Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Soviet Values Re-Intensified Under Putin, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 3 – Because of longstanding Russian cultural and political traditions, the difficulties Russians faced in the decade after 1991, and the efforts of Vladimir Putin to denigrate his immediate predecessor and boost his own brand of authoritarianism, many Soviet-era values re-intensified over the last decade, according to Boris Dubin.

            But despite that pattern, the director of the independent Levada Center says in a 3800-word interview in the current issue of “Vestnik Evropy,” there are reasons to believe that an increasing number of Russians are escaping them and that what he calls “non-Soviet” Russians are likely to play a bigger role in the future (

            Among these values which were in eclipse in 1989-1991, Dubin says, are a belief that the country should have a single paramount leader who will protect the population from the bureaucracy, a lack of faith in any but ad hoc institutions broader than immediate personal ties, and a willingness to think one thing while doing quite another.

            The first of these has allowed and been reinforced by Putin’s authoritarianism, the second has meant that Russians have been unable to escape the historical matrix in which reforms are carried out rapidly and often crudely and then are followed by longer periods of inertia, and the third means that individual anger is typically submerged in a grudging conformity.

             In the course of this wide-ranging interview, Dubin makes numerous observations.  Ten are especially striking.  First, he argues, the model of the Soviet man he and his colleagues have developed includes the idea that these individuals are defined in the first instance by their relationship to and acceptance of a paternalistic power.

            Second, he continues, those imbued with Soviet values see power being “build according to a hierarchy and headed by one man,” someone who “is not a real politician, whose program is not important; and no one evaluates his actions in the category of usefulness or effectiveness.” Instead, this leader “does not any responsibility” for the power he has acquired.

            In 1989-1990, Dubin says, “a large part of the population was against the concentration of power in the hands of one man,” but now Levada Center researchers have found that “the majority of the people support it.” At the same time, people have lost faith in one another and are less willing to “unite and integrate with other people.”

            As a result, Dubin stresses, Russians are not joiners and come together only “as a rule” on an ad hoc basis, a form of interpersonal links that ends when the occasion does, thereby limiting the importance of any of these incipient institutional ties.

                Third, as the Levada Center sociologist notes, “the Soviet man and the early post-Soviet man grew up in conditions of a closed society.” That society was at least in part maintained by the image of an enemy.  In 1990, the enemy declined in salience, “but by the endof the 1990s and in the course of the 2000s, enemies again appeared in the consciousness” of Russians.

            “The main enemy in military, economic and political spheres, albeit in a latent form,” Dubin argues, “continued to be the US for Russians.”

            Fourth, he suggests, his pollsters have found that as in Soviet times, for Russians now, there is a willingness to live with a duality that involves saying one thing and doing another.  He gives as an example the way in which Russians use the word “Rossiyane,” a non-ethnic descriptor introduced by Boris Yeltsin.

            As Yeltsin’s image has become more negative, “people sometimes say ‘Rossiyane’ but say it as if in quotes, as if they are literally citing Yeltsin. (In face, people who populate Russian largely consider themselves ‘Russkiye’ – athough there are among them Jews, Tatars and Armenians, and an enormous number of various assimiltated nations and nationalities.

            Fifth, according to Dubin, “an important parameter of the model of Soviet and post-Soviet man is his negative relatioinship to the basic institutions of society.” He suggests that “the newer and the more formal these iinstiutions are, the less they resemble a collective family, the less they are trusted. That means dissatisfaction has no channel other than grumbling.

            Sixth, Dubin continues, nostalgia is an insufficient explanation. On the one hand, “almost a majority never knew the Soviet system.” And on the other, “at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, the majority of our people (not only in Russia but in all other republics and especially the Baltic ones as well) had a more negative attitude to everything Soviet.”

            Seventh, the reformers of the 1990s bear enormous responsibility for this return to the past. As in earlier episodesof Russian history, the reformers rushed ahead often without thought of the consequences and, not having created longterm institutions, virtually ensured that the populace would be outraged and would turn back to the past.

            Eighth, the Putin regime took over the electronic media and promoted itself by denigrating Yeltsin and re-legitimating the Soviet experience.  Neither Gorbachev nor Yeltsin entirely broke with the past – that was “only one component” of their activity -- but Putin largely eliminated that aspect from his program.

            As a result, Dubin says, “today all forces which worked for a break with the Soviet [system of values] and the overcoming of the Soviet [past] of whatever name – Gorbachev, Yeltsin, reformers, liberals, Gaidar, Chubais, are viewed in extremely negative terms by the majority of the people of Russia.”

            Ninth, there are exceptions, Dubin says, people whom he says he “provocatively call non-Soviet people.” They are the ones who take part in demonstrations. But it is critical to understand who they are: “This [is] not the middle class, not only the intelligentsia, and not only the young.” Rather it consists of those dissatisfied with the system and want openness and responsibility.          

            “The majority of those going into the streets and squares are not the very young,” Dubin says. Instead, they are “people from 25 to 40 who have children growing up, who have achieved something themselves and want to know what the prospects are for their children.” These people, unlike the majority, display “a readiness for solidarity.”

            And tenth, although such people are now in a minority, their values and the working of the Russian system mean, Dubin says, that their role will grow, one in which “the share of Soviet ‘vodka’ inside them will decrease,” even as Russia continues to live “in the shadow” of the totalitarian past.
            Other post-Soviet peoples are going through much the same process, Dubin says, but in some cases, especially the Baltic countries, “the question has been solved” already. But for that to happen, there must be “the will of a majority,” not simply quantitatively but of “those people who create and translate images, take decisions, react to what is taking place, and respond to the activity of the media, schools, and the transmission mechanisms of culture.”

            Russians are not there yet, Dubin concludes, and he observes that “as long as we live in a country where people are more concerned that things not get worse than that they have the chance to get better … then even without knowing it, we will preserve in ourselves the Soviet people” Russians once were.

No comments:

Post a Comment