Vienna, May 7 – One in every six resident of the Southern Urals is now prepared to use violence against local government officials and their offices, a poll finding that the regional news agency reporting it says should give the Russian authorities pause about the rapid shift in popular attitudes against them.
According to the results of a poll conducted by the Urals Analytic Center in Chelyabinsk, every fifth resident is ready to participate in demonstrations against the government and only slightly fewer are prepared to use “forceful methods” to seize administrative buildings or oppose officials (www.ura.ru/content/chel/06-05-2009/articles/1036253591.html).
And while the poll did not explore whether these increasingly negative popular attitudes toward officials at the city and regional level extended to the Russian government as such, it is likely that many of those polled do not differentiate among the “vlasti” of various levels and that negative views toward local officials might quickly spread to Moscow ones.
The Urals region has a long history of radicalism and is the location of many company towns which scholars like Yevgeny Gontmakher warn have suffered far more than many other places, but the Chelyabinsk figures are striking, especially because as Ura.ru said yesterday, they represent a radical shift against the authorities in the course of “literally a couple of months.”
The Chelyabinsk center conducted the poll as part of its monitoring of the situation there before October 2009 and March 2010 municipal elections, and it found that “half of the residents of Chelyabinsk oblast are dissatisfied with the regional and municipal authorities,” a finding that “stunned” those who conducted the survey.
Given these findings, Ura.ru journalist Sergey Leonov says, it is entirely reasonable to ask “how representative was the sample and how correct the results.” He notes that the survey involved more than 1500 residents from more than 20 municipalities ranging from the city of Chelyabinsk to villages. The probability of error is thus plus or minus two to four percent.
According to the survey, 46.7 percent of people in Chelyabinsk and 68.3 percent of those in the company town of Magnitogorsk are increasingly inclined to protest. Overall, every fourth resident of the oblast says he or she could take part in protest actions, slightly less than the share of every third one in the two largest cities.
The most interesting finding of the poll, however, was elsewhere, Leonov suggests. The respondents were offered a list of 20means of influencing the government, “including court suits, letters and appeals,” and so on. In Chelyabinsk, 22.7 percent said they would consider using force to seize government buildings; in Magnitogorsk, 18.33 percent said they might.
“If one takes these data as a basis [for projections],” the journalist says, “then in the 3.5 million-person oblast, where everything on the surface appears quiet, any incautious action or even word of a bureaucrat could lead to an explosion, especially if that bureaucrat is a local one.” He reports majorities there still trust the Russian president and the Russian government.
Yury Chanov, a local political scientist, told the news agency that “the region is at the doorstep of a municipal catastrophe,” equivalent to the one that swept through it at the time of monetarization of benefits and likely to lead to the electoral defeat of local officials. In 2005, only ten of 32 municipality heads there were kept by the voters, he pointed out.
Because the economic crisis hit the Urals relatively recently, Chanov continued, the share of people angry at the authorities is likely to grow. But the analyst said, “this is not the worst thing.” Far more worrying, he said, is the expressed willingness of residents “to go into the streets and not simply to stand quietly in a picket line but to resort to force.”
Whether the region or the country as a whole will be able “to avoid popular uprisings in the future,” the political analyst concluded, remains as the results of this Chelyabinsk survey show very much “an open question. Everything depends on the actions of the powers that be alone.”