A Moscow Teen's Changing World

Pavel has given up Michael Jackson and science fiction for Dale Carnegie and Friedrich Nietzsche

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

PAVEL BOGACHKO covers his walls with the same garish posters found in any Soviet teenager's room - Michael Jackson in black leather and studs, Sly Stallone with his muscles bulging, Arnold Schwarzenegger glaring menacingly as the Terminator. But Pavel waves his hand in embarrassed dismissal. ``I'm not interested in them anymore,'' he says. They have gone the way of the detective novels and science fiction that used to fill his book shelves.

These days Pavel spends several hours of the day absorbed in philosophy and literature. The slight, dark-haired teen eagerly consumes the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. He enjoys the novels of Mikhail Bulgakov and Vladimir Nabokov.

Changes at this age are sometimes painful. ``I had to leave my old friends because I wasn't interested in what they were anymore,'' Pavel says. ``They got together, played guitars, sang songs, listened to Soviet pop music I don't like, and discussed stupid things - just cursing and talking about girls.''

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Pavel found two close friends at school. They like to go the Central House of Artists and listen to lectures on ancient Greece or Shakespeare or perhaps mathematics. But Pavel's real love is psychology.

``I want to be a psychologist,'' the teenager says. ``I like to communicate with people very much.'' Pavel claims inspiration from what may seem an unusual source for the Soviet Union - Dale Carnegie's ``How to Win Friends and Influence People.'' Some suggest it was the contrast between the heavy ideological drumbeat of Soviet life and Carnegie's down-to-earth advice that made a Russian translation of the postwar American classic a bestseller here for the past seven years.

But Pavel's role model may also be closer to home - his mother, Olga. She is a psychiatrist working in a factory clinic, treating the contemporary ills of Soviet life from overweight to alcoholism. Pavel's parents divorced when he was 3. He lived for two years with his grandparents in the Central Asian city of Dushanbe after his mother moved to Moscow to work.

Since he was 8, the two of them have lived together in Moscow. ``Sometimes I had to work the evening shift,'' his mother recalls. ``When Pavel came back from school, I had already left. And he was asleep when I came back from work. We didn't see each other for days on end.... Life made him self-reliant.''

Four years ago his mother married Alexander Gushin, an electronics repairman who now works for a cooperative, the Soviet Union's only legal form of private business. And recently his beloved grandparents moved from Tadzhikstan, fearful of ethnic riots. The five of them share an average-size three-room apartment in the center of Moscow - along with Black, a rambunctious cocker spaniel.

The visit by a foreigner to their home is a first - a foreigner is like a lion to the family, Olga comments. The apartment's high ceilings are an echo of a rich past when this was only a piece of a huge apartment built before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Now the kitchen is filled with the round table where the family gathers for its meals and tea.

As is common in cramped Soviet apartments, Pavel's parents sleep on a foldout couch in what doubles as the living room, now shared with his grandparents.

Soviet parents dote on their children. Pavel has his own room, cabinets lined with the books he acquires on his constant searches through nearby bookstores, a scratched wooden desk where he dutifully does his homework each evening. A Soviet-made cassette tape player on which he plays rock music sits on a chair. These days he is into British rocker Sting's music but Pavel also ranks Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, and Queen among his favorites.

A typical schoolday begins, if Pavel doesn't oversleep from staying up late reading, at 7 a.m. After a shower and breakfast, he is out the door before his parents are awake. It is a short walk down back alleys and streets to School No. 204, a school attached to the Pedagogical Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, which Pavel has attended since the fourth grade.

Children entering the lobby of the four-story brick building are greeted by a red banner proclaiming that ``To learn self-management is to learn democracy.'' In the center of the lobby stands a white plaster statue of the school's namesake, Maxim Gorky, the revolutionary writer known as the father of socialist realism. Except in the lower grades, school uniforms were junked this year as part of the reforms of Soviet education. In the hall, two girls do a flirtatious dance around a boy sporting long hair and jeans sewn with the patches of heavy-metal rock groups.

Pavel's 10th-grade curriculum is heavily science-oriented, including physics, chemistry, Russian language and literature, and German. After school, at 3 in the afternoon, Pavel sometimes plays soccer with his friends. But usually it's home for a large snack and maybe a nap before settling down to do a couple of hours of homework. After dinner, the rest of the family sits down in front of the evening news program Vremya, an event observed throughout the Soviet Union.

But neither television nor current events hold much of Pavel's attention. At nine o'clock, when the news comes on, he has his own ritual - an hour's walk with his best friend, Black. ``We don't know who is taking whom out,'' he says with a rare smile. ``I need those walks as much the dog does.''

Pavel finishes the night with a favorite book. He admits only to occasionally watching some music videos on television - a new phenomenon of Soviet life - or the popular quiz show ``Field of Dreams,'' an unabashed ripoff of America's ``Wheel of Fortune.''

Pavel may not be a typical teen in some ways, but his disinterest in politics is widely shared among Soviet youth. While the older generation is consumed by politics and the constant crisis of Soviet life, the young are profoundly skeptical.

When his parents and grandparents argue passionately around the dinner table about the merits of Boris Yeltsin or Mikhail Gorbachev, Pavel stands aside. ``I say they shouldn't believe any of the politicians,'' a sentiment that he says irritates his parents.

PAVEL seldom picks up a daily paper. When pressed for his views on the profound changes that have swept the Soviet Union, Pavel offers this: ``My personal opinion about perestroika [restructuring] is that at a certain point it bore its fruit because it led to the liberation of the mind. But now the train Gorbachev put in motion is sliding back. But,'' Pavel concludes with a shrug, ``I am just an observer.''

Why this reverse generation gap on politics? Pavel explains: ``Politics is more important for the older generation because they have broken from their ideological prison. They didn't have the chance to discuss their views before and now they are using it. As for the younger generation, we skipped that ideological oppression.''

Now the kids make fun of what were life-and-death issues for previous generations. In school, ``we argue with our history teacher because she gives us quotes from Lenin without giving any alternatives. No one believes in the ideals of communism.''

At home, ``we used to have family discussions about the personality of Lenin, and my grandfather was the only one to defend him.'' Grandpa worked all his life in a factory, except for the years of the war when he fought to defend the Soviet Union against the Nazi invader. ``But now even Grandpa doesn't speak up for Lenin anymore.''

Pavel's mother sees the generational difference similarly. ``What I like most in this generation,'' she says, looking over at her son, ``is their freedom of behavior. They don't feel humiliated as we do. People are always walking around with their shoulders drooping and their heads down, like slaves.''

Olga does have one complaint about her boy, though. ``Girls call him up all the time but he isn't interested,'' she says with a worried glance. ``Maybe the time hasn't come.''

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