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Youth Try to Drive Revolutionary Change in Former Soviet Union

Russia's young, upwardly mobile professionals, or yuppies, are increasingly seeing their future prospects linked to that of the Russian states and not liking what they see, especially in terms of politics and civil society development. VOAs Lisa McAdams in Moscow reports youth are playing a role in driving peaceful change elsewhere in the former Soviet Union from Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan.

A year-long pilot study of nearly 150 yuppies in five Russian cities finds them increasingly pessimistic about their future prospects. In fact, many are now pondering exactly when they should start packing their bags and leaving Russia in search of the elusive better life.

Maxim Kiselyev is heading up the innovative research, whose idea came to him while teaching a business management course at a state-sponsored Russian academy. He says the target group is made up of some of the most competitive, well-educated, successful professionals in Russia today, all of whom he says are flush with high-levels of disposable income and high career and lifestyle ambitions to match.

Mr. Kiselyev says the yuppies also have something else in common they all have considered leaving Russia at one time or another, due to a lack of trust in Russia's authorities and institutions. Additionally, he says they can no longer see how to connect their personal future with the future of Russia.

Mr. Kiselyov says that uncertainty stems from a whole host of events that struck people at their very core, from the Beslan school hostage tragedy to last years passage of a law allowing President Putin to pick regional governors, rather than holding direct elections as before.

But for many yuppies, he says, the main turning point that dashed all their hopes of optimism for the future was the Kremlin-sponsored attack against Russian oil major Yukos and the subsequent jailing of its former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He says it led many young professionals to ask, if they can do that to one of Russias richest men, what on earth can they do to me? He says for many, the answer to that question has led to increasing hopelessness and anxiety about the future.

Businesswoman Natalia Sudyina is a good example of this trend. She says that is primarily because she was raised by parents who were critical of the former Soviet regimes and often talked of leaving her homeland back in the 1970s. She says the lesson she learned was to fend for herself.

She has already left Russia once, moving briefly to Brazil for her husband's work. If she leaves again, she says she would like to live in Israel. Asked why she still struggles with the issue of whether or not to live in her home country, she replies that she has always had an uneasy feeling about her family's future in Russia.

Natalia says that in her view, one can only achieve a normal life in today's Russia by improper means. She also takes issue with what she sees as a basic lack of civil rights and social guarantees. But she says what really weighs her down is a feeling of vulnerability stemming from, what she says, is a total lack of rule of law.

As a result, she says when she is old enough to retire, she does not see herself living in Moscow and relying on the state for her wellbeing. Despite her job and her families dual income, Natalia says there are certain aspects about the term yuppie that she finds disagreeable.

Natalia says many of Russias new yuppies openly brag about their rich lifestyles that afford them everything from eating out in fancy restaurants every night to Maserati cars and million-dollar second homes. But in a country where more than half the population still lives below the poverty line, Natalia finds this tasteless, especially as she says many of these same people made their money illegally.

Rampant corruption among the leadership in former Soviet countries like Georgia and Ukraine recently helped spark youth-led political revolutions that literally swept away entrenched Soviet-style leaders after years of public discontent. And while slow-moving economic reforms have not yet allowed the creation of a viable yuppie class in either of those countries yet, increasingly young people in Georgia and Ukraine are on the move, professionally and personally.

Kiev-based Independent analyst Ivan Lozowy says they are also taking up new positions of power in politics.

"Before the revolution, the vast majority of youth were being paid to stand at demonstrations, to hand out leaflets and this was a serious problem because on the one hand it reflected attitudes of old persons that young people werent worth more attention than that," he said. "That has changed. Im seeing at various levels, in the various political parties, for instance in the capital of Kiev, Im seeing young people first of all shooting for a political position for instance as candidates for local councils."

Similar change is underway in Kyrgyzstan, where the Kel-kel youth movement played a role in protests that forced long-time Soviet-style leader Askar Akayev to flee to Russia and ushered in new leadership.

Youth movements in Belarus, described by U.S. officials as the last dictatorship in Europe, continue to try and exert change, despite a near total crack-down on the opposition, be it in politics or the media.