Thursday, September 19, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russians Deeply Conflicted on Ethnic Issues, Poll Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 19 – Ethnic Russians often hold positions on ethnic issues that are at odds with one another, a reflection of the difficulties of tapping in to such sensitive questions and of real uncertainties among them about themselves, their nation and country, and about other groups.

                At the request of the Norwegian Research Council, the ROMIR polling agency surveyed 1600 people in the Russian Federation in May. More than 90 percent of the respondents were ethnic Russians, and their attitudes as reflected in that poll have now been analyzed by the SOVA Center in Moscow (

            Approximately a third of the entire sample said that inter-ethnic relations in their region were “poor or very poor,” but in Moscow, 47 percent said that was the case. Moreover, most of them had an exaggerated notion of just how many migrants were living among them: More than one in five Muscovites – 23 percent – said that migrants formed “from 60 to 80 percent” of the city’s population.

            Fewer than one in four Russians said that “nationality does not have any significance” as far as intermarriage is concerned, with the most unacceptable as close relatives being Roma (56 percent), Chechens (51 percent), Kyrgyz (51 percent), Azerbaijanis (48 percent), Kazakhs (47 percent), Tajiks (52 percent) and Chinese (53 percent).

            Such negative attitudes were stronger in Moscow than elsewhere, with the “anti-ratings” of these groups being above 60 percent, the poll found. But both Muscovites and Russians as a whole generally said that the values of these groups and those of Russians were “’incompatible.’”

            Those figures while distressing are hardly unexpected, the SOVA commentary says.   But it also noted that “the idea that Russia needs migrants coexists in the headsof the residents of the country with a xenophobically motivated lack of desire to see them.”` More than half say Russia needs migrant workers, but 43 percent support expelling them regardless of their legal status.

            Again, Muscovites stand out in this regard. While a majority say Russia needs migrants, 82 percent want tighter restrictions on them, and 53 percent want to deport   them regardless of status. Seventy-nine percent of residents of the capital oppose giving residence permits to children of migrants, almost 20 percent more than the all-Russian average.

            “Despite the high level of xenophobia in the answer of the respondents, a large percentage of those polled all the same do not approve the activity of ultra-right organizations,” SOVA says.  Nearly three out of four – 73.6 percent – favoring banning skinheads and organizations like RNE.

            But, more than 20 percent of Russians say that “migrants beaten up by Russians typically deserve this,” a figure that rises to 27 percent among the young and to “almost 30 percent” among those aged 29 to 34.

            Nearly 60 percent back the slogan “Russia for the Russians,” with 39 percent declaring that when they “speak of Russian people, they have in mind only ethnic Russians,” although about 25 percent extend the term to all citizens of the Russian Federation.  In Moscow, those who define Russianness narrowly exceeds 43 percent, and among young people there 50 percent.

            “Despite the disapproval of ultra-right organizations,” Russians do support the use of armed Cossack and other patriotic patrols: “Almost 45 percent” do so in the all-Russian sample, and “more than 80 percent” of Muscovites do.

            More than 70 percent identify with Orthodoxy, and more than 60 percent say Islam is a threat to social stability and Russian culture, but only 13 percent favor spinning off the North Caucasus although more than half support the slogan “Stop Feeding the Caucasus.”

            As far as the borders of Russia they would like to see, “only 36 percent are satisfied with the current dimensions of the country,” with 21 percent favoring the inclusion of the other Slavic countries within Russia, and another 21 percent backing a complete return to the borders of the USSR. As expected, young people are more supportive of existing borders than are their elders.

            SOVA concludes that the survey shows Russians are dissatisfied with the inter-ethnic situation but lack a clear idea about what should be done. “Ethnic nationalism, which requires a mono-ethnic state, coexists with imperialism; an understanding that the country needs migrants with xenophobia; and disapproval of pro-Nazi groups with support for anti-migrant actions “without a clearly expressed ‘fascist’ spirit.”

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