Monday, April 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russians Want Stability Even If Things Are Not Going Well, Polls Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 15 – In January 1917, Lenin thought that he and members of the older generation of revolutionaries might not live to see a revolution but by the end of that year, he and the Bolsheviks were in power in Petrograd. Now, the Russian opposition believes that there must be radical change, but polls suggest that most Russians don’t agree with them.

            Instead, Gennady Gudkov, an opposition figure himself, argues in today’s “Moskovsky komsomolets,” the Russian people want stability and continuity even if the trends are bad, a pattern that explains the Kremlin’s optimism about its ability to survive for many years to come and requires that the optimism revise its optimism and timetable for change.

            “For all thinking people in Russia it is clear that the need for change in the country’s leadership is becoming the main social trend,” Gudkov observes, but polls show that there is no basis for “this euphoria” in the population as a whole (

            He says that he has been studying a volume of sociological studies conducted in the Moscow region which he believes “very often reflects” the pattern of attitudes throughout the Russian Federation. And what those studies suggest that the Russian people want stability above everything else and that they are grateful to Vladimir Putin for giving it to them.

            This seems inexplicable to most opposition figures, he continues, but the reality is that the more the government steals form the people and denigrates them, “the stronger they are attached to those who have power.”  The Kremlin’s sociologists are reporting this, and consequently, the leadership is certain it will “rule many more years.”

            Those in the Kremlin may be right, but history is, Gudkov insists, unpredictable now just as it was in 1917. And consequently, “neither the Kremlin nor its opponent should allow themselves to weaken” because no one can say just when the population will shift and with it the fortunes of the elite and the country.

            But these polls do show where the Russian people are now. On the one hand, such attitudes reflect the age-old “slave complex” in which getting one’s daily portion of bread is “better than freedom.”  But on the other, it reflects the fact that many Russians simply do not know what the condition of the country is – and that suggests a new opposition strategy.

            Most Russians get their news from “’zombified’ and government-controlled” media, he says, and consequently, fewer than half of them know who Mikhail Prokhorov is, fewer than a quarter know who Grigory Yavlinsky is, and fewer than one in six know who Yevgeny chirikov, the mayor of Khimki is.

            And Russian attitudes fully reflect the messages of these mass media outlets: 43 percent want those who take part in meetings and demonstrations to be punished, while only 20 percent are against that. 58 percent favor abandoning orphans rather than letting foreigners adopt them, while only 16.7 percent take the opposite position.

            Moreover, the polls say, 40 percent of Russians are for tight control of the media, with only 20 percent opposed. Just under half want to introduce criminal punishments for slander, while only 11 percent understand that such regulations will make almost everyone afraid to criticize the powers that be.

In addition to the messages of the controlled media,Gudkov continues, “it is also clear that the degradation of education, science and culture have given birth to fools and cynics who are easy to administer.” Moreover, the numbers of the educated are declining because up to 150,000 of them are leaving the country every year.

 All this, the opposition figure says, raises the old Russian question: “What is to be done?”  Gudkov says that first of all, those opposed to the regime have to dispense with the self-serving euphoria of recent months. And second, they need to begin a campaign of “counter-propaganda” to inform the population about the true nature of things.

“Everyone who recognizes that he is not a slave … must help his neighbors, friends, officemates, and fellow travelers on the bus to recognize” the nature of the idiots that their passivity is allowing to remain in place where those people continue to steal and oppress everyone.

            On the Internet and in a few other places there is plenty of material “which unmasks the true nature” of those in power.  Consequently, Gudkov argues, “the arena of struggle for the new Russia must become each apartment, house, hallway, work place, bus stop, smoking place, and hairdressers.”

            That will be a long and hard struggle, he says, but victory requires acknowledging that “today we are losing the unequal battle for hearts and minds to the authorities.”  Now, the opposition must “cease being snobs and begin to speak in an accessible language” in order to reach the population. 

            There is reason to hope that things can change if the opposition does, Gudkov concludes.  Indeed, the polls provide some evidence that there is a basis for moving forward.  But the victory the opposition seeks will not take place easily or tomorrow. But he insists, it will inevitably happen if the opposition begins to work rather than just to talk about itself.

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