Friday, June 22, 2018

Russian Median Incomes Now Far Below What It Takes to Be Middle Class


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – The median income of Russians is currently 26,500 rubles (440 US dollars) a month, far below the 121,000 rubles (2000 US dollars) needed to be middle class in Moscow or even the 60,000 rubles (1,000 US dollars) to meet that standard in most of the regions of the country, according to the Analytic Credit Rating Agency (ARKA).

            In a new study, the agency defines “middle class” in Russian conditions as having sufficient funds to buy high-quality goods, own property and a car, save some money, travel abroad, and not have difficulty meeting monthly bills.  Typically, people in this category, it says, either have higher educations or are entrepreneurs (svpressa.ru/society/article/203255/).

            Russian experts accept the findings of this study but dispute its definition of middle class. Andrey Bunich of the Union of Entrepreneurs and Landlords says that it fails to take into account the self-assessment of people: “Many [Russians] consider themselves middle class even though they really aren’t” in terms of income.

            Adding that characteristic to the mix, he says, means that “the total number of people in the middle class [in Russia] can be estimated to be about 20 to 25 percent of the total population.” That is relatively small for a modernized country, but more disturbing, Buich suggests, is the composition of this group.

            Overwhelmingly, it consists of bureaucrats who are dependent on the budget rather than the economy. The number of entrepreneurs is much smaller, perhaps “about five million.” Thus, the regional divergence reflects an unequal distribution of state funds. But overall, it means that the Russian middle class is “absolutely paternalistic” in its thinking.

            That means that its middle class won’t play the same role in Russia that it has in Europe or the United States. Indeed, he suggests, it won’t promote business but rather because of its values retard the development of the economy.

            Sociologist Aleksandr Prudnik agrees, arguing that “the middle class in Russia” consists mostly of bosses rather than those who make a direct contribution to the economy.  And because the middle class in most countries defines the society, that means that the Russian one can’t promote development in the ways many expect.

            But even the size of the middle class in Russia may be a problem, Aleksandr Safronov of the Academy of Labor and Social Relations says.  Russia’s is declining as a share of the population because of the economic crisis and now forms far less than the 40 percent of the population most analysts say is needed for socio-political stability.

            Consequently, he suggests, Russia’s middle class by its nature won’t produce the kind of economic and political development its counterparts have in the West and by its size may even become the basis for instability. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Trolling of Patriarch Kirill Responsible for Declining Public Support for Orthodoxy, Church Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – Over the last 25 years, the percentage of Russians who say they view the dissemination of religious instruction has fallen by almost half, from 61 percent to 36 percent, leading some commentators to suggest that there is now a crisis in the relationship between the Russian people and the Russian Orthodox Church.

            Some blame this on the behavior of priests and senior clergy, behavior that polls show puts Russians off, and others simply on the growing secularization of Russian society, one in which for all the talk about religion, churches remain largely empty and the views of the church ignored.

            But the Moscow Patriarchate itself says there is no problem with its behavior or with the relationship to it of the Russian people. Instead, its officials insist, journalist Anna Popova says, that all the bad press the church gets is the result of an army of trolls that attack the clergy and especially Patriarch Kirill (dailystorm.ru/news/postoyanno-trollyat-patriarha-v-rpc-obyasnili-snizhenie-interesa-k-religii).

            Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, head of the Patriachate’s commission on the family, the defense of motherhood and childhood and one of the most flamboyant attackers of modernity and defenders of obscurity, says that talk about a crisis of faith in Russia is the work of trolls who know nothing about the church or about Russia.

            In their telling, he says, every priest has a Mercedes, and such reports infuriate many Russians. “The people have acquired the sense of envy.  And it is well-known that the Russian peasant woud like not to acquire a second cow but to see that the cow of his neighbor has died. The Bolsheviks inculcated this and changed the mentality of the people.”

                “There is a whole army of [such] people,” the archpriest says. “They constantly troll the church and the patriarch.” They treat any report about well-off clergy as if the next story would be about Nagasaki or Hiroshima. Indeed, “an entire pleade of such nihilists has arisen who know nothing.”

            According to Smirnov, “the main symbol of their worldview is the Mercedes … Yes, priests sometimes travel in good cars, because those who support them and can give them such vehicles, not new ones but all the same…” He says that he was given a nine-year-old Audi.” It was in good condition, he sold it and then bought a Volkswagen.” It is at least new.

            He argues that “Christianity is the foundation of European culture, and if Russia is a European country, then Russians must know the basics of the faith. Just like, for example, the French. Regardless of whether he believes in God or not, a Frenchman must know the basic commandments and know something about Christianity.” Russians must do the same.

Putin’s Popularity to Decline in Near Term, Lev Gudkov Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – Lev Gudkov, the head of the Levada Center, says that Vladimir Putin’s popularity will decline in the near future because the mobilization effect of his campaign is wearing off and because of the unpopularity of some of the government’s most recent initiatives such as raising the retirement age.

            But at the same time, he tells Deutsche Welle, there is no unified opposition to Putin in Russia. His opponents are “demoralized and divided in part as a result of repressions against civil society and in part as a result of the loss of faith in the possibility of changing anything given the authoritarian regime (profi-forex.org/novosti-rossii/entry1008313043.html).

            Indicative of the rapid fall off in the effect of the election campaign, Gudkov says, is that while in August 2017, 66 percent of Russians wanted Putin to continue in office beyond 2024, today that number “has fallen to 51 percent.”

            According to the sociologist, support for Putin’s remaining in office forever comes mostly from the less educated, the less well-off, and those living in the provinces, all people who are “nostalgic for the Soviet system.” Opposition comes from those more educated, more well to do, and more urban and socially active.

            Most likely, Gudkov continues, those who oppose Putin remaining in office for life “did not take part in the voting in March 2018, having concluded that the pro-Putin hysteria meant that their voices would change nothing.” Moreover, they understood that what occurred in Russia on March 18 wasn’t an election but “an acclamation, an organized consensus.”

            “Such a situation cannot last for long,” he says, “and therefore Putin’s popularity in the near term will begin to fall. That will be more likely because of the negative social background now – the continuing fall in the standard of living and the unpopularity among people of the pension reform which is supported by “fewer than 10 percent of Russians.”

            What is especially striking in recent polls, the Levada Center head adds, is that more Russians want to see an improvement in relations with the West than are concerned about improving the standard of living. Fifty-one percent list improving ties with the West as most important; 45 percent say living standards are.

            This makes perfect sense, he says. “People from their own experience know that he authorities will deceive them and that all Putin’s promises will remain unfulfilled. But confrontation with the rest of the civilized world really frightens them.”