Staunton, December 4 – Since the mid-1990s, Russians have told sociologists that they believe there is a plan, sometimes coming from the West and sometimes from their own leaders to reduce their numbers by two-thirds or more so that those remaining will be able to live a better life, according to Aleksey Levinson.
These beliefs, the Levada Center sociologist argues in the latest issue of “Neprikosnovenny zapas,” need to be taken seriously because they reflect the problems Russians have had in adjusting to post-Soviet reality and the conclusion of many of them that they do not matter to anyone else (magazines.russ.ru/nz/2015/103/4l.html).
And that widespread sense that they are no longer needed by anyone, he continues, is why so many of them are so eager to identify with political projects like “Crimea is Ours” because that appears to them to give them the kind of meaning they had in Soviet times when the state told everyone that they were working for the good of the country.
Levinson says that Russian sociologists began to hear from Russians in focus groups about the supposed existence of this plan in the mid- 1990s and continue to hear about this idea to this day. When the population was declining, many Russians saw this as evidence that the plan existed and was working.
But now that the population as a whole has stabilized or shown slow growth, many Russians have modified this belief and say that the plan is about reducing the number of ethnic Russians – and that the small upticks in the total population are intended to hide the fact of the plan to destroy Russians.
The idea about the intentional reduction in the number of Russians has several variants. Most often, people speak about reducing the Russian population “by a third, sometimes by a third, and in rare cases, they give an exact percentage,” the sociologist reports. Intriguingly, Russians never talk about the elimination of all the population or about this being part of a plan to allow China to settle its people in Siberia or even more of Russia.
Instead, those who belief this say that “the current population of Russia is too large” for its members to live “a good life.” If “the excess” were eliminated, these people say, then “all would go in a “’normal’” way – either because the West wants it that way or because Russian elites do. Often, those who hold this view see the two working together.
Some who believe there is a plan say it consists in keeping the Russian standard of living too low for people to live. Others point to the promotion of family planning as a tactic to implement this plan. And still others suggest that the plan involves transforming all Russians into homosexuals and thus eliminating the possibility of another generation.
Those who accept this idea make the following point: “We aren’t needed for ‘normal’ life; we aren’t suitable for it. We were needed for Soviet life; it ended but we have remained. We don’t fit in.” That logic explains why Russians have come to believe that there is a plan to destroy them as a people.
In Soviet times, almost everyone worked for the state and thus felt themselves part of something larger. With the collapse of the Soviet system, people began to work for others and for themselves; and as a result, Levinson says, they no longer felt part of something larger and then felt they weren’t needed. From that to the idea of a plan to destroy them was a small step.
Russians now refer to only a few people as “government” related and they know that only seven or eight million people are needed to operate the critical oil and gas industry. All the rest are simply redistributing that produced by this minority, and that view also leads people to think they are unnecessary.
Had the transition to capitalism really happened and had the state not continued to play such a large role, Levinson says, it might have been that Russians would come to see themselves as individuals who participate in society and the economy as such along with all other individuals.
But what happened in Russia, he says, was not that. Instead, the state bureaucracy continued to dominate the economy – success depended less on entrepreneurial skills than on relations with the bureaucracy and the power elites – and so those who were outside of this charmed circle also had reason to feel themselves increasingly unnecessary.
“At the beginning of our post-Soviet history, the best career for a young person was that of bandit and then entrepreneur. Now, the best career is considered that of the state employee.” As a result, “not reforms but the transformation of [Russian] life toward its new stratification (in the sense of the total dictatorship of the bureaucracy) has led to a situation in which the majority of those who consider themselves participants in economic and social processes do not feel themselves to be independent subjects.”
But they want to be and grab onto those things that allow them to feel themselves as they did part of something larger that will give them meaning, Levinson says; and when they do not feel that way, they are sure they are superfluous and are going to be done away with for precisely that reason.