Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Muscovites Somewhat More Xenophobic than Russians Elsewhere, Polls Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 14 – Muscovites are more xenophobic than are Russians living elsewhere in the Russian Federation, a pattern that means that Sergey Sobyanin’s appeal to such attitudes may help him in his race for mayor of the Russian capital, according to the director of the SOVA Analytic Center.

            In an article in today’s “Vedomosti,” Aleksandr Verkhovsky says, analyzes the results of a May 2013 ROMIR poll which surveyed 1,000 people in Russia and 600 in Moscow about their feelings about nationality issues (

            While 85 percent of the Russians outside of Moscow agreed with the statement that “the Russian people ought to play the leading role in the Russian state,” 95 percent of Muscovites told the ROMIR sociologists that they supported that idea.  Outside the capital 60 percent of Russians backed the slogan “’Russia for the Russians,’” but in Moscow, 64 percent did.

Moreover, Verkhovsky reported, while 56 percent of those outside the ring road said it was time to “’stop feeding the Caucasus,’” 73 percent of residents of the capital said that it was. In the Far East, the ROMIR poll found only 36 percent agreed with that idea.

According to the SOVA analyst, 39 percent of Russians understand Russians “by nationality” as being equivalent to Russians “by blood,” while 30 percent take a less “biological” view, and 25 percent are prepared to consider as Russians all the citizens of the Russian Federation.

Verkhovsky points to three other intriguing findings of the poll. First, it found that Russians are ever less drawn to the idea of restoring the empire: 36 percent accept the current borders, 21 percent would like the addition of Slavic areas, and another 21 percent want the borders to be those of the USSR. Only 13 percent back separating out the North Caucasus.

Second, 63 percent of Russians say they are part of a Eurasian world, while only 3 percent say that Russia belongs to European civilization, even though few see the West as an enemy – less than five percent – or even an opponent – less than 20 percent. Sixty percent view the West as a partner. And third, Russians are increasingly view the main threat to be from the south rather than the West.

But Verkhovsky devotes most of his attention to the issue of immigrants and Russian attitudes about them. According to the ROMIR poll, “a little more than half agree that the low paying work of the immigrants is something Russia needs while a little less than half think that migrants often do not make” a positive contribution to Russia.

Muscovites tell pollsters that they are slightly more prepared than are other Russians to say that they favor expelling immigrants, 53 percent to 43 percent. But Verkhovsky suggests that such declarations need to be examined critically because many who say they favor such steps might not be prepared to follow up with actions.

Indeed, the ROMIR poll itself found that “in xenophobic Moscow,” 89 percent of the sample was prepared to ban ultra-nationalist groups, 16 percent more than among Russians outside the capital. That suggests that Russians in both places could be led in a more positive direction than Sobyanin and other political leaders are currently doing.

It is still not too late for them to change direction and help Russians to do so as well, but Verkhovsky suggests he is far from optimistic.  For such a shift to happen, he says, there would have to be among officials “a recognition of the growing danger and a willingness to reconsider their own approaches,” neither of which appears to be on offer.

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