Monday, September 28, 2015

Russians See Their Society as Unjust But Not Likely to Change, New Study Reports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 28 – Russians consider contemporary Russian society to be unjust, believe that justice is an important consolidating factor, and believe the government should play the leading role in rectifying the situation, a Moscow scholar says; but at the same time, few of them think that the situation will be changed for the better anytime soon.

            Svetlana Mareyeva, a senior specialist at the Moscow Center for the Analysis of Incomes and Standard of Living of the Higher School of Economics, says that “key elements of social justice from the point of view of Russians” include equality of opportunity, an active role for the state, and acceptance of income differences based on skill and effort,

The results of her effort to define the role of the conception of justice among Russians are published in Russian in the current issue of the Journal of Institutional Studies  ( and have been summarized today at

Mareyeva’s study is based on three all-Russian surveys – “The Middle Class in Contemporary Russia,” “What Do Residents of Russia Dream About?” and “ The Poor and Poverty in Contemporary Russia” -- carried out by the Institute for Complex Social Research and the Institute of Sociology between 2012 and 2014. 

            In 2014, she reports, 53 percent of those polled called for “social justice, equal rights for all, and a strong stage concerned about its citizens. Only 33 percent called for Russia to regain the status of a great power, only 29 percent supported democracy and freedom, and 28 percent supported the idea of stability and “a society free from revolutions and convulsions.”

            When asked to choose between a society of social equality and one of individual freedom, she continues, “two-thirds of Russian expressed a preference for the first and only a third chose the second.” But that does not mean that freedom is not important for Russians, Mareyeva says, only that the problems of equality are more immediate now.

            According to a 2012 survey, 83 percent of the population below the age of 55 called existing inequality in Russia too large.” Two-thirds said the existing distribution of property is unjust and the same share suggested that many people are getting more than their education and efforts should entitle them to.

            Mareyeva says that “existing social inequalities in Russia seem unjust to all strata of the population regardless of their incomes and the course of their own personal well-being.”  Moreover, only 14 percent of those surveyed said that they personally had not suffered from any form of inequality.

            At the same time, however, only about one in five supported a drive to equalize incomes. The 2013 survey found that 49 percent of Russians believe that “in any society there is and always will be equality and that this is natural and just”  as long as those who get and have more do because they have more skills or make a greater effort and as long as the differences don’t exceed 4.7 times.

            What Russians object to is when people get salaries or wealth not based on skills or effort but on other things and when social lifts that would allow individuals to rise to the top are not available. In the face of such injustice, Russians believe the state should take the role in remedying it and play a larger role in the economy if need be.

            At the same time, however, Mareyeva continues, “Russians do not belive very much in the possibility of the establishment of a just society in Russia.” Just over half – 54 percent – think it improbable, and 14 percent say it is impossible. Approximately a third say conditions have worsened in recent times.

            Mareyeva offers the following most intriguing conclusion: “The impossibility of changing the unjust arrangement of society and the absence of working channels for social mobility may lead to a revision of ideas [among Russians] about the special role of the state in the future.”

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