Monday, June 1, 2020

Pandemic has Shifted from Opportunity to Threat for Kremlin, Higher Schools of Economics Scholars Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 30 – The onset of the coronavirus pandemic gave the Kremlin the opportunity to tighten the screws on Russian society under its cover, but now because the pandemic has continues so long and because the response of the powers that be has proved to be inadequate, what was an opportunity has become a threat to the elite, HSE scholars say.

            The Higher School of Economics released two reports about this evolution in Russian attitudes and the state of play between the powers and the people this week, one by its sociologists and the second under the direction of economist Mikhail Dmitriyev. Their results, Republic says, are “sensational” (

            On the one hand, the sociologists report that a large share of Russians either don’t believe in the pandemic at all or think it was something invented to harm their country – and they have such views despite all the evidence before their eyes that the coronavirus and its consequences are very, very real.

            And on the other, Dmitriyev says that Russians have displayed in the course of this crisis a very different pattern than in crises in the past. Atypically, he observes, “aggressive attitudes toward the authorities, interest in political life, and demands for change in the political system all sharply rose” as the pandemic has continued.

            The explanation for this, he suggests, is that “the quarantine is above all a change in the balance of time people have. Many everyday activities on which they had spent time have simply disappeared. And what has taken their place is a time to think.” Russians are thinking and their thoughts must be of concern to the powers that be.

            As the Republic portal points out in reporting Dmitriyev’s words, this observation might not seem so unusual if it came from an opposition politician or a foreign commentator. But instead, it comes from a senior scholar who has routinely been proved right in his judgments about the Russian people and the powers.

            For two decades, commentators have suggested that stability in Russia is based on “an unwritten but strictly observed pact” between Putin and society: “We delegate to him our rights and freedoms, and it provides us with economic growth.”  When that is impossible, he offers at least the pleasures of nationalism as after Crimea.

            But when both of these things have faded and when people have the chance to ask themselves what is going on, the entire “marriage” is at risk.  As Dmitriyev’s colleague, Anastasiya Nikolskaya says, the situation is ripe for a divorce.  But the powers don’t want to agree – they would be left with nothing -- and that means family violence will likely increase.

            Possibly on the part of both sides. 

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