Monday, December 22, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Two-Thirds of Russians Favor Retaining Symbols of Communist Era

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 22 – Sixty-five percent of Russians say that the symbols of the communist past – including the names of streets and squares, the hammer and cycle and memorials) “must be preserved” as part of their national history, according to the results of a poll released today.
In a poll conducted in November, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), an agency reputed to be close to the Kremlin, said that only one Russian in five – 20 percent – felt these symbols were “survivals of the past” and should be replaced by others (
And only one in 20 – five percent – of the sample said that these symbols should be restored in those cases when they have been replaced over the last 20 years, a possible indication that the intensity of attachment to many of these symbolically loaded things is not as great as the overall finding might suggest.
Not surprisingly, supporters of Just Russia and respondents over 45 were “more inclined” to suggest that the symbols of communist should be preserved (81 percent and 71-73 percent respectively), while those who want to replace these symbols were more frequently found among supporters of United Russia and Zhirinovsky’s LDPR and among the young (35 percent).
Three out of five Russians oppose tearing down monuments to communist officials, although 12 percent say that at least some of them should be moved from their current locations to perhaps less prominent ones. Only eight percent of the sample suggested that these monuments should be destroyed.
Intriguingly, residents of large cities, who are sometimes thought to be more liberal, were slightly more opposed to tearing down such monuments than was the sample as a whole, 69 percent to 60 percent respectively. But Muscovites and Petersburgers were among the most favorably inclined to moving such monuments from their current sites.
Whether these findings will play a role in the possible reburial of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin is unclear. That has been a matter of intense debate among Russians for most of the past 20 years. But the VTsIOM results do highlight three important realities, which have both positive and negative consequences for the future.
First, and taken as a whole, the VTsIOM results suggest that an increasing number of Russians may be less intensely concerned about this aspect of the Soviet past than they were, willing to treat these Soviet-era symbols as part of their history rather than as defining features of their lives now and in the future.
Second – and this is important for countries like Estonia which have moved Soviet-era monuments – there is far more support for doing so in the Russian Federation than most Moscow officials have suggested in their comments about Tallinn’s action with regard to the Bronze Soldier a year ago.
And third – and in sharp contrast to the expectations of many democratic activists and Western well-wishers – many Russians have yet to come to terms with the Soviet past, something that guarantees that Moscow politicians will continue to try to exploit the attachment to it and that that often ugly past will play a larger role than it should in the future.

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