Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Window on Eurasia: More Russians Now Prepared to Defend Their Interests via Collective Actions than a Decade Ago

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 3 – More Russians are now prepared to take part in demonstrations, meetings, and hunger strikes, to rely on unions and to join political parties than they were a decade ago, although the percentages saying they would do so were still relatively small, according to surveys conducted by the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences.
Investigators asked Russians what they would do when times were difficult for themselves and the country. In 1999, four percent said they would take part in meetings, demonstrations and hunger strikes. Now, according to the results released today, 11 percent say they are prepared to do so (
Moreover, the share prepared to use their trade unions rose from three percent to seven percent, and the percent who said they would join a political party doubled from two to four. At the same time, the percent saying they would leave Russia fell from 12 to three over this period while the share who said they would take up arms fell from nine percent to three.
Sociologists Mikhail Gorshkov and Vladimir Petukhov, the authors of the study, said that “over the last ten years, the psychology of [Russian] society had been totally renewed,” but instead of pointing to these changes, which after all involved a relatively small number of people, they noted two other and in their view less positive changes.
On the one hand, they found that the number of Russians saying that in difficult times they would seek additional work fell from 49 percent to 33 percent over the last nine years and that the share who said they would wait or do nothing rose from five percent to 26 percent, shares far larger than the number who would take action.
(Gorshkov explained this shift by suggesting that many Russians may have become comfortable with their situation during the recent stabilization or that they had managed to put aside their own “personal ‘stabilization fund’” that would allow them to ride out any short-term problems.)
In addition to tracing changes in Russian attitudes about individual or collective action to difficult times, the September 2008 survey also sought to identify changes in Russian fears. Perhaps because the poll was conducted just after the conflict in Georgia, Russians said that they were more concerned about threats from abroad than from within the country, 43 percent to 39.
In presenting these data, Gorshkov “did not conceal his surprise,” “Moskovsky komsomolets” reported, saying that for citizens to put external threats above domestic ones is “a real nonsense,” although some people might reply that Russian military actions in the Caucasus meant that at the time of the survey, Russia was not really at peace.
But Petukhov stressed the changes in Russian fears between 1999 and 2008. “Instead of terrorism and the collapse of the country, [Russians] fear the streets (30 percent), and a quarter of [the population] similarly experience a feeling of concern when visiting a government office, the public transport system, a hospital or a polyclinic,” fears more typical than those of a decade ago.
And the Institute of Sociology report also recorded dramatic declines in the percentage of Russians having a positive feeling toward any country having anything to do with the Georgian war. Only eight percent of Russians said they had a positive view of Georgia after the war, and only 14 percent said they had a sympathetic one of the US, down from 37 percent a year earlier.
Russian attitudes toward many countries fell during this period, including toward Ukraine, with 60 percent saying they had a negative view of that country, Germany, France, Japan, and Great Britain, none of whom attracted more than ten percent sympathizers among Russians (
Among the countries the Institute of Sociology scholars found Russians to have a positive view were Belarus (75 percent positive), Kazakhstan (69 percent), and China (59 percent). And in response to another question, 57 percent of Russians said they would approve of sanctions against Ukraine if it became a member of NATO.

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