An Eastern European Perspective
Marta Wójtowicz, Lancaster University
Belonging to a certain generation can constitute an important part of someone’s identity. It is through social and economic change that one’s outlook on the world is shaped which later allows us to distinguish between different generations. Some generational cohorts became so stereotyped that specific behaviours and attitudes are described as that of a ‘typical boomer’ or a ‘typical millennial’ constructing a general perception of certain groups and, hence, imposing an idea of particular way of acting upon them.
Articles about the latter have been circulating in the media for a really long time now. There has been so much attention paid to this particular generation that some of us overlooked the proceeding generation – Generation Z. It is true, however, that the press coverage of gen Z is increasing rapidly, and it seems like, for the first time in history, a characteristic of a generation may be applied more broadly regardless of the country borders. Gen Zers born in Poland (and other countries from the former Eastern Bloc) can be described largely in the same terms as their Western European and American peers. Although generations from various countries around the world certainly differ, it is natural that with each generation those differences become less noticeable as a result of globalisation.
If we take a closer look at Generation X (those born between early-to-mid 1960s and early 1980s), we can find that Gen Xers experience a feeling of being ‘omitted’ by the history as throughout their lifetime/youth there were no major historical events that happened. However, looking from an Eastern European perspective, it is precisely this generation which experienced a big historical transformation in their youth – they grew up under the communist regime, but stepped into adulthood in a new political and economic reality. Generation which followed Gen X is called Generation Y, commonly known as the Millennials (those born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s). A research done by The Social Methodology Research Centre at ELTE University’s Faculty for Social Sciences in Budapest showed the legacy of socialism continues to have a significant influence on the Y generation from the former Eastern Bloc, thus creating many disparities between them and their peers from the West. One of the areas in which those differences manifest themselves is in what Millennials from the East and from the West consider to be important. As a reactionary effect to the transition period, Millennials from the post-communist countries value individualism and self-realisation as well as conformity. While Western Millennials are more likely to take the risk and to be more altruistic. It is crucial not to forget, however, that this difference, among other factors, is likely to be a result of the financial disproportions between Western and Eastern Europe.
Moving on to the next demographic cohort, this is where we encounter Generation Z (those born between mid-1990s up until now although the specific dates are highly contested). Zers are characterised by the use of technology and social media; they are the so-called ‘social media/mobile natives’ and do not remember, or barely remember, life without the Internet. They are also the most racially and ethnically diverse generation to date. As Polish Gen Zers may not remember Poland not being a member of the European Union, they grew up oblivious to the border controls and numerous restrictions as well as striking dissimilarities between Europe’s West and East so clearly visible in the 1990s or even early 2000s. While in the 1960s the Western world was experiencing sexual revolution, people in Eastern and Central Europe were preoccupied with the battle against their governments. While adolescents and young adults of the 1980s may be referred to as the MTV Generation (often interchangeable with Generation X), their peers in the Eastern Bloc did not have the access to watch MTV. While as mentioned before, Millennials from the East’s outlook has been shaped by the legacy of socialism, Millennials from the West’s viewpoint has been shaped by capitalism.
Today’s youth, Generation Z, has more in common with one another than ever before. Firstly, their lives revolve around the digital sphere – in a way they ‘live on the Internet’ where people from around the world can live together; where there are no physical borders and no language barriers, since English is the mother tongue of the Internet’s population largely which largely consists of Gen Zers.
Even though, the traditional classification of generational cohorts is based on the Western European and American models of societies and histories, it is necessary to draw clear distinctions between Western and Eastern experiences. It is only with regards to the most recently emerged generation that sociologists have been able to define, that is Generation Z, that we can look at it from a more global and unified perspective. Nevertheless, cultural and historical differences between the same generations from across the world should not be ignored, especially when it comes to countries from outside of Western Europe and Northern America as the interconnected cultural connections also, largely contribute to shaping of our identities situated within the “Global Village”.