From Russia with Love: Insights from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia

By Ariana Alisjahbana

What comes to mind when one thinks of Siberia? Perhaps the legendary winter, the mountains, the barren landscape and the recent meteor in the region. Being an Indonesian in the US, I had very little expectations of the area and the country as a whole before embarking on the weeklong journey on behalf of G20 Youth Indonesia and the IDEA network last weekend.

I was in for a shock: Instead of the cold, dry and depressing country I found exactly the opposite. I saw hundreds of enthusiastic brilliant young people, passionate in discussing their ideas of where the country is going. I met government officials that are progressive and open for discussions with foreign youth. I found warmth in our hosts’ hospitality in the middle of the -20ºC weather.  And of course, I found a completely positive and supportive environment from my colleagues in the IDEA network, a coalition of 20 youth organizations from the G-20 member countries. Special applause to our hosts from J8 Club Russia who did an incredibly fantastic job in making us welcomed and comfortable in the area.

The IDEA network in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. 

All 20 members of the IDEA network were invited by the government of Krasnoyarsk Krai, one of the largest administrative regions in Siberia, to come in the Generation 2020 Summit as part of the 10th Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum. We took this opportunity to conduct our annual meeting and planning for this year’s Y8 and Y20 summits in June.

Did you know that Russian youth constitutes around 30% of the population? All those numbers came alive during the Generation 2020 event, where most of the participants came of age in post-Soviet Russia. This is a platform that connects more than 200 youth leaders from all over Russia for a two-day discussion on the future of the country. It was divided into topics such as Open Government, Public-Private Partnership and the role of youth in Russian political decision-making. But what truly made me impressed was the amount of debate and open exchange present at the meeting: University students, youth parliamentarians, government officials and business leaders truly debate in open panels. One of it, for example, was on the role of civil society in Russia’s economy. It was refreshing to see both progressive and the less progressive views exchanged during this panel in a way that gave insight to how Russians think of the issue.

Mikhail Abyzov speaking at the panel discussion.
Photo credit: photo gallery
What stole the show for me was government Officials such as Arkady Dvokovich (Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation), Dmitry Livanov (Russian Minister for Education and Science) and Mikhail Abyzov (Minister for Open Government Affairs) did not just come and speak at the podium; they debated with the panelists, asked tough questions to the audience and present honest exchanges on what they think of the issues being debated. This format and openness completely exceeded my expectations. Perhaps I should not adhere to stereotypes and be too quick in judging a country before actually being there. Sure, the people that I met were only a snapshot of the most progressive segment of their society and do not represent the majority of Russians. However, that middle class of educated progressive Russians does exist and flourishes today in ways unthinkable just ten years ago. I hope that they bring much needed change in their country's dynamics and that reformers everywhere can learn from their audacity. I long for the moment when Indonesian Ministers can impress a Russian young leader as much as these Russian Ministers impressed me. 

See Y20’s press release on the event here: