Monday, February 21, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Still Only One Russian in Five Shares European Values, Study Finds

Paul Goble

Staunton, February 21 – Only just over one in five Russians shares European values and their number has not increased significantly over the last 15 years, a pattern that makes the emergence of democracy in that country anytime soon almost impossible, according to an assessment of a major cross-national study of values recently published in Moscow.

But these 22 percent, V.S. Magun and M.G. Rudnyev write in an article in “Obshchestvennyye nauki i Sovremennost’,” have more in common with French and Swedish citizens than they do with the remaining 78 percent of the population of the Russian Federation (

An appreciation of their massive and detailed 24,000-word cross-national investigation has now been provided by Pavel Pryanikov in an articled posted online yesterday on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal entitled “Why the Construction of Democracy in Russia is Impossible” (

Pryanikov begins his essay by observing that with only a year until the elections, President Dmitry Medvedev has changed the focus of his public speeches from modernization and reforms to comments suggesting that Russians must not “rock the boat,” that he personally is “disappointed in the [Russian] people,” and that he has concluded he must use “the Stick.”

This shift, Pryanikov says, reflects Medvedev’s experiences and his perusal of various sociological studies prepared for him and other Russian leaders. Among the most important and most accessible, the Moscow writer says, is the work of Magun and Rudnyev, who found that only”an insignificant minority – 22 percent” – of Russians “share the values” of Europe.

Among these values are “an openness to change” rather than a desire for order above all things. But what is especially interesting in this report is that these “’Russian Europeans’ are equally distributed by profession and territory of the country, undercutting the thesis of many intellectuals that ‘life exists only inside the Garden Ring in Moscow.’”

“For the Russian,” Magun and Rudnyev write, “in comparison with residents of other countries is characteristic a higher level of caution (or even fear0 Nad a requirement for defense from the side of a strong state, a weakly expressed desire for innovation, creativity, freedom and independence, and a small inclination to risk and striving for happiness and satisfaction.”

“But at the same time,” they say, “one is speaking about [the Russians’] strong striving to wealth and power ... A strong orientation toward personal self-assertion leaves in the consciousness of this person less than among representatives of other countries any place for concern about equality and justice in the country and the world.”

In short, Pryanikov notes, the 78 percent of Russians who do not share European values recall “personages from the novels of Saltykov-Shchedrin.”

This is far from the most devastating conclusion of the sociologists, at least from the point of view of those like Medvedev who have suggested they would like modernization. Magur and Rudnyev note that “unlike many other ‘transit’ countries, in the course of the 15 years of the investigation there has not been a significant change” in these values among Russians.”

Another Russian investigator, Sergey Magril, reaches similar conclusions, Pryanikov notes. In an article in “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Magril writes that “the macro-social strategies of the basic social groups of contemporary Russian society are again directed at its disorganization and therefore at its disintegration” (

As a result, and unlike in Europe where the level of inter-personal trust is in the 80-85 percent range, in Russia, this is at the level of only 24 percent, making cooperation difficult if not impossible, all the more so because “on the order of 80 percent o fhte respondents,” feeling they have no impact on decisions, “do not take responsibility for what is taking place in the country.”

But unlike Magun and Rudnyev, Magril insists that both the political elite and the intelligentsia bear responsibility for this because each has failed to promote or even reflect the very values its members say they value and that are necessary for modernization and democratization.

They have not challenged the kind of patron-client relationships that scholars like Ernest Gellner has described, relationships that are, as Pryanikov notes, “a typical description of somekind of medieval pirate republic” rather than a modern democracy of the kind Moscow says it wants.

Russia’s Social Chamber, Pryanikov continues, have reached the same conclusions as the scholars in its 2010 report, finding that roughly three-quarters of all “Russians consider the basic mass of their fellow citizens as alien people,” with whom it is impossible to trust or cooperate (

Pryanikov concludes with words that are likely to disturb many. In Soviet times, he notes, students were told that a revolution is approaching when “those above cannot, and those below do not want.” What remains an open question is “do the Russians [of the lower social strata who are not Europeanized] want?”

For the time being, it appears clear, the “Svobodnaya pressa” writer says, that they have not figured out what they want besides being left alone. And in that situation, he suggests, Russian can continue “for a very long time yet,” something that some in the elite appear to hope for and that many of the Europeanized strata fear.

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