Sunday, January 28, 2018

Atomization of Russian Society at Unprecedented Heights, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 27 – New reports of the discovery of bodies of Russian elderly who have died alone and not been found for months and years have sparked an intense discussion about how such things could happen in Russia today, with some pointing to shortcomings in the government and others to deep-seated problems in Russian society.

            Leonid Radzikhovsky, a former Duma deputy, says that this problem reflects the fact that the country’s social services are seriously underfunded. “If even a small part of the money now being spent on war or senseless diversions like the World Cup” were to be spent on helping people, this problem “would have been solved” (

            While not denying that funding of social services is a problem, Leontiy Byzov of the Moscow Institute of Sociology argues that the real cause of such tragedies is “the split of society and the total distrust of people in each other.” Russia, he says, remains “trapped between traditional society (where the community is primary) and a civic one.”

            “We have an extraordinarily atomized society,” he continues. “Surveys show that people have little interest not only in their neighbors but even in their relatives. Ties are limited to the circle of the closest relatives. In Russia now a second or even third generation lives which does not have communal consciousness.”

            Russians no longer are much interested in their neighbors, Byzov says, and they do not view them as part of a common public space of concern.  Horizontal ties have “completely” collapsed, and “people don’t trust one another.” This puts a serious break “on the development of economic relations.”

            Moreover, “despite the stereotypes” most share, “Russia in terms of the level of detachment from others exceeds the countries of Europe.” In it, “people live according to the principle that everyone is the enemy of everyone else,” and they react accordingly, either neglecting or being hostile to others.

            In the 1990s, there was a certain improve, Byzov says. Volunteer movements, for example, appeared, but “these were a drop in the bucket” of what was needed; and what is worse, they soon slowed down or even died out altogether since 2000.

            One indication of that is in the language people use. Increasingly, he continues, they lump individuals into negative categories like “fifth column” or “fascist” rather than seeing what they have in common with others. These terms are promoted by television and promote aggressive behavior: “People become nervous, they look for enemies rather than friends.”

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