Staunton, February 22 – A new Levada Center poll showing that Russians currently associate the Cheka and KGB more with the defense of the state than with state terrorism reflects many things, sociologists say, but one of the most important, Denis Volkov says, is that the current regime has suppressed those who have criticized these organizations in the past.
The share of Russians who associate the Cheka with political terror and repressions has fallen in the new poll to 12 percent, down from 23 percent in a 1997 survey. Instead, the share viewing the organs as legitimate defenders of the state has grown (levada.ru/2018/02/22/k-100-letiyu-tajnoj-politsii/), prompting questions as to why this trend has occurred.
Levada Center sociologist Denis Volkov suggests that this development is connected “with the general increase in the legitimacy of the state and force structures after the Crimean referendum and the war in Syria, the absence of criticism of the work of the special services on TV and the overwhelmingly positive image of Chekists in films and television programs” (rbc.ru/politics/21/02/2018/5a8d59f49a79471a70e186ba?from=main).
In his view, the state hasn’t come up with “a complex program about improving the imge of the special services,” but what it has done is to put pressure on those organizations which are involved with the history of political repressions.” In 2014, for example, it listed Memorial as a foreign agent, limiting its influence among many Russians.
Nikolay Mironov, the head of the Moscow Center for Economic and Political Reforms, suggests that the increasing approval for what the organs did in Soviet times reflects a growing demand among Russians for order and justice. But he argues that “the theme of repressions has not exhausted itself: many view the Soviet punitive system negatively and don’t want it back.
And Leonty Byzov of the Moscow Institute of Sociology says that the new attitudes are nothing more than “the typical syndrome of defensive consciousness.” By a margin of two to one, Russians blame their problems on foreigners rather than anyone else, the result of propaganda about the country being “a fortress besieged by enemies.”
In that environment, any institution that fought foreign agents is going to be viewed more positively; but that hardly speaks to a long term or irreversible change.