Staunton, November 29 – Neither in Russia nor in the West is there a good understanding of the full dimensions of what is now taking place in Russia, Levada Center director Lev Gudkov say, with people in both places living with illusions that reflect more what they want to believe than the disturbing facts on the ground.
In Russia in particular, the sociologist says in an interview following his receipt of the Kopelev Prize for Freedom and Human Rights, liberals and democrats suffer from “the illusion that the Putin regime is even now falling apart.” That may happen but not soon, Gudkov says (dw.com/ru/глава-левада-центра-гудков-мы-патологоанатомы-демократии/a-41546256).
But neither in Russia nor in the West is there a full appreciation that “the development of events in Russia really is dangerous for the European community. That must be understand with absolute clarity,” the sociologist continues. Unfortunately, in the West too, “economic and political interests are pushing people toward a pragmatic cynicism.”
According to Gudkov, everyone must understand with absolute clarity that Russia today under Vladimir Putin is “a toxic state, a dangerous state, which is maintaining its legitimacy through the provocation of conflicts, the threat of war, and the threat of confrontation.” In this way, it “mobilizes society within Russia in support of the powers that be.”
“This is the single resource the regime has now,” he argues, and that makes for “an extremely dangerous development of the situation.”
More immediately, Gudkov says, the outcome of the March 2018 presidential elections is pre-ordained. There is “a 95 percent probability” that Putin will run and “receive an absolute majority” because no real opponents or competitors like Aleksey Navalny will be allowed to take part in the elections.
The whole game is “an imitation,” what political scientists call “acclamation of the one who has power” rather than the choice of someone new.
“Our task, as my teacher Yury Levada put it is to be a mirror of society.” We must take the temperature of what is going on and then interpret it. Our data rarely are occasions for happiness. “But if we conduct our work honestly, then we have nothing to be ashamed of. Very often we appear as pathologists of democracy. But this too is necessary.”
Arguing that what he is doing is important not only for Russia but for the West, Gudkov says that he and his team are “describing one of the types of repressive regimes, a part of the common work of Western thought, of Western social science analyzing the processes of democratic transit and modernization.”
However he feels about what is happening, the Levada Center director says, he is compelled “to work like a doctor or an analyst, with a certain distance from what is taking place. Otherwise, [he says, he] will become a prisoner of his own illusions and will offer his desires as a substitute for reality, something that very often happens.”