Thursday, August 30, 2018

Chechens Chief Beneficiary of Moscow’s Anti-Ukrainian Propaganda, Russian Sociologists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – By elevating Ukrainians to the status of the enemy of Russia, two Levada Center sociologists says, the Moscow media has reduced its attacks on Chechens, the earlier “main” enemy and in this way contributed to “a significant improvement in the attitude of residents of Russia to people from Chechnya.” (

            The two do not say, but in many ways the most important conclusion from their observations is this: the Russian media is sufficiently powerful and Russian attachments to any one image of the enemy sufficiently weak that Moscow can redirect hostility from one group to another with relative ease.

            And that means that any improvement in attitudes to any particular group is more a function of government media than it is of underlying changes in Russian society, thus opening the possibility that a group no longer under such concerted attack such as the Jews or Roma, may again occupy that niche if the regime chooses to redirect its fire.

            Karina Pipiya, a Levada Center sociologist who participated in the recent survey, says that “during the Chechen war, the Caucaians were conceived of as the image of the enemy, but now memories about this have weakened. Instead, many imagine that in the North Caucasus, conditions are peaceful … and attitudes toward Caucasus ethnic groups have improved.”

            “Since 2014,” Russian media and Russians have shifted from the Caucasus to Ukraine, and “the activity of Ramzan Kadyrov and his supporters [in this direction have led to a situation in which] the Caucasus has ceased to be viewed as something foreign.”

            Kadyrov et al “support the annexation of Crimea, and they are patriotically inclined,” in the view of Russians. In addition, the participation of Kadyrov’s supporters on the side of Russia in the Syrian conflict on the whole has led to an improvement in the way Russians view the Caucasus and its residents.”

            “Anti-American attitudes and hostility to the West,” Pipiya continues, have created a situation in which “people will view any political figure or group as ‘their own’ if it takes a pro-Russian position from the point of view of public opinion.”

             According to the sociologist, Russian respondents have a difficult time making a distinction between ethnicity and citizenship.” During the Chechen war, Chechens were viewed as “not entirely Russian … but now when the hot phase of the conflict is behind and Chechnya is viewed as part of Russia” that has changed and Russians’ view of Chechens has improved. 

            Lev Gudkov, the head of the Levada Center, agrees but stresses that the current poll measures attitudes that Russians have right now rather than the ones they may hold at a deeper level have about a group or nationality over a longer period of time.

            Many ethnic prejudices are from the time of the Russian Empire and even more from Soviet times. And those have become overlaid in some cases and displaced in others by “new prejudices.”  The old prejudices limit but do not preclude the rise of new ones, the sociologist suggests.

            Gudkov says that the sharp decline in negative attitudes toward Chechens and others from the Caucasus, from 54 percent in 2913 to 27 percent this year, is a product of “the powerful anti-Ukrainian propaganda” of the Moscow media.  But that doesn’t mean that at bottom, Russians really have a better attitude toward North Caucasians.

            Instead, it signals, he argues, that “the former prejudices and negative attitudes are frozen, in a ‘sleeping’ position and Ukrainophobia has come out ahead of them.”

            In another comment to Kavkaz-Uzel, Gudkov says that today’s Russian respondents do not make a clear distinction between residents of the North Caucasus and those of the Southern Caucasus.” In the 1990s, they did during the hot phase of conflicts in the south; but then they stopped doing so as those conflicts ebbed while others in the north grew.

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