Staunton, August 5 – At the end of 2012, economic geographer Natalya Zubarevich suggested that there are now “four Russias – the country of large cities, the country of mid-sized industrial cities, the country of small population centers and also the country of the North Caucasus and the south of Siberia (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2011/12/30/chetyre_rossii discussed at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2012/01/window-on-eurasia-existence-of-four.html).
The Moscow scholar said that although the Russian periphery outnumbered the big cities, the share of brainpower in the cities not only is higher but is growing and that “sooner or later” “’the first Russia’ will win out. That held until 2014 when the annexation of Crimea obliterated most of differences of “the four Russias,” Denis Volkov says (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/183354).
This unification of opinion occurred so quickly and was so dramatic, the deputy director of the Levada Center says, that it quickly was christened “the Crimean consensus.” But like all such apparent unities, this one has been coming apart, and the four Russias have re-emerged with a vengeance.
“The modernized portion of the population today relates to the powers that be and the president significantly worse” than the other Russias: 49 percent of Moscow residents, 44 percent of all Russians aged 25 to 39, and 41 percent of all highly educated ones now don’t want Vladimir Putin to remain as president when his current term ends in 2024, the latest poll shows.
“It is characteristic,” Volkov says, “that todays’ breaks pass along the lines which Natalya Zubarevich designated in 2011, between the major cities and the periphery, between the more educated and the less so, between older people and younger ones.”
Dissatisfaction with Putin is “concentrated in the capital,” the sociologist continues; but another part of the population where the Kremlin leader is unpopular is among young people between 25 and 40. Even slightly older people who have suffered the most from the pension reform are less anti-Putin than are the young.
Obviously, the continuing decline in the standard of living over the last five years is a major driver of this, Volkov says; but in addition, focus group discussions suggest that ever more people, especially in the major cities are beginning to voice dissatisfaction “with things of a non-economic character.”
Many people are upset about Russia’s isolation and about tensions in relations with the rest of the world, problems that they blame the Russian leadership for. “Normal relations with the West are especially important for young urbanites” who are the most affected by Western culture.
Younger Russians are also angry at the authorities for seeking to limit access to the Internet, a fool’s errand they feel given how easy it is to get around the obstructions the regime has put in place. The blocking of Telegram and censorship of music and films have outraged them, the Levada Center sociologist says.
In sum, what we are seeing, he suggests, is “the return of the old contradictions in views between Russia-1 (the country of major cities) and the periphery.” The Crimean consensus between them has broken down. “And this means that the principles about which Natalya Zubarevich wrote in 2011 are again in force.”
Moreover, Volkov adds, “over the last eight years,” Russia has change. In 2011, there were 12 millionaire cities; now there are 15 with three more knocking on the door. Then, only a quarter of the population lived in them; now a third does.” And the number of Internet users has doubled, while the share of TV viewers has fallen by 25 percent.
There is a growing sense that civil society is reemerging and gaining strength, he continues. This has been shown by the ability of opposition candidates to gather signatures to run, by the fight over the cathedral plans in Yekaterinburg, and “the liberation of journalist Ivan Golunov under pressure of society.”
“In other words,” he concludes, “the weight of the more modernized and free part of the population has been growing non-stop.” So far, the powers that be have been able to keep things in order from their point of view “with the help of police methods.” But – and this is what matters – “the spirit of freedom is already very much in the air.”