Young folks in the city

Mikhail Shvydkoy, the former culture minister known for hosting the show “Kulturnaya Revolutsiya” (“Culture Revolution”) until last summer, is back on TV with a new talk show on TV Tsentr, “Chelovek V Bolshom Gorode” (“Man In The City”). The show aims to discuss the most acute problems faced by residents of large urban centers and offer some solutions – and if it doesn’t descend into utter predictability, it could stand a chance.

The inaugural episode was focused on young people and invited four individuals to discuss problems in several cities. Baku was represented by Polad Byul- Byul Ogly, popular Soviet-time singer and composer and currently Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Russia. Researcher and author Dmitry Kosyrev spoke about Bangkok, Spanish embassy official Tatyana Drozdova Dies represented Valencia, and, finally, Svetlana Volkova, head of youth programs at City Hall, discussed Moscow.

After a brief report on each of the cites featured, representatives gave their own perspectives on what life is like for young people there, then offered three suggestions for solving problems in any major city. The suggestions were critiqued by selected audiences featuring some wellknown personalities, after which Shvydkoy picked one from each speaker to contribute to a recipe of “an ideal city for young people.”

The beginning was honestly a tad boring. Byul-Byul Ogly talked about how successful the Azeri government has been in making Baku more youth-friendly, using parlance that reminded me of Soviet-time bureaucrats. One of his suggestions, though, was pretty interesting: providing grants for young people to study abroad without any obligations to return to their home country upon completion of their studies. Despite criticism from some audience members, Shvydkoy picked this one up as one of the four best ideas presented on the show.

The discussion surrounding Bangkok was quite a bit more interesting. Kosyrev started off with criticizing the report on Bangkok for not featuring prostitution, which, he said, was “quite a respected youth profession” in Thailand. Shvydkoy smiled slyly in response, mumbling something about TV Tsentr being “a high-brow municipal station.” Those who remember accusations of “promoting sex and prostitution” leveled by some folks against Shvydkoy when he hosted “Cultural Revolution” on Kultura, which is probably the country’s most genteel channel, must wonder if he was being a tad sarcastic.

Kosyrev went on to make pretty radical suggestions: give the police the right to shoot drug dealers on the spot (as the case in Thailand is, he said), legalize prostitution and open training centers where young people can learn various trades and crafts, from auto repair to pottery. The suggestion on prostitution came as a shock to the predominantly conservative audiences, and it was no surprise that Shvydkoy eventually picked the most innocuous suggestion of Kosyrev’s, the one about training centers, as his favorite. One audience member tried to argue that people should not be hypocritical and must acknowledge the existence of prostitution, but she was ignored.

After a relatively uneventful Valencia section, suggestions from Volkova, the Moscow representative, livened up the audience. The suggestion about recreation centers for members of various subcultures got Kosyrev going – he wondered what a center for Goths would look like. And author Maria Arbatova, the most outspoken audience member, lashed out against the idea of creating more jobs for young people in Moscow. She charged that the city is already overpopulated and new jobs should instead be created in the Moscow region and other parts of the country – so that Moscow doesn’t burst at the seams.

The final list of solutions for making life easier for urban youth turned out to be a bit lackluster, but in addition to such predictable suggestions as “youth job creation” and “support for volunteer programs,” the show still offered pretty decent discussion on the topic.

Overall, Shvydkoy’s “Man In The City” certainly has potential – if it allows for more outspoken audience members and radical views.

Read other articles of the print issue “The Moscow News #69”

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