Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Putin Ideological Effort Promotes Political Passivity, Russian Pollster Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 30 – The Russian government’s ideological effort since the rise of Vladimir Putin “is not leading to the rehabilitation of the totalitarian regime or its leaders” but rather is undermining the foundations of a moral assessment of the past and present by eliminating the very idea of the responsibility of the authorities for the policies they conduct.”
That is the conclusion offered in an article in “Vedomosti” today by Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center Analytic Center, on the basis of extensive polling done by his organization and of comparisons between what the regime’s ideological effort is compared to the one the Soviet system made (
“In comparison with the times of the totalitarian regime, in which the ideology of the construction of ‘a new society and the formation of ‘a new man’” were key elements in legitimating the regime, Gudkov writes, Russian propaganda now “is directed exclusively at supporting … indifference to social questions and problems and alienation from politics.”
Although the Russian government does not exercise the control over the media that the Soviet regime did, the Moscow pollster continues, “”the principle changes characterizing the 10 years of the Putin administration would have been impossible if they had not been preceded by the establishment of full control over the main sources of the mass media.”
And consequently, he continues, polls of public opinion now “fix not so much the dynamic of attitudes and understandings of society lacking independent sources of information” but rather “the effectiveness of government propaganda,” the content of which is “defined by the interests of those who” are in power.
The interests of these people, if one strips away all the rhetoric, Gudkov says, “consist of the routinization of the changes which have taken place over the last 20 years and holding on to power,” interests which reflect the two-pronged strategy the political elite has pursued since at least 2003.
On the one hand, the Levada Center expert says, these involve “the simulation of a policy of modernization of the country despite an actual refusal to conduct basic institutional reforms.” And on the other, this strategy involves “a traditionalist imitation of ‘the grand style’ of a great power.”
“Authoritarianism,” he suggests, “as a type of social-political system especially needs traditionalism. With it is connected the choice of daily living strategies characteristic for mass adaptation to changes – a passive survival and not participation in politics or solid activity of civil society.”
“The lack of faith that life could be arranged otherwise than it was in Soviet society,” the Moscow social analyst argues, “paralyzes all political action [in Russian society now], evidence of which is the practical destruction of Russia’s multi-party system and its local self-administration.
One is thus clearly not talking about “mass enthusiasm, a new ideology or the militarism which accompany the establishment of totalitarian regimes,” Gudkov says. “There is nothing of this and apparently there cannot be.” But what there is instead is “the de-historicization or mythologization of mass consciousness” which promotes “paternalism.”
“The preservation of the image of the wise power standing over society and embodying the traditions of a great power does not allow for any mechanisms of control,” Gudkov continues, “and that in turn means [that this image] frees those in power from responsibility to the population.”
Accompanying this ideological message has been the suppression of any competitive groups or institutions and “the devaluation” of privately-held “autonomous values of any subsystem of society,” thus limiting the ability of people to form their own opinion about the powers that be past or present or to articulate any views they may have.
Just how effective this campaign has been, Gudkov says, is suggested by poll results concerning what has been the “quiet rehabilitation of Stalin as a great government and national leader although someone not without his shortcomings.” Over the last decade, the share of people who are clearly anti-Stalinism or pro-Stalinist has in fact fallen.
What has increased is the share of the indifferent, with their percentage going up from 18 percent at the start of the decade to 47 percent now. And that position has become “the dominant one in society.” Gudkov adds that is striking that the percentage of the indifferent has increased especially dramatically among the young, from 26 percent to 59 percent.
In short, he says, Russians are now “not in a position to connect systematically different views about the Stalinist regime (or any other) or to the rationalization of them starting from any particular criteria be it moral, national or political.” And they are thus limited in their ability to do the same for the current regime – which Gudkov suggests is the real point of the exercise.

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