Putin’s Unruly Children: A New Generation Aims to Revitalize Russia
Russia’s young people are growing up with more freedom than ever. Twenty years after the end of communism, the first post-Soviet generation is transforming the country — whether the once and future president likes it or not.
It’s just before dawn at the Kremlin, and Marat Dupri is about to climb a monument to Czar Peter the Great. The 20-year-old with brown, curly hair is wearing a green, plaid jacket and blue gloves to fight the icy wind. He is standing on the bank of the Moskva River, facing the 98-meter (321-foot) colossus of dark, gray steel.
Marat and his three companions sneak past video cameras and guards. They call themselves “roofers,” daredevils who climb Moscow’s heavily guarded roofs and towers in search of the best views and the biggest thrills. Marat starts climbing the rusty ribs on the back of the monument.
The Russians call Peter I “the Great” because he brought more changes to his country than almost any other ruler. He wanted to give Russia a European face, but he did so with ruthless brutality and violently suppressed the uprisings of starving farmers. Tens of thousands of forced laborers died building his capital, St. Petersburg.
Born on Oct. 25, 1991, Marat is a child of change. He came into the world when the country his parents had known was dying. They told him stories about the Soviet days, when food rations and hunger were commonplace, and about the water that was dripping through the ceiling of the Moscow hospital while his mother gave birth. At that time, it had only been two months since tanks had rolled through Moscow, when hardliners in the Communist Party and from the ranks of the Soviet intelligence service, the KGB, staged a coup against the reformer of the day, then-President Mikhail Gorbachev.
When the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003, Marat was 12. Today, he admires Khodorkovsky for “having gone to prison for his convictions.” The judiciary is not independent, he says. The verdicts against people like Khodorkovsky have been fixed, he adds, which is why he is now studying law.
Marat takes a seat on the bronze shoulders of Peter the Great and waits for the sunrise. It’s one of those moments when he feels “like the freest person on earth,” as he will later say. The red stars on the Kremlin towers, reminders of the former communist superpower, glow at his feet.