Thursday, February 27, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russians Increasingly Nostalgic for Soviet System, Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 27 – An increasing share of Russians say they are nostalgic for the Soviet system with the number indicating that they support for democracy and free markets or the political system they now live under has fallen in recent years, according to the results of a new poll by the Levada Center.

            Asked whether they would like to live in a “Soviet” political system, in a Western democratic one, or in one like the current Russian one, 39 percent said they favored the Soviet one, up from 29 percent in 2012, and 19 percent said the current Russian one, down from 36 percent in 2008. Twenty-one percent favored democracy (

            Fifty-four percent said they favored a planned economy; only 29 percent, down from 48 percent in 1992 said they backed a free market economy. On the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal yesterday, Svetlana Gomzikova reported the explanations three Moscow experts give for this turning away from democracy and free markets and back to the Soviet system among Russians. 

            Yury Latov, an economist at the Plekhanov Russian Economic University, says that this pattern reflects the human tendency as people get older to view the past in rosy tones while forgetting the darker aspects of earlier times and to assume that the grass is greener wherever one is not.

            Both of these tendencies are exacerbated as the model in question recedes in time. Moreover, he says, such attitudes reflect the unwelcome fact that “over the last 20 some years, we have not been able to build an effective model of a market economy.”  That failure too helps to explain why Russians look back with nostalgia to the Soviet system.

            If Russians remembered the Soviet past more accurately or if they were able to be transferred back there by a time machine, Latov continues, they would quickly ask to be returned even to Russia’s far from perfect political and economic system because they would see that as bad as it is for many, it is better for most than was the Soviet one.

            Mikhail Neyzhmakov, the head of the Moscow Center for Political Research of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, says that the attitudes revealed by the latest poll reflect changes in the information environment in which Russians live.

            “Our citizens today live in a completely different information environment” than did they or their parents. In the 1990s, the Russian media stressed what was wrong with the Soviet past; now this “tonality has changed” and the Soviet past is presented as more favorable.  Given their current problems, many Russians thus assume it was better.

            Another factor at work, Neyzhmakov suggests, are the comments of those who are opposed to the Putin regime.  They attack it so sharply that many Russians are inclined to believe that the Soviet system must have been better, even though few in the opposition would want them to reach that conclusion.

            But the underlying cause of this nostalgia, he concludes, is that democracy is something very new for Russians and that many of them are supporters of a “paternalistic” system that takes care of them.  That leads to an idealization of a system that did so, however poorly, and means that support for paternalism will continue for a long time regardless of the state of the economy.

            And Academician Oleg Bogomolov suggests that for Russians, an “ideal model” would include “equality, justice, and a socially oriented economy.”  That is what Russians want, “but this is not the Soviet model,” whatever they believe.  Instead, it is a mixed economy one that could be described as “a slightly modernized NEP [the New Economic Policy of the 1920s].”

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