Monday, June 16, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Fifty-Eight Percent of Russians Oppose Russian Nationalist Groups inside Russia after Ukrainian Events

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 16 – In what might seem counter-intuitive but which in fact underscores the way Moscow media coverage of one thing may cause Russians to draw conclusions about others, 58 percent of Russians say that as a result of developments in Ukraine, they are more negative about nationalist groups in their own country, up from 50 percent a year ago.

            According to an article in today’s “Kommersant,” a poll commissioned by the Social Chamber of the Russian Federation showed that “a majority of [Russians] view the revolution in Kyiv as nationalist and fascist and therefore are more cautious than they were before regarding Russian nationalist organizations” (

            Moreover, the poll of 1500 Russian citizens found that 49 percent said that “ethnic Russian sin Ukraine should not form nationalist organizations which would defend their rights exclusively but ‘must struggle with any manifestations of nationalism,’” and 53 percent said they viewed the Ukrainian as “nationalist and not, for example, a democratic one.”

             Grigory Tumanov of “Kommersant’” quotes the authors of the report as having said that “[ethnic] Russian respondents were somewhat more positively inclined toward nationalists than were representatives of other nationalities,” but nonetheless, “a negative attitude toward nationalism dominates also among the [ethnic] Russian population.”

            The “Kommersant” journalist said it is “interesting” that young people are somewhat more positively inclined toward the nationalists than are their elders, something he and the report explained by the fact that “adult Russians still remember Soviet times,” when “’nationalism’ was considered a synonym of ‘chauvinism,’ ‘Nazism,’ and fascism.’”

            The Social Chamber report said that only 2.5 percent of Russians are prepared to vote for nationalist parties.  The greatest share – 21 percent – indicated they would vote for a liberal party. But the largest share – 35 percent – said that they couldn’t or didn’t want to say for whom they would vote.

            Russian media coverage of Ukraine has also had an impact on Russian attitudes toward the introduction of a visa regime for Central Asians. In 2013, 72 percent of Russians said they favored this; now “only 56 percent do.”  As before, most opposed the introduction of a visa regime with Ukraine “calling its population ‘a fraternal people.’”

            These changes show the febrile nature of public opinion and the way in which media coverage cause people in Russia as in other countries albeit typically to a smaller degree and less rapidly as well to change their views on an entire range of subjects depending on what issues are being covered and how.

            The Social Council report concludes that “Russians on the basis of the example of Ukraine have seen that the national question brings with it an enormous explosive cartridge which can trigger conflicts that it its irresponsible promotion can easily lead a country to the edge of civil war.”

            But perhaps even more important, although it is not stressed either by the original report or the “Kommersant” write up, is the fact that when Russians or anyone else are prompted to think about one subject, it will affect how they think about others, often in directions and ways that those behind the coverage of the original subject may not be planning for.

            In the current case, this could mean that Russians might turn away from ethno-nationalism only to support a more supra-ethnic imperialism. Or alternatively, this trend could re-order the Russian political system in other ways, pushing some nationalist advocates to the sidelines and elevating an entirely different cast of characters in their place.

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