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Last Updated: Friday, 8 December 2006, 01:12 GMT
Born after the USSR
By James Rodgers
BBC News, Moscow

On Friday 8 December, the BBC is broadcasting live from a school in the town of Tver in Russia, 15 years after the break-up of the Soviet Union. James Rodgers assesses how life has changed for those born after the collapse of the USSR.

"The indestructible Union of the free republics" is how the Soviet anthem described the USSR.

Felix Dzerzhinsky
The fall of the Dzerzhinsky statue symbolised the fall of the USSR

In the summer of 1991, it became clear that it was anything but indestructible.

One by one, the "free republics" showed what they had really thought of the Soviet Union. They left.

The shock for many people is difficult to overstate. This was a superpower whose people knew little of life outside its borders. To discover that they didn't actually live in the best country in the world made them question almost everything.

Now a new generation has grown up. They're free of the Communist ideology which dominated the lives of their parents and grandparents.

They have also had to grow up without the certainties that the Soviet system offered.

Rich and poor

Tver is 200 km north of Moscow. Pupils at the town's school number 12 are among those Russians who were born after the collapse of the USSR.

"Now we have some very, very rich people like oligarchs," says 14-year-old Dima, referring to the powerful tycoons who have made their fortunes since the end of Communism, "and some very poor people, and that's unfair."

Some in the West have questioned modern Russia's commitment to democracy.

Most of the post-Soviet generation have opportunities and options which were denied to their parents. But as they move towards adulthood, their country still seems undecided about the direction it wants to take

Dima says that Russia is free and democratic - but he accepts that not everyone in Russia has been won over.

"To me democracy is very important, but not everybody thinks so. Some people think it's better to be comfortable than free."

Fatima - a fellow pupil - isn't troubled by any such uncertainty.

Perhaps inspired by her father, who she describes as a Communist, she seems to admire all things Soviet.

She describes Joseph Stalin, the 20th Century Soviet dictator, as "a great man".

His regime killed countless numbers of its own citizens - many in forced labour camps. Fatima admires him for the fact that under his leadership the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany.

Into adulthood

There are other, more troubled, members of Russia's post-Communist generation.

Some of the teenagers who were born into the economic chaos of the 1990s have embraced hatred and violence. Parts of Russia's big cities are plagued by gangs of skinheads who attack ethnic minorities.

Russian skinhead
Youth skinhead movements can be found in many cities

Most of the post-Soviet generation, though, have opportunities and options which were denied to their parents.

But as they move towards adulthood, their country still seems undecided about the direction it wants to take.

In the summer of 1991, a cheering crowd looked on as the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky - the founder of Russia's Communist-era secret police - was torn from its pedestal.

It was a moment that said that the Soviet Union had gone forever.

To this day, the place where the statue stood remains empty.




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