Between “Too Young” and “Already Old”: The Fleeting Adulthood of Russia's Split Generation
People who were born in the USSR in the 1970s and were in their thirties at the time of my fieldwork in 2009–11, questioned their adulthood in ways that are different from other parts of the world. Whereas many others are finding adulthood “unattainable” or “elusive” (see Durham’s introduction to this volume), perestroika teens wonder whether adulthood had somehow passed them by. Given the intersection of culture, history, and personal experiences, many find their adulthood fleeting, squeezed between being “too young” and “already old.” The maturation of perestroika teens was already questionable because lingering Soviet ideals glamorized childhood and youth as the locus of moral agency, contrasted with the “unmarked” (see introduction), but vaguely traumatic and morally compromised by routine, world of adults. This departure from a “happy Soviet childhood” was further complicated by the disappointments of the 1990s when none of the various social and moral strategies helped them build a good foundation for a professional career. In 2010, they often felt they belonged “neither here, nor there”; in other words, split between Soviet and post-Soviet moral orders, and between their glamorized childhood and questionable adulthood. A growing realization that being just a few years older or younger would have changed their life opportunities and the way they experienced adulthood reinforced the disappointment. Finally, pro-natalist policies and discourses that dominated the public sphere in Russia in the 2000s helped to seal the “has-been, already old” sentiment among these men and women.