Staunton, April 20 – New polls showing more than half of Russians regret the demise of the USSR (vestikavkaza.ru/news/Bolee-poloviny-rossiyan-sozhaleyut-o-raspade-SSSR-opros.html) and that 40 percent of Russians do not believe the state is meeting its obligations to them (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=57172AB41357E) have attracted a great deal of attention.
But a third survey conducted by Irina Vorobyova of the Russian State Humanities University may be the most important because it focuses on the paradoxes and internal inconsistences of the approach of Russians to politics, political self-identification, and expectations.
Her study, “Contradictions and Paradoxes of Political Orientations in the Structure of the World of Russians,” Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya, no. 1 (2016), is available online at socis.isras.ru/files/File/2016/2016_1/17_26_Vorobieva.pdf and has just presented in detail on the Tolkovatel portal at http://ttolk.ru/?p=26642.
According to the sociologist, “only 20 percent of Russians take an active interest in politics,” but much larger shares identify as patriots, nationalists or liberalist. The usual explanation for this divide, she says, is that Russians “delegate” politics to the government; but she reports that only 20 percent believe the authorities are honest.
Russians’ interest in politics has been falling for a generation, Vorobyov reports. In 1987, 54.4 percent of Russians said they were actively interested in political life. But by 2013, that figure had fallen to 27.1 and now it is even lower. And over the same period, the share of those with no interest in politics has risen almost 1200 percent.
The sociologist points to another paradox in Russian views as expressed to survey researchers. On the one hand, Russian value the democratic rights and freedoms they have acquired; but on the other, “they are quite skeptical about the institutions called to transform democracy into life” and believe that they need a strong state with a tough leader.
Another paradox Vorobyov points to is that “the political identification of Russians” with this or that trend “does not always directly correspond to their electoral choices.” She argues that this reflects an increasing desire of Russians to support a center as in the central power and the center of the spectrum.
Yet another paradox among Russians about politics is that “the high level of support for the powers that be” is combined with an equally high level of alienation from the state, “a lack of trust in the majority of government institutions,” and the conviction of the majority that the state does not serve their interests.
Vorobyov concludes that this leads to a situation in which “the population supports the authorities” not because the latter meet their needs but because the population is afraid of changes and the possibility that however bad things are, they could as a result of any change get worse.
The sociologist concludes that “in Russian society there exists massive support for the authorities alongside a low level of trust in specific government institutions and a sense that the authorities do not support ordinary people” and that “the desire to have democratic rights and freedoms exists in parallel with support for a strong state, a firm hand, and paternalism.”
It is likely that these paradoxes, which reflect a specific national set of experiences, explain many of the other poll results often citied, including those which appear to represent radical breaks with earlier positions but in fact simply mirror the divisions and contradictions within Russian minds.