Friday, December 28, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Russians are Disturbed by Their Increasing Diversity, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 28 – Valery Fedorov, director general of the VTsIOM polling agency, says that the people of the Russian Federaaation “have become a much more ‘varied’ and heterogeneous society,” a development that frightens many of them and leads them to want “unification and the destruction of this diversity.”

            In an interview taken by Vladimir Rudakov and posted on the “Profile” portal yesterday, Fedorov compared the situation in the late Soviet Union when his polling agency was founded in 1987 and the very different situation in the Russian Federation in the year just passed (,

            Asked to compare the situation among Russians in 1987 and that among them now, Fedorov that in the first year, “despite the total deficit and other daily life problems, it seemed to people that [they] were moving forward to freedom and the light and that in the future all would only be well because the worse was already in the past.”

            In short, that was a time “of great illusions and great hopes,” but “now [Russians] are experiencing a time of pragmatism,” a time “when no one believes words or hopes either for a great country or a wide party or a far-sighted leader.” Instead, as polls show, people rely on themselves and on “a narrow circle of relatives and the closest friends.”

            In addition, in the earlier year, Fedorov says, Russians “were full of pride for our great power which if not everyone loved at least all took it into account. Yes, we did not have sausages, but we were flying in the cosmos and without us not a single tank in Europe could move from where it was parked.”

            “But today, [Russians] think” that they are not an object of interest for anyone and that “no one takes [them] into account.

            A third change is that earlier people thought that “life whether you liked it or not was more or less understandable and programmed for many decades ahead.  This pleased the majority,” but now, “each creates his own fate and the majority doesn’t like that” because one has to take responsibility for what happens and not complain if things go wrong.”

            Moreover, Fedorov argues, “the ‘higher plan,’ the ideal dimension of thought has disappeared. People in the USSR thought that one had to live for the achievement of high ideals, for building things up.” But “today instead of this, there is emptiness.  The old ideals have been trampled in the dirt, and the new have been discredited.”

            Even more important, the VTsIOM head says, Russians “have become much more ‘varied’ and a more heterogeneous society.  In Soviet times, an engineer and a representative of the party nomenklatura lived on more or less the same amount of money.” But  now “class and property” differentiation has “grown sharply.”

            Initially, Russians reacted to this with irony as with their talk about “new Russians” in the 1990s. But now, this variety has become fixed and it offends many.” Consequently, many feel a pull toward “unification and toward the destruction or at least the reduction or camouflage of this diversity.”

            “It has turned out,” Fedorov says, that “society is afraid of itself, of its varied and internal differentiation.” On the one hand, many are angry about a regime that has allowed this diversity to emerge. But on the other, others see any push for change as reflecting not society as a whole but only narrow group interests.

            The regime has been able to exploit that attitude and the fact that federal elections will not take place for another four years. The protest leaders cannot wait, and they must thus work for change outside of the electoral system.  The only way they can succeed is if the authorities fail to appear to respond to broad social demands or if they make serious mistakes.

            That explains, Fedorov concludes, why the Kremlin is now working to present itself as a serious opponent of corruption, and it also explains why the population wants someone to be punished, albeit “not in the spirit of 1937.” Which side is going to win out depends then on the accidents of history rather than on some easily identifiable long-term trend.

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