Vienna, June 30 – Nearly half of Russia’s emerging middle class, a group which many see as the basis for stable development toward a more open society, tells pollsters its members do not trust their government, fear the West will do little to defend their rights, but nonetheless say they are ready to leave their country to live and work abroad on a permanent basis.
An article in yesterday’s “Gazeta” reports that 46 percent of the members of Russia’s middle class do not believe the assurances of the Kremlin and government media that the country has entered “an epoch of stability and well-being,” and 48 percent say they are ready to move abroad as a result (www.gzt.ru/society/2008/06/29/223036.html).
At the present time, 76 percent of Russians who see themselves as middle class do not believe they could “defend themselves from the arbitrariness of those in power, the militia and tax collectors, the Nevada Center reports, and 65 percent of them doubt that they could successfully “defend their rights and interests in a court of law.”
Nearly three-quarters of the Russian middle class are convinced that “a strong Russia” will generate “dissatisfaction” in the West and lead to a worsening of relations between their country and the developed world. And its members, the paper says, “do not believe that Western public opinion sincerely shares their concern about the arbitrariness” of Russian officials.
Indeed, “Gazeta” says, the respondents in the polls the paper cities “see in the protests of foreigners [about what the Russian government is doing not a real desire to help them toward a better future but] only an instrument of dishonest competition in the struggle for influence in the world.”
Although such polls are not without problems, the pattern these results suggest is disturbing. First of all, the group that is supposed to be the most actively integrated into society is sufficiently alienated to be thinking about leaving Russia permanently, voting with their feet against the image of the country the Kremlin has gone to such pains to project.
Second, their attitudes, the polls suggest, reflect not only a desire for a better life economically – 40 percent of the sample suggested that would be a major factor in a decision to move abroad – but also concerns about the stability of the country, protection of their rights, and their lack of a sense of efficacy.
Almost one in three – 29 percent -- of the members of the Russian middle class said they were thinking about leaving because of fears of future destabilization in their native country. Twenty-seven percent pointed to crime, terrorism and a threat to their lives in Russia, and 23 percent pointed to problems with the political system in Russia today.
In the view of the members of the Russian middle class, the situation at home is so bad that they are quite prepared to pay bribes as a way of advancing their interests, with “about half” saying they would do so in court, and 60 percent indicating that they would do so in areas like medicine and education which are “formally considered to be free.”
And third, many members of the Russian middle class have mixed feelings about the West. On the one hand, many of them do not believe the West is really interested in helping them and their country toward a better future. But on the other, half of its members say they want to move there because their situation in Russia is so dire.
That conflict, sociologists told the paper, is more apparent than real because it reflects both a survival from Soviet times of negative images about Western policy and a more adequate understanding of what life is like in Western countries now, an appreciation gained in many cases from travel there.
But however that might be, no country, not the Russian Federation or anywhere else, can look confidently to the future if so many of its most economically, politically and intellectually active citizens are willing to tell pollsters that they are thinking about leaving even if the number who would actually do so almost certainly would be far smaller.
UPDATE for July 1. The complete data set on which the “Gazeta” article discussed above has now been published online at www.levada.ru/press/2008070101.html.
UPDATE for July 4. According to a Levada Center poll, nearly three quarters of all Russians – 73 percent – say that they feel themselves defenseless in the face of arbitrary behavior by the government (www.levada.ru/press/2008070400.html).