident, especially when “interpreters” belong to other, elder generations, being “outsiders” towards the youth culture in this way. Taking into account the interdisciplinary character of the whole project, it is a pity that the majority of authors say nothing about their research methodologies. Moreover, it is necessary to take into account some questionable approaches to youth texts. For example, it is hardly right to compare the Runet texts concerning the accession of Crimea to Russia authored by 14-year old teenagers with texts written by a 25-year old men (they are all identified as “young users”) (p. 294). Excessive generalization of the Soviet and post-Soviet generation’s memory takes place in the chapter concerning youth cultures in contemporary Russia (p. 261).

Russian youth appear to be the main subject of the book – it is examined in nine chapters out of 18. Among the best studies included in the volume is a close examination of the modern Russian youth via the literary reflections of rebellious behaviors and marginalized movements undertaken by Matthias Meindl. Comparing Zakhar Prilepin’s novel San’kia (2006), well known among the so-called “advanced” Russian youth (2006), with the famous revolutionary manifesto of Maxim Gor’kii’s novel The Mother (1906), he argues that Prilepin’s fiction does not simply propagate rebellion, but also calls into question whether revolution is at all feasible or desirable.

The minor criticism notwithstanding, this book is highly recommended for reading. It provides scholars with unique material. It gives food for thought. The target audiences consists not only of scholars in the field, but all interested in youth culture and those who interact with the youth on a frequent basis, such as teachers in both secondary and higher education.

Alla A. Salnikova, Kazan

Zitierweise: Alla A. Sal’nikova über: Eastern European Youth Cultures in a Global Context. Ed. by Matthias Schwartz / Heike Winkel. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. XII, 374 S., 3 Abb. ISBN: 978-1-137-38512-3, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Salnikova_Schwartz_Eastern_European_Youth_Cultures.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

© 2018 by Leibniz-Institut für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien in Regensburg and Alla A. Sal’nikova. All rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact jahrbuecher@ios-regensburg.de

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