Friday, April 13, 2018

Russians Feel They’ve Already Entered World War III, Lev Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 13 – Russians in focus groups organized by the Levada Center say that “we have already entered World War III but are still at its initial ‘cold’ phase,” a judgment that has sparked an upsurge of patriotic confidence that Russia will win and fears that the price of that victory for individual Russians will be very high, Lev Gudkov, the Center’s director says.

            In a wide-ranging interview with Dozhd journalist Lola Tagayeva, the sociologist says that “mobilization and confrontation with the West has generated an upsurge in patriotic adrenalin” but also has sparked “a diffuse and inarticulate fear, especially among older people (

                Russians remain quite supportive of Putin’s foreign policy successes but most feel he has not been successful domestically and are quite critical of where the country is. Nonetheless, they overwhelmingly support the Kremlin leader and displace more of their unhappiness on the government or subordinate officials, largely because of the Kremlin’s propaganda effort.

            “Why is propaganda so effective?” Gudkov asks rhetorically. “Because it doesn’t dream things up but says what people want to hear.” Consequently, “the mass ideas about the system of Putin’s rule describe it not simply as a construction of an authoritarian regime but as a kind of recidivist totalitarian system.”

            According to the pollster, “’Democracy’ today is not something valued by Russians. They largely do not know what it is, cannot imagine how it works or how a democratic society and state would be organized.”

            Gudkov devotes particular attention to Russian attitudes about the future. He says that any idea about the future has largely “disappeared,” and “the time horizon of the absolutely majority of the population except for the youngest is very short, several months at most,” a reflection of Russians’ focus on their immediate lives rather than anything larger.

            They understand their own lack of power and their real dependency, “and these emotions form a constant backdrop to their daily lives. The level of aggression or asthenia can change somewhat, but on average, the combination of frustration, depression, aggression without an object and dissatisfaction is typically about 60 percent.”

            That is quite high and leads to a situation which psychologists call “’the prisoner’s syndrome,’ a mixture of apathy and aggression, sometimes connected with the phenomenon of so called ‘learned hopelessness,’” Gudkov continues.

            “We are returning to a certain variant of secondary totalitarianism,” he says, one in which the authorities have imposed “a new old system of control and organization” of the lives of the population.” The rules are imposed from above “in the complete absence of any resistance from below.”

            According to Gudkov, “totalitarianism is not a political system but a system of institutions which try to seize all areas of life and to manipulate the consciousness and morals of people. This sets it apart, for example, from despotism or authoritarianism which don’t interfere in personal life.”

             “And we see,” he continues, “how a new state ideology, the ideology of state patriotism, has arisen … This is not the construction of communism and of a bright future; this is an effort to construct from above a utopia of ‘a bright past.’”  And within the population, this exacerbates “a fear of changes, a phobia of the new.”

            Gudkov says he “does not see any demands for new people or a new elite. There is social dissatisfaction: it is clearly expressed. But this dissatisfaction exists in two social milieus,” the conservative and poor depressed periphery of pensioners and the poor and the middle class which sees that the regime is driving the country toward disaster but won’t act to oppose it.

            The chief demands of the population thus are limited to raising incomes and providing social guarantees, something which “arises from the fear of losing the present-day way of life” and falling back into the impoverishment and chaos of the 1990s. People define themselves as consumers rather than citizens.

            “Political and ideological views have been erased,” Gudkov says. “More than half of the population says that they have no political or ideological views. Approximately 30 percent say they don’t care what kind of state system exists in the country as long as they are able to live well.” And that in turn means that they don’t see liberals and United Russia as that different.

            For that to change and for the protests that are occurring to become political, the sociologist says, the opposition must speak about concrete things and not engage in rhetorical flourishes about democracy, freedom and human rights.  Those things simply don’t resonate with the Russian people.

            Of course, “man does not live by bread alone,” and thus, when “Putin says that we are a great power and must strive for improvement, he is responding in the way that people want to hear.”

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