Saturday, May 17, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Trusting Others Today is “an Impermissible Luxury,” Russians Say

Paul Goble

Baku, May 17 – More than seven out of ten Russians say that trusting others is an “impermissible luxury” at the present time, an attitude that not only makes it far more difficult for them to organize themselves but also limits their ability to take advantage of the assistance others may be ready to offer them, while leaving them open to exploitation by others.
The Public Opinion Foundation, which enjoys the reputation as one of the best survey research firms there, recently conducted a poll about the levels of public trust among Russians. The results have sparked a lively discussion as to their meaning for the country’s future ( and
In an article published in “Novyye izvestiya” this week, Anna Semenova summed up the poll’s results in the following way: Russians “consider that trust is an impermissible luxury in our time. If necessary, [they] will turn for help to relatives, friends and colleagues” but not to neighbors or to social organizations like the church.
According to the Public Opinion Foundation, 71 percent of Russians now say that they believe that the level of trust in Russian society had declined sharply over the last 20 years and that everyone around them at the present time is “insincere,” “dishonest”, “egotistical,” or “mean as a dog.”
Contrary to what many might expect, levels of trust are lower among village residents and poorer groups in the cities and higher among those with higher education and larger incomes, with Muscovites, who enjoy the reputation of being “indifferent egotists,” being 10 percent more trusting that villagers.
And if they do have problems, 76 percent of Russians say they will turn to relatives, 59 percent said they would rely on friends and acquaintances, 35 percent on colleagues at work, 28 percent from neighbors, and 12 percent on religious groups, but only five percent said they would turn to public organizations for help.
Sociologists believe, “Novyye izvestiya” reported, that these high levels of distrust are a product of the early 1990s “when everyone had to rely only on himself.” But they have been boosted since that time among those who have suffered from the collapse of pyramid schemes and the failure of politicians and others to keep their promises.
But in comments to that paper, Mark Sandanovsky, a Moscow psychologist, pointed to what he said was a “curious” situation: Russians trust others far less than Europeans or Americans do but they fall victims to confidence games far more often, a product of their general lack of trust and willingness to trust too much they decide are their friends.
That is a problem, but a far more serious one is that many Russians today, because they do not trust others, are unwilling to work together either as volunteers or as members of social and political organizations, a situation that postpones if not precludes the evolution of that country in the direction of a civil society.
And members of this small sector of Russian life told the paper that negative media coverage of the activities of these public groups was reinforcing Russian attitudes about these important components of an open and democratic society rather than helping residents of that country to overcome it.

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