Friday, April 29, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Little Possibility of Social Explosions in Russia, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, April 29 – At the present time, Lev Gudkov, the head of the independent Levada Center polling agency says, there is “neither the possibility nor the potential” in the Russian Federation for the kind of social and political explosions which continue to occur throughout the Arab world.

In an article on the “Osobaya bukhva” portal yesterday, Gudkov says that “the Russian middle class, despite concerns about losing everything is loyal to the regime” and generally lacks any capacity for solidarity and action,, preferring “as before” to place its hopes in the state (

And “the main mass of the population,” the sociologist continues, is not likely to rise in protest either because its members are “very conservative” and “depressed” -- even if they are also “poor” because like the middle class they fear losing what they have more than they hope to achieve something more.

According to the pollster, “about 80 percent of [the Russian] population considers that one should not trust people around them and that one must be very careful [even] in talking” about problems. Consequently, “they believe and are concerned only about those closest to them” rather than identifying with a larger group or class.

All this makes the situation in Russia very different from that in the Arab world, Gudkov argues. “There, the breakthrough has been achieved on the basis of the appearance, at least in Egypt, of educated people, [whom one could] conditionally call the middle class [and who] did not find a place for themselves or see a future for themselves under the ruling dictatorship.”

As a result, and precisely because of “modernization processes,” groups were formed which felt themselves without prospects and who thus decided to act to advance their own collective interests against those of the state. But the situation in Russia is “different,” and thus, Gudkov says, he “does not see” many chances for “mass uprisings and social explosions.”

And this is the case, he continues, even though there is “chronic dissatisfaction” among many groups. That is because while they are unhappy about this or that situation, most Russians are far more willing to put their trust in the state to solve their problems than they are to trust others in society and work together to improve conditions on their own.

Many in fact, “do not even imagine how a better life might be possible,” Gudkov says. “They understand Soviet life and Soviet forms of organization.” The ongoing degradation of social infrastructure angers them but what they want is for the state to solve their problems. As a result, their dissatisfaction “is not destructive for the regime.” Rather the reverse.

In principle, the pollster continues, what is called the middle class could be a source of change, “if it really understood the growing threat to its existence” – “instability, the absencxe of new institutions, independent courts, media freedom .. and access to political activity,” “all that Russians “today are deprived of.”

“But the risks [involved in seeking those things] are too great in the consciousness of this narrow stratum, [and] therefore opportunism arises,” an opportunism limited both by fear of losing one’s position and the possibility of leaving rather than changing the situation inside Russia itself.

Gudkov then focuses on what he calls “one really interesting problem” – the passivity of university students. On the one hand, he says, many of these people are getting many of the things they want; and on the other, many are opportunists, something that “paralyzes political solidarity and the political activity of this group.”

Were a protest to arise among them, the Levada Center leader says, it would “however strange this might seem take the form of conservative-nationalis[m].” Many students, “especially those from the provinces,” are filled with “nationalistic resentments” and envy” for “rich America and the Russian oligarchs.”

Moreover, he says, many of them suffer from “a complex of incompleteness caused by the collapse of the USSR, a sense of national incompleteness,” most strongly expressed outside of the capitals because people there have fewer prospects, their instructors are from soviet times, “and there are very few new people and new ideas.”

The Russian state is inclined to “support and provoke such attitudes through a system of propaganda and instruction,” offering “an eclectic mix of old prejudices, Orthodoxy, imitation fundamentalism, and ideological boilerplate of Soviet times” rather than promoting new ideas and new directions.

An instructive finding of polls in this regard, Gudkov says, is that 78 percent of the population of the Russian Federation considers themselves to be Orthodox, but only two to five percent go to church regularly and only about 27 percent believe in God, in salvation, and in eternal life.

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