Immature Publics: Democratic Revolutions and Youth Activists in the Eye of Authority
Abstract

In the last decade or so, we have witnessed the spread of so-called democratic revolutions across post-Soviet states, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, and young people have often been at the forefront of these protest movements. This article tracks ruling elite discursive responses to youth-led protests, and particularly elites’ constructions of the political agency of youth in Ukraine (the Orange Revolution of 2004) and in the Russian Federation (the anti-government protests of 2011–2012). I propose that it is the slippage between different figurations of youth agency (as both pawn and threat, dangerous and defenseless) that makes tropes of youth useful for elites to think and act with. Drawing on work on millennial capitalism, I argue that ruling elites’ use of these tropes reveals their anxiety about governing post-Soviet “citizen-consumers” who appear youth-like in their susceptibility to seduction by Western goods, values, and practices. Through their depictions of protesters as pre-moral and pre-rational (mindless, senseless, easily brainwashed or “bought” by the West), elites in Ukraine and Russia equate the advance of neoliberalism on their territories with the (re)infantilization of their citizenries. On the one hand, these elite discourses provide local audiences with a critical perspective on neoliberalism, but on the other hand, they also articulate a powerful logic of civic exclusion—one that extends not only to young people but also potentially to dissenters of all ages.


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