Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Polls Understate Desire for Restoration of Unified Soviet Space, Russian Nationalist Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 13 – Russian pollsters are consistently understating the interest of the people in the restoration of a single state formation on the territory of what was the Soviet Union by the way in which those conducting the surveys are asking their questions, according to a Russian nationalist who backs the re-establishment of the USSR.
In an article in the current issue of Internet journal “Novaya politika,” Sergey Chernyakhovsky argues that “the majority of Russians back the restoration of the USSR, despite polling organizations like the Levada Center regularly report that only about one in seven in fact currently favor that outcome (
And in support of his content, the longtime Moscow commentator presents an analysis of the Levada Center polls on this point, providing if not an unbiased discussion of the issue at least an indication of how many other Russians who do share his views read the polls when they are thinking about the future.
At the end of December, Chernyakhovsky notes, the Levada Center published the results of its survey on how Russians feel about the end of the USSR. According to the polling agency, 60 percent of the population “regrets” that the USSR fell apart, while 28 percent say that they do not regret that outcome.
Pollsters have asked that question every year since 1992, and what is striking, Chernyakhovsky says, is that the share of the Russian population expressing regret about what happened in 1991 has remained stable. Moreover, an equally large and stable share believes that the disintegration of the USSR could have been avoided.
Thus, Chernyakhovsky continues, “the division of the country in the opinion of the majority was the result of subjective actions of specific people who should in the best case have to bear responsibility for this.”
But the Russian nationalist writer is more concerned about the future than about the past. And he argues that whatever the Levada Center think it learned on that score, in fact, “the data from the very same survey demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of citizens of the country support the reintegration of the republics of the USSR in one or another form.”
According to the Levada Center poll, 27 percent of its sample support “the voluntary unification of several republics into a closer union, 22 percent back “a close union of all republics of ‘the post-Soviet space’ modeled on the European Union, while only 16 percent favor “the restoration of the USSR in its former shape.”
At the same time, 13 percent say they favor the continuation of the Commonwealth of Independent States “in its current form,” with “only 14 percent for the independent existence of all the republics.” It follows, Chernyakhovsky says, that 65 percent of Russians favor closer integration, 13 percent back the status quo and only 14 percent favor a final dissolution.
Levada Center analysts and commentators following their lead, Chernyakhovsky goes on to say, point to two pairs of statistics in order to argue that Russians at the present time are in general against the restoration of anything like a single state on the territory of what was once the Soviet Union.
These people note that only 16 percent of those polled favor restoring the USSR “in its former shape,” even though 65 percent back closer ties “in principle,” and they point to the fact that while 60 percent of the sample regrets the end of the USSR, only 16 percent say that they favor bringing it back.
The use of these figures, Chernyakhovsky continues, “provides a basis for opponents of this reunification” by allowing them to declare that “’regret’ is not ‘a desire for reunification,’” and that the share of those who want to restore the USSR “in its former shape” are “an obvious minority.”
The use of the phrase “in its former shape,” he argues, is designed to obscure rather than reveal what Russians think. How could the USSR be restored just as it was 18 years later? What does “in its former shape” mean anyway? And which former shape – that of 1922, 1936, 1954, 1977 or 1990 – do people have in mind?
If the pollsters asked the question in a different way, Chernyakhovsky insists, they would find much more support for “a single country, a single citizenship, a single currency, and a single army” – elements which he argues enjoy support and which are “the most essential components of a Single Union State.” Everything else is of much less significance.
Chernyakhovsky does concede two things: On the one hand, he suggests, “the reunification cannot be realized by means of the automatic inclusion of the republics of the USSR into the Russian Federation.” And on the other, he says, it would be “desirable” if the social system of the new country would be of “a progressive” rather than capitalist type.
Citing Max Weber’s observation that “politics is the art of the possible,” Chernyakhovsky says that the possible becomes possible as a result of an act of will by those involved. “The misfortune” at present, he says, “is not that the peoples do not want reunification. The misfortune is that the USSR did not experience ‘collapse’ but a dividing up.”
That country “was parceled out by regional elites acting according to their will and against the will of the people,” Chernyakhovsky concludes. “And today it is the will of these elites [and not of the Russian people] which prevents reunification” – although the nationalist writer does not choose to discuss how non-Russian peoples and non-Russian elites think.

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