Thursday, September 2, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Sociological Polls a Poor Substitute for Real Ones, Moscow Analysts Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 2 – President Dmitry Medvedev says that governors appointed by Moscow will be evaluated by how various groups in the population of their regions view them and their work, but Moscow analysts say that such sociological polls are a poor substitute for real elections of the kind Vladimir Putin ended when he was president.
In an article entitled “Sociology instead of Elections,” Alisa Vedenskaya and Ivan Rodin of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” survey the recent history of the Kremlin’s efforts to use polling data rather than polls, an approach that apparently cost Gyorgy Boos his position in Kaliningrad and one that serves notice to others (
The two journalists also talked to several sociologists. One, Larisa Pautova of the Public Opinion Foundation, suggested that the Kremlin would not need to do its own polling as organizations like hers already are conducting surveys concerning how people in various regions view Kremlin-installed officials. “There is no need to reinvent the bicycle,” she suggested.
But others were critical of the very idea. Igor Yurgens of the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Development said that sociological polls could never have the same value as free elections. “there is no other correct means of finding out what the population wants,” he argued, “besides free elections.”
At the same time, however, Yurgens allowed that in “depressed and North Caucasus regions where the risk of the manipulation of the results of electoral campaigns is great, then the results can be a Pyrrhic victory of democracy. But to look for a way out by means of quasi-electors by measuring public opinion [with sociological polls] is also doubtful” in value.
Meanwhile, yesterday carried an extensive interview with Emil Pain, head of the Moscow Center of Ethno-Political Research, about some more general questions concerning the often complicated relationship between the powers that be and social scientists in the Russian Federation (
Pain, who began his career in Soviet times as a student of ethnic patterns in Uzbekistan at the same time that the late Galina Starovoitova was studying the settlement of Tatars in Leningrad, describes the complicated ways in which political science has emerged over the last two decades, sometimes working with the powers that be and sometimes at odds with them.
And he outlines the way he and other Russian scholars have sought to integrate themselves into these disciplines even as they focused on Russian experiences. That experience helps explain why he dislikes the term “special path” for Russia because as Pain insists “it is not ‘special’ and it is not ‘a path’” either.
But obviously, officials even when they have their own policies sometime attempt to make use of the findings of Russian scholars, Pain continues. That creates problems for some, but he says that he is not troubled by this because it is inevitable and because his task is to do research and attempt to ask and answer the right questions.
As a result, Pain concludes, he is “not afraid of responsibility” because first of all “every science has arisen and then developed above all from interest and curiosity and not only from use alone,” but at the same time, he would be somewhat “ashamed” if his research were used for “the self-preservation of the regime.”

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