Monday, October 15, 2007

Window on Eurasia: More Russians See Class Divisions as ‘Very Sharp’ than Say Ethnic and Religious Ones Are, Poll Suggests

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 15 – Fifty percent of Russians say that “contradictions” between rich and power are now “very sharp” in their home areas -- more than twice the share of those who say the same about relations between ethnic Russians and non-Russians, longtime residents and migrants, and Orthodox Christians and Muslims.
At the end of September, the Moscow Center for Social Prognostication asked 4,000 Russian Federation citizens about their views as part of that institution’s effort to evaluate the relative attractiveness to the electorate of the various parties competing the upcoming parliamentary elections (
The respondents were asked “which social contradictions in [their] region (town) in [their] view are the most sharp?” They were given the opportunity to indicate that a particular conflict was “very sharp,” “present but not very sharp” or “don’t exist or are small.”
Here are the percentages – with the three possible responses listed respectively in each case – for the top 11 categories: rich and power – 50.5, 29.1, and 11.0; the authorities and the people – 48.0, 31.3, and 11.4; Moscow and the provinces – 36.6, 33.1, and 21.0; and ethnic Russians and non-Russians – 24.5, 36.3, and 29.9.
Other categories and the responses included clashes between younger and older generations – 23.1, 43.4, and 24.3; the authorities and the oligarchs – 18.7, 34.0, and 38.0; long-time residents and migrants – 18.2, 40.8, and 31.7; and Orthodox Christians and Muslims – 16.0, 33.8, and 40.9.
And still a third set of categories and the responses of Russians to them involved tensions between democrats and opponents of democracy – 12.1, 35.1, and 43.5; the Western oriented and supporters of an independent path of development for Russia – 11.0, 32.0, and 47.7; and between active and passive people – 9.5, 33.9, and 47.3.
As Mikhail Tulskiy points out in his APN commentary on this poll, these results suggest that the Russian electorate should be more responsive to those politicians, parties and groups which advocate left-of-center policies and that voters today are less exercised by ethnic, religious and migration issues than many now assume.
Indeed, the Moscow analyst argues, only Russians living in Moscow and St. Petersburg identify the influx of migrants as being a sufficiently sharp problem to push it up to third place in the ranking, with Russians living elsewhere evaluating this particular divide as being of less moment.
That judgment may be correct, but there is another possibility: If one combines those concerned about relations between Russians and non-Russians, Moscow and the provinces, and Orthodox and Muslims – categories that overlap – then these “ethnic” issues could in fact prove more potent than a first reading of these results might suggest.
Such a possibility is suggested by the findings of a second poll that was released last Thursday by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) concerning Russians’ attachment to and attitudes about religion as faith and as identity (
Although 53 percent of the respondents identified themselves as religious, compared to six percent who indicated that they were “convinced atheists,” only ten percent of the Russian sample indicated that they took part in religious life on a regular basis.
But more intriguing, those questioned by VTsIOM pollsters at the end of August and beginning of September were asked to specify the reasons why they believed Russians turn to religion, a surrogate for the unasked question of why the respondents themselves did so.
Twenty-one percent said that people turn to religion because a particular faith is part of their own national traditions, with roughly the same saying they did so for comfort in times of grief or seeing it as providing a moral ideal for their lives. Significantly smaller shares said it reflected fashion, belief in the supernatural, or backwardness.
Intriguingly, ten percent of the sample said they saw no indication that Russians were in fact now turning more to religion.
And in response to a third question – what should be the source of moral values for the rising generation, 67 percent said the family, 17 percent said the school, five percent said television and the mass media, and only four percent said religious organizations.
That last pair of figures prompted some Russian news agencies to suggest that Russians “trust television and the mass media more than ‘spiritual leaders’” to provide the primary source of moral guidance for members of the next generation in that country (
That almost certainly is a distortion, but the fact that these data permit someone to draw that conclusion highlights a fundamental truth: religious groups in Russia today overwhelming have far less influence as moral leaders than they do as signifiers of national traditions and identities.

No comments: