Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Window on Eurasia: ‘Orthodox’ has Replaced ‘Soviet’ in Russian Identity, Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 21 – Russians today believe that to be a “real Russian” one must be “born in Russia, be Orthodox, and respect the existing political system,” according to a survey conducted by the Levada Center. And they overwhelmingly see themselves as distinct from the rest of the world and view themselves as separate from and at odds with Europe.

            Yesterday, Olga Kuzmenkova, a journalist for, reported on the findings of a poll conducted by the Levada Center of 1516 residents of the Russian Federation. She reports that respondents overwhelmingly believe that “true Russians” must be born in Russia, be a citizen and live out their lives there (

            Respondents also overwhelmingly said that “true Russians” must speak the state language, be Orthodox and respect the existing system of power, views that Levada Center director Lev Gudov said were the result of government propaganda.  “People accept that structure which is given to them.”

            Although the respondents insisted that “true Russians” must be Orthodox, the sociologist said, “only half believe in God” and many fewer practice. Consequently, “Orthodoxy” refers not to belief as such but rather “has become an ethno-confessional synonym of Russianness,” one that performs the same role that “‘soviet’” did earlier.

            Russians’ respect for the state, Gudkov continued, reflects the fact that “in the consciousness of the Russian, it is precisely the state which defines the society and not the other way around” as is the case in Europe. 

            Russians are extremely patriotic, he observed, with 70 percent saying that they believe that “it is better to be a citizen of Russia than one in any other country.” But he also noted that “this indicator has not changed over the course of the last 16 years,” an observation that calls into question some recent commentaries.

            Only 11 percent of Russians feel “very strongly” that they are connected with Europe, a figure that has fallen over time.” For Russian self-consciousness,” Gudkov said, “the relationship to Europe or to the West is extraordinarily significant.” This distancing of Russians from Europe thus points to a major shift in how Russians view the world.

            What Russians have done, the sociologist observed is to resolve an internal contradiction that many of them felt 20 years ago.  Then, they wanted to be more like Europe. Now, they are more content at least to “deny” that that is what they would like to do.  A “second model” of identity is thus emerging.

            And what is happening is this, Gudkov concluded. Ever more popular is the notion that Russians are “special, have a special path, are not like the others, not the West or Asia,” that they are “Orthodox” and “not like Western people with their cold calculations and formalism” but rather “warm and spiritual.

            To a certain extent, the Levada Center research added, “this is also a mechanism of isolationism, of stressing one’s specialness relative to the external world and especially to more developed countries.” In short, this attitude converts what had been seen as a shortcoming into something vastly more positive – and thus far easier to accept and maintain at least internally.

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