Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Indifference Not Support ‘Foundation’ of Putin’s Regime, Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 30 – A majority of Russians today does not feel any sympathy for the Putin regime or is not prepared to show any “active support” or “active opposition” to it, according to Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Center. Instead, they manifest a kind of “inert indifference” about those in power and focus instead on their more immediate needs.

            This reflects the new reality in Russia, the independent sociologist told Galina Mursaliyeva of “Novaya gazeta” that they do not feel that they have any chance to “do something” about the power structures and thus have little or no willingness “to participate in political life” (

            But that widespred popular indifference to what goes on at the top of the Russian political pyramid, combined with the willingness of some segments of the Russian population to say they favor this or that act of the regime, however repressive, provides “a foundation” of a sort “for the existing powers that be.”

            Indeed, Gudkov suggested, the Kremlin, provided as it is with reassuring data by government-employed polling agencies who are prepared to skew the data to show what they know is wanted, probably “does not understand” just how little real support it has and remains “convinced that people need a great and powerful state at any price.”

            Mursaliyeva began her interview by asking Gudkov to explain why his agency found so much lower support for Putin’s law prohibiting the adoption of Russian orphans by foreigners than did other agencies. He noted that “sociological agencies working for the authorities put questions which push people toward the required answer” and not to the truth.

            Recalling that the Levada Center found two years ago that “85 percent of Russians consider that they cannot influence the situation in the country” and that this represented “the complex of a prisoner,” the “Novaya” journalist asked if the situation had changed and that support for protest had increased.

            Gudkov responded that the fundamental situation had not changed and that his center’s polls show that “the absolute majority of people do not see any prospects [for affecting change] and that they do not have any idea about the future of the country or even about the future of their own families.”

            With regard to the political sphere, he continued, it has been “sterilized: there are no discussions, no competition, and the entire sphereof the future has been absolutely closed.”  That has led people to choose to focus on the present “without hoping for anything from the authorities” and “without a future.”

             The “main trend” among Russians, Gudkov said, is a focus on the family and on “the possibility of consumption: everyone want to eat better, dress better, and acquire more. A consumer society has begun to appear, something that didn’t exist earlier.” But that does not mean that a middle class in the Western sense has emerged. It hasn’t.

            That is clear from the results of open-ended surveys about what are the most important events of the year: Most name disasters, then various government ceremonies, then corruption scandals, and only in fourth place are opposition protests. “Social activismhas been suppressed, as has the meaning of a common life” broader than the individual and his family.

            Over the past 20 years, Gudkov says, “people in the country of course hve begun to live more confidently, but their horizons” have not expanded. A majority simply doesn’t have any notion about even the mid-range future, living instead “from paycheck to paycheck, from pension to pension with a very short horizon.”

            Russia’s “consumer society” is thus quite different from its Western counterpart, Gudkov says, because “there people owe their well-being to their own efforts” and thus have reasons to be motivated about what they want for the future.  In Russia, such “motivations are weak because one’s professional status is little connected with income and way of life.”

            “In other words,” the sociologist continued, “salary or earnings depend to a grat extent on one’s position in the power structures rather than on the quality of your work.” That leads to a situation in which people by a three to one majority view the authorities now as acting only in their own interests. As a result, “politics is an absolutely discredited sphere.”

            Russin citizens at present do not want and cannot participate in it, he said, because they do not feel themselves to be citizens,” the result of “the falsification of elections, the increasingly harsh repression, ccensorship in the mass media, and also fabricated cases against opposition leaders.”

            About 30 percent of the population will say that they support harsh measures in order to “preserve order and stability.” Most of these are the elderly and those who live in the villages and today that is “Putin’s base.” Even when people understand tht, he continued, they don’t want to personally get involved in protests because they don’t believe such actions will matter.

            Russians are prepared for “moral protest,” but that is about attitudes not about actions, Gudkov suggested.  And without such actions, it does not constitute a threat to the regime.  What it does produce, however, is an individual entirely suitable to be managed.Such an individual “doesn’t believe anyone, wants to consume” and doesn’t care much about rules.

            For him, “corruptioin is not a moral problem, but a technical task of reaching agreement about interests and thus a more or less effective mechanism of interacting with the authorities.”  Such attitudes open that individual up to manipulation and certainly mean that he will not protest against the powers that be.

            Some Russians – approximately one in five -- will say what the regime wants to hear, that they want “a powerful military power.”  But 78 percent say that what they want is “a comfortable live in which in the first place are the interests of the individual, his well-being and the opportunities for development.”
            If Gudkov’s analysis is correct, the Putin regime does not realize just how few supporters it has, but at the same time, the regime’s opponents from whatever part of the political spectrum currently have little chance to mobilize a population little concerned with political issues for political ends.

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