Generation Gap

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Subject essay: James von Geldern

Soviet elders looked proudly at the youth of their country in 1968. Children in Paris were rampaging in anger; American kids were protesting Vietnam, experimenting with illegal drugs, and embarking on the sexual revolution; even young folk in socialist Prague were making rumbling noises about an open society; yet Soviet young people were quiescent, channeling their energies into healthy activities prescribed by the Komsomol, or other relatively harmless occupations.

The worries occupying young minds seem, in retrospect, remarkably tame. Soviet children were no longer subject to the depredations suffered by their parents, and the displacements caused by collectivization or war. They were the first Soviet generation to command the leisure and disposable income to make questions of style paramount. If the pages of the satirical journal Crocodile are an accurate gauge, then conflicts at the generation gap focused on youth fashions and the disinclination of young people to work.

Were things in fact so calm? In many respects yes, but stylistic bickering that seemed insubstantial could easily grow into deeper conflict. Authorities were extremely worried that the minor unorthodoxies of youth fashion signaled a more pervasive social illness. The desire for western consumer items such as clothing and music drew young people into the gray area of the second economy. In 1968 the most serious threat, the rock-n-roll music that was already shaking western cultures, was just peeking over the horizon. Soviet youth could hear the music over the Voice of America when it was not jammed, on records smuggled in from the West, or even on underground recordings. That year in a Moscow school, a group of boys led by the unknown Andrei Makarevich were forming a kitchen band with homemade electric instruments, a band they called The Kids (name in English). Within the year they would rename the band Time Machine (Машина времени in Russian), and would become the first super-group of the unstoppable Russian rock movement.

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