Perhaps even more significant is the bemused reaction of most Russians. After all, Shelin continues, one could not find “one in a million officials” who hasn’t said the same thing or told negative anecdotes about the leadership just as was the case in Soviet times under Khrushchev and even under Stalin.
All of this taken together, he suggests, is “a sign of a new social phenomenon which promises to become massive.” In tsarist times, it was called “insulting majesty” and severely punished. It was punished as well in Soviet times. And officials even know are certainly pondering how to punish it especially given how widespread this trend has become.
“Anti-Putin statements … are nothing new. But for two decades, they were almost the monopoly of professional opposition figures, members of the intelligentsia, mostly far from young and most often living in the capitals.” Youths in the provinces weren’t given to making such remarks. But now it turns out they are.“Here is why: the popularity of Vladimir Putin has fallen now to historical lows,” Shelin continues; and it has done so remarkably quickly, something obvious “to the unaided eye” and confirmed by polls, including several recent ones by the Public Opinion Foundation which isn’t given to running down Putin ().
In its latest survey, that polling agency found that the share of those who trust Putin “without qualifications” had fallen from 43 percent in March to 25 percent now, while the share who “distrust him without qualifications” had risen from seven percent to 17 percent – not a majority but no longer something marginal either.
According to the pollsters, there remains “only one age group in which almost all praise the leader and approve his work – those who are over 60.” That explains the divide between the Krasnoyarsk teacher and her students. But among young people (aged 18 to 30), the positive for Putin figure was only 39 percent while the negative was 18 percent.
By Western standards, Shelin says, “Putin’s position remains strong.” But the Kremlin expects criticism only in limited amounts and only from the usual suspects, not from the provinces and not from those it has long expected will either support the regime or at least refrain from criticizing it.
If the Russian powers that be were rational, they would either ignore such comments or change policies in directions that would make it less likely that people would express them, Shelin says. But if they act as they are accustomed to and use repression against those, he suggests, the Russian people will respond by expressing their lack of trust even more boldly.