Vienna, October 26 – The results of a new Levada Center poll reported in “Vedomosti” today raise the disturbing possibility that a significant portion of Russians would like to see Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party assume “the leading and directing role” that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) once had.
The polling organization asked Russians their reaction to the possibility that United Russia might “officially” assume the role of the CPSU as “the leading force of the state” and thus able to appoint its own people to the top positions in key institutions (http://www.vedomosti.ru/newspaper/article.shtml?2007/10/26/135063/)
Of those willing to express an opinion to pollsters on this matter, 49 percent of the total sample and a clear majority of Russians taking a position said they did, although a significant minority – 37 percent of the total – said they were opposed to what would be a retrograde step.
But as in all such surveys, the difficulty is in determining what the respondents thought they were supporting or opposing. Levada’s Lev Gudkov for his part cautioned against making too much of what a first reading might suggest is a clear desire on the part of many Russians for a return to a single-party past.
These findings, Gudkov suggested, do not reflect carefully considered judgments about either United Russia or the CPSU. Instead, they are “an organized consensus, the product of propaganda, the discrediting of other parties and the forcing them out” of the media and political life more generally.
Gudkov’s argument, of course, highlights just how far the Russian Federation under Putin has moved away from the steps toward democratic governance made by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin however much Moscow and its Western partners try to insist otherwise.
But the findings of a second Levada Center poll released this week suggest that something else is at work as well: a fundamental ignorance or distrust in competitive politics and a widespread belief that competitive politics in Russia is being managed behind the scenes.
According to that poll, statistically significant majorities of Russians believe that the Kremlin controls not only its own United Russia but also the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, and even Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (SPS) (http://www.levada.ru/press/2007/102407.html).
Some might be tempted to suggest that these judgments mean that Russians have a sophisticated understanding of their own political system, but others would more reasonably argue that these attitudes reflect an underlying distrust of the competitions that are at the heart of democratic governance.
However that may be, one Russian blogger spoke for some when he wrote this week that no one would have predicted in 1991 that “the most popular politician” in Russia would be a KGB officer who heads an authoritarian political party Russians are now prepared to trust with their lives (http://babr.ru/?pt=news&event=v1&IDE=40650).