Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Economic Crisis Fueling Aggressiveness among Russians, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 4 – The economic crisis is contributing to the already “chronically high” level of aggressiveness among Russians, according to a leading Moscow survey researcher. And if the government does not move to take corrective action, he suggests, that increase could lead to serious social and ethnic problems in the Russian Federation.
In an interview published in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Center polling agency, warns that economic crises “invariably” cause an increase in “the aggressiveness of the population, albeit and especially in a country like Russia “with a certain time lag” (www.ng.ru/politics/2009-08-04/1_Gudkov.html).
That delay is now running out, he continues, and Russia’s “chronically high” level of aggression is increasing. This trend is reflected in such things as an increase in the number of suicides, ordinary crimes and illnesses as well as in tensions and conflicts among various groups, social, political and ethnic in the population.
Aggressiveness among Russians, Gudkov notes, had been declining in recent years as members of that community adjusted to the many shocks of the social and political transformations of the last two decades, but now, the economic crisis has reversed this trend and the indicators of aggressiveness are all headed up again.
“If we compare Russia with other countries in terms of external causes of mortality as a result of murders, suicides, and accidents, then it turns out that Russia heads the list of all developed countries,” the sociologist says, with 190 such cases per 100,000 population or four times the rate in France and eight times that in Great Britain.
One reason aggressiveness among Russians is so high, Gudkov suggests, is that so many of its people – every fifth adult male – have passed through the penal system and many more have fought in Afghanistan or Chechnya, all experiences that have contributed to ‘a high level of aggressive culture.”
The growth of aggressiveness in Russian society, he continues, is something like barometric pressure: “citizens do not always understand what is taking place but they begin to feel bad.” And “if there is no institutional form for the resolution of the problems [behind such increases], then conflicts will expand into aggression.”
That makes the response of the government critical, the Levada Center expert says. “If the government does not support culture, for example by helping with a network of libraries, it will over the longer term face a sharpening of social pathology, disorganization, and a sick society in the broadest sense of the word.”
Gudkov’s warning appeared only a day after the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion (VTsIOM) released the results of a poll on “ethnic sympathies and antipathies of Russians,” a survey that points to some of the places where the aggressiveness that the Levada Center head points to may surface (wciom.ru/novosti/press-vypuski/press-vypusk/single/12222.html).
While the VTsIOM survey found that Russians are far more likely to say now than four years ago that they do not feel antipathetic to any people, 55 percent in the new poll as opposed to 34 percent in 2005, 29 percent said that they had negative attitudes toward people from the Caucasus, six percent toward Central Asians, and four percent toward Roma.
Fortunately, at least some Russian officials are currently attempting to take steps to deal with the dangers that increased aggressiveness among the Russian population may pose to inter-ethnic relations in that country, but most of these programs either are small and underfunded or appear likely to prove counter-productive.
The Moscow city government has launched a program called “Moscow – the Capital of Multi-National Russia” that is intended to promote inter-ethnic harmony in a place that has seen little of that in recent months, especially following the closure of the Cherkizov market and rising unemployment among Russians and migrant laborers.
The capital authorities launched this program after their own polls found that 22 percent of young Muscovites have a negative attitude toward the ethno-cultural diversity of Moscow and that 37 percent of this age group has negative feelings toward migrants independent of whether they are Russian citizens (www.vestikavkaza.ru/articles/obshestvo/diaspora/6235.html#).
But if the program is well-intentioned, it is poorly funded. So far, the city has authorized only 268.8 million rubles (9 million US dollars) for a three-year effort – or less than one ruble (about 25 US cents) per Muscovite per year for a problem that the authorities acknowledge is a matter of serious concern.
Another effort is better funded but more troubling: the Russian government has announced plans to recruit some 100,000 young people to serve as support units (“druzhinniki”) for the militia. But because many of these will come from the ranks of the unemployed, they could take out their own aggression on others rather than restrain the aggression of others.
That danger – one several commentators already have called attention to (See, for example, grani.ru/Politics/Russia/m.154923.html.) – could mean that Moscow is attempting to extinguish a fire with gasoline, something that could make what is, as Gudkov notes, an explosive situation even more dangerous.

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