In a society undergoing tremendous upheaval, few would argue that Russia's youth are suffering from the winds of change. The statistics are staggering! According to government officials, the number of children abandoned by their parents--primarily because of falling living standards and skyrocketing inflation--has increased each year since 1991 by at least 250 percent.
For many youth living at home, domestic violence has become more than a Hollywood fantasy; it's a daily reality. No doubt Russia's high rate of alcoholism fuels this situation. According to the Interior Ministry of the Russian Federation, half of the murders in Russia in 1993 were of wives killed by their husbands. It is difficult to fathom, much less calculate, the long-term effects of such a situation; but some results are immediate. The Interior Ministry recently confirmed that "capital crimes committed by teenagers have risen alarmingly in the past three years." According to Tatyana Maximova, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, "The modern juvenile criminal is much younger than his predecessors, he is not studying or working, and he commits a crime often without reason and with extreme cruelty" (Moscow Times, 29 March 1995, 4).
In this frozen northern climate, this new breed of young criminals has been aptly dubbed otmorozhenny ("frostbitten"), because of their excessive cruelty. Although these more violent behaviors represent only the most extreme end of the scale, the trend toward nihilism has in one way or another infiltrated the worldview of Russian youth in general.
What has contributed to this dire situation? First, the emergence of a generation of youth that appears devoid of a conscience, unable to choose between right and wrong, and confused rather than challenged by the plethora of influences flooding their lives. Moral breakdown would appear to be a legacy of 70 years of scientific atheism. Second, in the quick transition toward democracy and capitalism, the controlled pursuits of Communist Youth League (Komsomol) programs collapsed and no plan or structure replaced them. And third, delinquent behavior may well be in part a mimicking of society's lawlessness and corruption in general.
As alarming as the statistics are, equally alarming is the lack of substantive forces of correction within society. Just when freedoms to develop meaningful assistance programs have come within reach, few have become a reality. Indeed, rather than coping well and creating incentives for youth, both secular and religious structures seem to be falling further behind.
According to a recent poll, "more than two-thirds of the people living in the Russian Federation believe that the nation is threatened by physical extinction" (Dmitry Babich, citing a poll of the Russian Center for the Study of Opinion, Moscow Times, 31 October 1995, 10). If such attitudes pervade such a large segment of the population, it is easy to understand why youth feel pessimistic.
What is the cure for frostbite? Medically speaking, "tissue damage from exposure to subfreezing temperature" can be either temporary or permanent. In ministry terms, one would pray that ways can be found to reverse moral frostbite and to meaningfully address both domestic and vocational and personal and spiritual needs of Russian youth--in keeping with God's best for their lives. No doubt this will require the help and encouragement of Godly role models, the creation of meaningful youth programs which address heartfelt concerns, and focused prayer and compassion on the part of God's people.
Adam Richardson is minister to youth at the Moscow Bible Church, Moscow, Russia.
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© 1996 Institute for East-West Christian Studies