Friday, December 21, 2018

Russians Now Want Personal Freedoms but Not of Democracy or Good Relations with the West, Tikhonova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 19 – Russian attitudes on the proper relationship between the state and the individual have undergone a fundamental shift over the last two decades, Natalya Tikhonova says; and “for the first time in the history of the country, the interests of the state have ceased to dominate the interests of the individual or of social groups.”

            This shift is likely to give rise to a new model of state and society relations, the sociologist at the Higher School of Economics says; but it will not be one that resemble Western models of the kind promoted by many human rights activists in Russia today. Instead, it will be a uniquely Russian kind.
            Tikhonova reports her research in an article, “The Relationship of the Interests of the State and of Human Rights in the Eyes of Russians: An Empirical Analysis” (in Russian), Polis, no. 5 (2018): 134-139 at that has now been summarized at

            The relationship between human rights and the state shifted for Russians “not so long ago.” Until about 2010, for them, it corresponded to “the norms of traditional society: the state was the instrument for the realization for the interests of the people, the interests of the people were higher than those of the individual, and citizens” owed loyalty and submission to the state.

            But a competing model emerged in the 1990s and gathered steam about a decade ago with society increasingly divided into two groups as far as this issue was concerned, Tikhonova says. In the first were the traditionalists, with 60 percent of the population giving the state priority over the individual and 51 percent ready to agree to limits on individual freedoms.

            In the second was “an alternative.”  Those in this group said that “the individual did not have the right to expect kindness from the powers that be but can struggle for his own interests in spite of the opinion of the majority.” Seventy-seven percent of this group agreed with that, and 55 percent allowed for strikes, meetings and so on as a means.

             This second group and its norms did not predominate, Tikhonova says, “but the number of those holding them in comparison with the 1990s had significantly increased, and the share of supporters of ‘an all-powerful’ state had contracted.” Then in the mid-2010s, she says, this shift accelerated with neither position being predominant.

            Instead, about 20 percent held the two extreme positions, with some 60 percent in between.  Among the young the shift toward the individual over the state was greatest; among the elderly, the least, as one would expect, Tikhonova says.  But because the latter are passing from the scene and the former becoming more important, the overall shift in the future is clear.

                It turns out, however, that this set of attitudes among the young does not give primacy to political rights and democratic values but rather to other values: “For them economic freedoms are more important,” they have little interest in politics, they view the opposition as it currently operates with suspicion, and “they are not oriented toward the West.”

            “All this says,” Tikhonova concludes, “that the Western variant of the modernization of society will not be massively supported in Russia and our country will need to search for its own path. What it will be is an open question; but in any case, in the new model of the interrelationship of the state and the individual will be required a significant expansion of the legitimate forms of struggle of individuals and social groups for their rights.”

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