Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Most Russians Support the Ideas of the Nationalists But Aren’t Ready to Act on Them, Polls Show

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 18 – A majority of Russians now openly sympathize with nationalist groups that advocate a “Russia for the Russians,” but most of these sympathizers, a prominent Russian sociologist says, do not approve in using violence against minorities and are not prepared to follow the lead of those who advocate precisely that.
The reason for this apparent paradox, Lev Gudkov, the head of Moscow’s Levada Center, told Maksim Karasyov of the “New Times” magazine, is to be found in the sources of these nationalistic attitudes, on the one hand, and the relations between radical nationalist groups and the government, on the other (
The nationalistic attitudes of the population, he suggested, are “to a large extent provoked” by the government itself and the media it controls, both of which feature “anti-Western rhetoric, declarations about [Russia’s] special path and special values, an aggressive foreign policy, and the conviction that Russia is surrounded by enemies.”
But the attitudes of the population concerning the actions of the radical nationalistic groups reflect not only the natural horror of ordinary people to such violence but also the negative coverage these groups receive in the media and the hostility, at least at the level of rhetoric, of the state to most of these groups and of most of these groups to the state.
Were either of these things to change, the situation in Russia could easily get out of hand, with the increasingly nationalistic population making common cause with extremist groups with the implicit blessing of the state and attacking the 25 percent of the residents of Russia who are not ethnically Russian.
Every few months since 2005, Gudkov’s Levada Center has asked Russians how they react to the idea of “Russia for the Russians,” a key slogan of almost all nationalist groups. In 2006, 50 percent of the sample said it was an idea that should have been implemented long ago or that it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Now, the share saying that had risen to 57 percent.
Levels of education and income have little impact on the figures, but age and location do. Younger people, those aged 25 to 39, are most inclined to support this idea, while those over 55, the products of the Soviet system, are “sharply against the slogan.” And people in the so-called Red Belt and the major cities are more supportive than those elsewhere.
This pattern, Gudkov suggested, reflects the impact of migration, which has hit the major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg and the southern portions of the Russian Federation harder than elsewhere and thus helped to generate popular anger against minorities from Central Asia and the Caucasus and at the government for letting them in.
But the depth of this anger is less clear, Gudkov noted, pointing out that when Russians are asked whether they have experienced hostility from members of other national groups, only three percent said they had frequently and only nine percent said they had “quite often. “An absolute majority said that they had rarely or never felt [such] hostility.”
That of course suggests that many Russians who say they back nationalistic ideas might turn away from making such declarations if the Russian government and the Russian media were more explicit in denouncing the ideas and not just the most radical consequences of their application.
But as Gudkov and others have pointed out, “nationalistic attitudes are especially strong in the force structures” on whom the current regime relies and who often at least at the local level actively support the nationalistic groups, even if the country’s political leadership and the central media denounce for public consumption or other reasons the violent actions of these groups.

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