Russia’s presidential elections came after a season of protests for fair elections, and Vladimir Putin enters a new term in which he will have to confront unrest among the public, accusations of corruption and calls for modernization.
Among that outspoken public is Russia’s youth, a group Swedish photographer Stefan Bladh captured in the summer of 2011 in Kaliningrad. The city of Kaliningrad is not unlike most places in Russia today: plagued by poor social programs, low paying jobs and widespread unemployment. “Life is obviously hard here,” the photographer says. “Corruption is widespread, even up to the Kremlin, everybody is aware of that. The phrase ‘I take care of my business, and you take care of yours’ seems to be prevalent. The remains of the old Soviet system still exist. Better submit than to fight with authorities. Keep quiet about politics.”
During his summer in Kaliningrad, Bladh heard many stories from friends who weren’t being paid for their work, including a young woman who hadn’t been paid for three months. She has yet to complain to her boss over fears of retaliation.
“The years with Putin, according to many critics, have been a major setback for the country,” Bladh says. “Regime critics say that 12 more years with Putin will mean stagnation, a disaster.”
But that resulting pessimism is limited to those who have crossed the “invisible boundary” of 25 years of age, according to the photographer. Those beyond that line have no hope for their country, he says. On the other hand, the young Russians remained positive. They were eager to stop and talk to Bladh, who had trouble engaging with older people on the street. The young people wanted to have their portraits taken and discuss the future. “The hope for having a good life here is still alive,” says Bladh.
Stefan Bladh is a Stockholm-based photographer. See more of his work here.