Friday, April 4, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russians, Europeans Differ More in Beliefs than in Practices

Paul Goble

Baku, April 5 – Russians and Europeans differ markedly in their beliefs, according to the results of the European Social Survey, but they differ must less in how they act, Moscow commentators say, with Russians falling within the range of European countries on most measures of the latter.
And that has led one Russian analyst to ask whether “we think one way but act in another,” a pattern that helps explain why some analysts there and in the West point to the divide between Russia and the West and others focus on these commonalities (
Ten days ago, experts from the European Social Survey (ESS) released the results of a study they conducted in 2006-2007 about the values and behavior of Europeans and Russians. Since that time, a variety of Moscow analysts have commented on what these results really mean, with providing an especially good survey.
Even though Russians like to stress their distinctiveness and the “special path” of their country, the study found, their actual behavior does not fall outside “the parameters of the data for the majority of European countries” and frequently is more “European” than that found in “the young democracies” of the eastern part of the continent.
Ninety-four percent of Russians get most of their income from wages and salaries, the product of the Soviet past and a far higher share than in most but not all European countries. Only four percent of Russians receive most of their income from small businesses, lower than the European average but higher than in Portugal, for example.
There are two reasons for this pattern, Lyudmila Belyaeva of the Moscow Center for the Study of Social and Cultural Change said. On the one hand, pressure from the authorities, including corruption, make it difficult for Russians to open and keep operating small businesses.
And other, she continued, many Russians do not want to take responsibility for their own fate, preferring to place it in the hands of others. That attitude, which is part and parcel of the belief in “a just little father tsar,” sets Russia apart from the Protestant West where everyone is supposed to work to control his own destiny.
With regard to educational attainment and professional composition of the workforce, Russia also finds itself within the European range. Almost a third of Russians work in jobs requiring high or medium professional training, a share greater than found in most former Soviet bloc countries and one ranking in the middle of European ones.
Among the places where there is a major difference between Russia and Western Eurpe is in the service sector, where Russia has far fewer people, and in natural science and medical training where Russian salaries and lower and thus fields in which fewer Russians are inclined to enter. If Russia is to modernize, that will have to change.
As far as interest in politics is concerned, Russians again are in the middle of the European rankings, with 41 percent of Russians saying they are interested in that subject, higher than in Turkey, Portugal, Greece, and many East European states, but lower than in many other parts of Europe.
But it is in the area of family and marriage that differences between Russia and Europe are the most pronounced, and it is these differences, possibly more than the oft-cited survival of paternalist values, that are likely to cast the greatest shadow on the future of that country.
According to ESS, Russia is the only place in Europe where “more than half of those surveyed did not have spouses or partners,” a pattern very different from that found elsewhere (except for Britain) where on average more than 60 percent of adults live in families.
Russia’s situation, Moscow experts point out, does not mean that Russians do not marry and marry early but rather than they do not stay married as long or, having divorced or lost a spouse through death, enter into second marriages as frequently as do most people in Western Europe.
According to Moscow State University sociologist Aleksandr Sinel’nikov, most Russians marry quite early, then divorce after two or three years, and after that “ do not link themselves” with someone else. In Catholic countries like Spain and Poland, there are fewer divorces; and in Protestan ones, there are far more remarriages.
One reason for the Russian pattern is that Russians and especially Russian women believe it is better to remain alone than to risk falling into another unfortunate marriage. But yet another is that housing shortages in Russian cities mean, just as in Soviet times, that divorced couples often must continue to share an apartment.
That depresses the birthrate, but so too does far higher number of abortions in Russia. But here too, in the words of’s Natal’ya Bokaryeva, Russians say one thing and do another, with Russians far less willing than Europeans to support limiting the number of children by means of abortion or other ways.

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