Friday, November 9, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Most Russians Say Human Rights are Violated in Their Country

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 9 – Seventy-two percent of Russians – nearly three out of four – say that human rights are being violated in their country at the present time, but they divide as to whether the situation is getting worse (24 percent), better (24 percent) or saying the same (37 percent), according to a new survey.
In a poll of 1600 Russians conducted at the end of October, the Levada Center also asked about whether Russians believe there are political prisoners in their country at present, whether the authorities use torture to extract evidence, and how they feel about that practice (
Forty percent of those polled said that there certainly or likely were political prisoners in Russia now, a figure that is down slightly from those in earlier polls, while the percentage who say there are not – 30 percent – is almost unchanged over the last three years. At present, 30 percent said they found it “difficult to answer.”
The members of the sample were also asked whether they believed that the militia and security services used torture in order to extract information or confessions from those suspected of committing a crime. Fifty-nine percent said the authorities certainly or likely did so, while only 18 percent said they did not believe that to be the case.
But while acknowledging that officials did use torture, Russians overwhelmingly said that they did not consider it justified. Seventy-two percent said that it definitely or likely was not justified, with only 11 percent – one in nine -- saying that it was definitely or likely something that needed to be done.
The results of this survey on Russian attitudes toward human rights and their government’s role in protecting or violating them were supplemented by another poll concerning Russian views on the kind of state they would like to see their country have in the future (
Conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), it found that 42 percent of Russians would like their country to be a democracy with a market economy, although that was a slightly smaller share than the 48 percent who preferred that outcome a decade ago.
Only 16 percent said they favored a socialist state based on communist ideology, down from 20 percent in 1997, but 21 percent now (up from 18 percent a decade ago) said they favored “a special path for Russia,” one involving its own unique social and political arrangements.
On the one hand, at least some participants in these two surveys were responding in the way they believed those asking the questions would want to hear. But on the other, the views they did express simultaneously represent a kind of restraint on those in power and a resource for those who may hope to change Russia’s direction.

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