Vienna, April 11 – More than three out of four Russians now say that their country is a great power, a dramatic turnaround from 1999 when only 14 percent agreed with that notion, but many of them tell pollsters that even now Russia lacks many of the characteristics needed to gain respect from other countries.
If the former judgment is testimony to Vladimir Putin’s efforts to promote a revived self-confidence among Russians, the latter one suggests that the boost he clearly gave to Russian feelings may have shallower foundations than many now think and could falter if conditions do not improve or take a long time to do so.
In a survey of data on how Russians see themselves and their country in the current issue of the Levada Center’s “Vestnik obshchestvennogo mneniya,” Lev Gudkov offers a wide variety of data, but among the most striking concern the shift in Russian attitudes about the status of their country and continuing concerns about whether it has the features needed to gain respect.
Both the turnaround in Russian views about the status of their country as a great power and the volatility of the numbers pollsters have found are intriguing. According to Gudkov, polls found that in 1999 only 14 percent of Russians sampled considered their country to be a great power, with 72 percent disagreeing (www.polit.ru/research/2010/04/07/timehistory.html)
In 2003, the relationship between those positions jumped to 50 percent viewing Russia as a great power and 41 percent saying now. In 2004, Gudkov continues, the relationship was 39 percent yes compared to 58 percent no; in 2005, 30 percent versus 67 percent; in 2006, 43 percent and 52 percent; and in 2008, 76 percent compared to 19 percent.
On the one hand, the growth in Russian self-confidence in the power of their country during the years of Putin’s presidency is striking. But on the other, the volatility of this measure suggests that views about this among Russians may be less deeply held than the current prime minister and many others assume.
Gudkov provides additional information as context, reporting the responses of Russians concerning the relative status of their country compared to other countries. In 2000, 50 percent of Russians agreed with the statement that “Russia lags behind the majority of advanced countries in development.” In 2008, only 29 percent said that.
In 2000, he notes, 10 percent of Russians agreed with the statement that “Russia always was among the first and has not yielded that role.” In 2008, 20 percent thought so. And in 2000, 34 percent agreed with the assertion that “Russia is developing according to its own special path and should not be compared with others.” In 2008, 46 percent took that position.
But perhaps the most intriguing data concern Russian responses concerning what a country ought to have to attract the respect of other countries and whether Russia has those qualities or not. Gudkov provides information from 1997, 2003, and 2006 on eight different qualities that a country might have.
In 1997, 31 percent of Russians said that a country should have “a high level of well-being among its citizens” to attract international respect, but only two percent said Russia could claim that. In 2003, the corresponding figures were 33 percent and four percent, and in 2006, they were 30 percent and three percent.
In 1997, 14 percent of Russians said that “a high level of development of science and technology” was a requirement for respect, but only two percent said their country had such a level. In 2003, these figures were 15 percent and four percent; and in 2006, they were 16 percent and four percent.
In 1997, 13 percent of Russians said “military strength and nuclear arms” were a basis for international respect; and an equal share said Russia had that. In 2003, 19 percent said that was a requirement, and 19 percent said Russia had these qualities. And in 2006, 18 percent said that this was a requirement, with 20 percent saying Russia had that capacity.
In 1997, the Levada Center analyst continued, nine percent of Russians said “observing human rights” was important in this regard, but only two percent said Russia did so. In 2003, these figures were eight percent and one percent; and in 2006, they were eight percent and two percent.
In 1997, eight percent of Russians said that having “a highly developed culture” attracted support, but only half that share said Russia did so; In 2003, these figures were seven and four, and in 2006, eleven and six.
In 1997, six percent of Russians said that having natural resources was important in this regard, while 23 percent said that Russia had them, figures that changed to six and 22 in 2003 and eight and 32 in 2006. A similar pattern was observed concerning territory, where the paired figures were two and eight, one and seven and two and eleven.
Gudkov notes that in 1997, 25 percent of Russians said that “Russia does not attract respect in the world,” a figure that fell to 18 percent in 2003 and 10 percent in 2006. At the same time, the percentage of those who agree that “Russia must preserve for itself the role of a great power” rose from 78 percent in 1999 to 86 percent in 2008.”
These data and others Gudkov offers provide a rich source for interpretation, but three aspects of his presentation stand out. First, Russians do feel different about their country overall than they did before Putin came to power, but their attitudes have changed more than their sense of where their country is.
Second, his article shows that if Russian attitudes have been relatively febrile, their views about what is important for a country to have to gain respect have not changed nearly as much or as rapidly. And third, their interest in acquiring a Western lifestyle has grown even as more Russians say they want their country to pursue its own course.