And those numbers, reported by the Center itself and “Vedomosti” (levada.ru/25-11-2013/rossiyane-o-repressivnykh-zakonakh and vedomosti.ru/politics/news/19150331/grazhdane-rady-zapretam), have sparked debate about what they mean, with some dismissing them as an artifact of polling and others viewing them as heralding a “lumpen nationalist revolution.”
Aleksey Grazhdankin, the deputy director of the Levada Center, says that “the basic part of the [Russian population is conservative and supports repressive measures because it sees in them the only guarantee of order.” But many others disagree with his conclusions (svpressa.ru/society/article/78026/).
Ella Paneyakh, a Moscow legal specialist, offers one such alternative. She suggests that the way in which the Levada Center asked the questions led to the pattern of answers it received. Most people haven’t thought about these laws or issues but they aren’t inclined to show that when they are asked.
Moreover, most Russians are inclined to accept any law that is adopted as being fundamentally a good thing just because it has been adopted. And she added that such polls say nothing about the level of activity or passivity of the population because respondents regularly over-report their intentions to do this or that.
Vasily Koltashov, a specialist at the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, disagrees and suggests that the data show not only that Russians are “passive” but are distant “from social life as such.” Most Russians have about as much experience with sexual minorities as they do with extraterrestrials, and so they view both as aliens.
For example, he says, Russians overwhelmingly have “ignored much more important laws,” such as the de facto liquidation of the Academy of Sciences which sparked so much protest among scholars and intellectuals. “Society simply ignored this as something that didn’t concern it.” And its members don’t want to get involved.
While it is clearly the case that “Russia cannot develop on the old rails,” the increasing conservatism of the economy is leading to the appearance of “ever more reactionary laws, Koltashov says. He expressed the hope that Russia had passed “the peak” of the adoption of such laws lest society deteriorate still further.
But one commentator has offered a far more apocalyptic interpretation of the Levada Center findings. In a column on Liberty.ru, Mark Sandomirsky argues that “the growth of nationalist attitudes and xenophobia in present-day Russia is the logical social-political outcome of those processes which accompanied the collapse of the USSR.”
These processes, he says, have certain troubling “parallels” with what occurred in Weimar Germany and the Nazi regime that followed (liberty.ru/columns/Psihobloging/Russkij-intranacionalizm). Indeed, he argues, these parallels have increased not decreased over the last decade.
Russia’s “powers that be” are not opposed to this because they believe that they can use the growth of nationalist and repressive attitudes to maintain themselves by means of a divide and conquer approach. But what they don’t think about, Sandomirsky says, is that there is a risk that the situation could develop beyond the capacity of the elites to control
If nationalist attitudes grow and if the economy continues to decline, he suggests, Russia could face a revolution not based on “proletarian internationalism” as in 1917 but “a lumpen intra-nationalist” one. Like the earlier one, such a revolt would seek to take property and ultimately power but this time from other ethnic groups rather than from the upper classes.
History, as Sandomirsky suggests, has sufficient examples of just where that would be likely to lead.
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