Sunday, February 28, 2016

Russians’ Values ‘Normal but Weak’ not ‘Strong but Abnormal,’ Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 28 – Many are inclined to believe that Russians strongly hold “abnormal” values; but in fact, sociologist Ella Paneyakh says, the values they hold are quite normal but they are only weakly attached to them.  As a result, there often occur sudden and otherwise apparently inexplicable changes in the goals and directions Russians take.

            And because Russians’ attachment to these values are relatively weak, the St. Petersburg scholar says, they are even more profoundly affected by the institutional arrangements that those in power may impose and go along as a survival strategy rather than seek to assert themselves on the basis of their own value systems (

            The values Russians have, Paneyakh says, are well within the range of the universal values other nations have; but “the problem is that [these values] are weakly held” and thus far less likely to be the basis for action if those in power demand that Russians act according to other values.

            She bases her conclusions on the cultural map of the world produced by Ronald Inglehart and his team on the basis of the World Values Survey that has been conducted since the early1980s, a survey that found that Russia “however strange this may seem” is a secular society similar in that regard to Hungary, Belgium and France.

            That survey showed, however, that Russians were significantly less attached to “self-expression values” than people in developed countries. Instead, as tended to be the case with less-developed countries, they were more attached to what Inglehart and his colleagues called “survival values.” But in neither case were they complete outliers, Paneyakh says.

            Thus, for example, Russians displayed far lower levels of trust in others than most more developed countries; but they had roughly the same level in this regard as the French, the Hungarians, and the Poles. According to many analysts, the sociologist says, “a high level of trust arises in those societies where there are developed legal systems.”

            The explanation for that is very simple, Paneyakh says. “if institutions function poorly, people do not trust one another and consequently there does not arise sufficiently effective economic cooperate and economic growth is restricted.”

            With regard to self-assertion, she continues, “it is surprising but a fact that sociologists who have conducted corresponding measures have found that Russians value self-assertion even more than the British do, but at the same time, they highly value stability” – and that affects the manifestation of what they value when institutions are weak.

            From this, Paneyakh draws the following conclusion: Russia isn’t being held back by some kind of “’incorrect’” values that don’t work with well contemporary economic ones but rather by something else. And that is this: the values of Russia are quite normal but they are weakly held and do not feel that they can act on them under existing conditions.

            She gives as an example of this the case of judges who in Russia are part of the bureaucracy rather than an independent agency. Consequently, they behave according to the rules of bureaucratic life rather than according to the principles of law, something that makes each case different and eliminates the predictability people need to act on their principles.

            Paneyakh draws three “practical conclusions” for her findings. First, Russians have “completely ordinary values” common to European civilization. Second, these values are manifested or not depending on Russian circumstances and thus will become more often displayed if the circumstances change.

            And third, any change in the political, social or economic system in Russia to be meaningful requires not just the change of individuals in roles that now exist but a change in the system of roles as a whole. For European values to be manifest in Russia, Russian institutions must be replaced by others.

            Paneyakh concludes that this may have a positive consequence for Russia: If institutions are radically transformed, Russians will be able to accept that without serious conflicts because they are not as attached to these institutions as tightly as many assume and because their values are what they are.

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