Russian Youth Prefer Crime To Space

The counterrevolution is complete.

Russian teenagers polled about their career preferences before the collapse of the Soviet Union six years ago probably would have chosen such patriotic jobs as engineers, soldiers and cosmonauts.

Today, they want to be in business as accountants and lawyers and entrepreneurs. More of them want to be gangsters and racketeers rather than soldiers and cosmonauts.

A leading Russian center for public opinion studies, VTsIOM, recently asked 1,000 Moscow high school students, aged 14 to 17, a revealing question: ""What profession do you think is most prestigious?''

While making money was clearly important to the new post-Soviet generation -- accountant was in first place, followed by lawyer, banker and businessman -- killer and racketeer were No. 18 out of a list of 36.

Cosmonaut was in last place in the poll, tied with driver and just below clergyman. Only 0.1 percent of the respondents thought being a cosmonaut was prestigious -- or wanted to be one. The three top professions were mentioned by about 20 percent of the respondents.

Killer was mentioned by 2 percent, while scientist and college professor were at 1 percent.

Many in Russia would not be surprised by the findings.

Russia is a country with a documented average of 500 contract murders a year. The English word ""killer'' came into the language in 1992, along with the freedom to do business. It's also a nation that sends a cosmonaut to live on a decaying space station, pays him only $100 a day while he's up there, then threatens to fine him when things start to go wrong.

None of this was lost by a dozen boys, aged 14 to 16, walking home from school the other day. Most of them were wearing dark leather jackets, except for the one who had a big emblem imprinted on his nylon jacket, reading U.S. Department of Defense.

They smiled when asked about the poll, which they all had heard about on television.

""Maybe some of them were joking,'' said Vladimir Belozorov, 14, about the respondents.

Their idea of heroism these days is embodied in a movie actor. His name is Sergei Bodrov Jr. He is the star of the film ""Brother.'' He plays a sweet-faced young man named Danila, who drifts pleasantly through life to the music of his compact disc player, comes home from the army and finds himself presented with a profitable occupation.

He becomes a contract killer.

""This is a time without a hero,'' Bodrov said in an interview this week,in a small lounge in television offices off Pushkin Square. ""Maybe that's why these images attract people. There is no hero now.''

Danila becomes the perfect emblem of a society that is morally adrift, Russian film critics say.

Bodrov, who is 25 and works as a television journalist, said ""Brother'' neither condemns nor glorifies Danila, it simply reflects the mood of the times.

""The film shows what has become a common thing in our life,'' Bodrov said. ""It's very true to life.''