The triumph of counterrevolution Accounting top choice of young Russians

October 22, 1997|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- The counterrevolution is complete.

Russian teen-agers polled about their career preferences before the collapse of the Soviet Union six years ago probably would have chosen such patriotic jobs as engineers, soldiers and cosmonauts.

Today they want to be in business as accountants and lawyers and entrepreneurs. More of them want to be gangsters and racketeers than soldiers and cosmonauts.

The All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Studies recently asked 1,000 Moscow high school students the question: What profession do you think is most prestigious?

While making money was clearly important to the new post-Soviet generation -- accountant was in first place, followed by lawyer, banker and businessman -- killer and racketeer were No. 18 out of a list of 36.

Cosmonaut was in last place in the poll, tied with driver and just below clergyman. Only 0.1 percent of the respondents thought being a cosmonaut was prestigious -- or wanted to be one. The three top professions were mentioned by about 20 percent of the respondents, while most of the others were mentioned by a few percent, killer at 2 percent, scientist and college professor at 1 percent.

Many here would not be surprised by the findings.

This is a country with a documented average of 500 contract murders a year. The English word "killer" came into the language in 1992, along with the freedom to do business. It's also a nation that sends a cosmonaut to live on a decaying space station, pays him only $100 a day while he's up there, then threatens to fine him when things start to go wrong.

None of this was lost on a dozen boys, ages 14 to 16, walking home from school the other day. Most of them were wearing dark leather jackets, except for the one who had a big emblem imprinted on his nylon jacket, reading U.S. Department of Defense. They smiled when asked about the poll, which they all had heard about on TV. "Maybe some of them were joking," said Vladimir Belozorov, 14, about the respondents.

Their idea of heroism these days is embodied by a movie actor. His name is Sergei Bodrov Jr. He is the star of the film "Brother." He plays a sweet-faced young man named Danila, who drifts pleasantly through life to the music of his Discman, comes home from the army and finds himself presented with a profitable occupation.

He becomes a contract killer.

"This is a time without a hero," Bodrov said in an interview this week, in a small lounge in television offices off Pushkin Square. "Maybe that's why these images attract people. There is no hero now."

Danila becomes the perfect emblem of a society that is morally adrift, according to film critics here.

"He resembles the hero of Russian fairy tales," the magazine Ogonyok wrote enthusiastically, "a fool, never looking for heroic deeds, never asking for rewards, never boasting of his strengths, settling scores with his enemies unwillingly."

Danila finds his brother in St. Petersburg, who turns out to be a gangster. His brother talks him into a little subcontracting. He wants him to kill the director of a market. Danila does it, effortlessly and emotionlessly.

He quickly gets caught up in a gang war and kills eight people, while protecting the elderly, the defenseless and anyone else picked on by tough guys. Not a flicker of moral anguish ever crosses his face.

"This film is the hit of the year," says Sergei Selyanov, the producer, who says he made it for $200,000. "It's No. 1. And for teen-agers, it has become a cult."

Bodrov starred last year in "Prisoner of the Mountains," a film -- written and directed by his father -- about the war in Chechnya and the steep price Russia was paying for it. It won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and was an Oscar nominee in the United States.

"Brother" manages to be nearly as haunting and beautiful as "Prisoner of the Mountains." "You don't see brains being blown out everywhere," Bodrov says proudly. "It's not one of those Arnold Schwarzenegger movies."

It's a powerful and artistic indictment of a spiritually bankrupt generation.

Bodrov, who is 25 and works as a television journalist, says that "Brother" neither condemns nor glorifies Danila; it simply reflects the mood of the times.

"The film shows what has become a common thing in our life," says Bodrov. "It's very true to life."

Danila's first murder is of a market director who is forcing the small merchants who sell from his stalls to pay protection. In real-life Moscow, 10 market directors have been murdered this year. The markets reportedly were taken over by criminal gangs in 1992, which have been fighting over them ever since.

Bodrov says the film's appeal is more about strength than brutality. At a party, Danila encounters a foreigner he assumes must be American. He tells the foreigner, "We'll do away with America" -- which always draws applause and cheers -- until his date informs Danila, "He's a Frenchman. Leave him alone."

"It's not because they don't like America," Bodrov explains. "They're beginning to understand they want to be strong. They want to create a world of their own."

He thinks the fascination with killing is ending and that a new phase is about to begin.

"I think other values are becoming appreciated again," he says, "love, valuing the family. I think the time of cynicism and indifference is passing."

He feels no cynicism himself, despite preparing for an academic career that no longer existed by the time he finished studying.

"I spent seven years studying the architecture of Renaissance Venice," he says. "I've never regretted it. I learned to love books and respect serious scholarship. What I learned will stay with me forever, and I'll give it to my children."

Are these the words of the next Russian hero?

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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