Staunton, January 19 – Even though 68 percent of Russians say that they feel themselves to be free people, 63 percent say that there are political prisoners in their country, with that term defined to be “those convicted for their political views or for seeking to participate in political life,” according to a new Levada Center poll.
The share saying Russia has political prisoners is up from 50 percent a year ago and from 26 percent in 2013, the likely result of the coverage of high-profile political cases in the Moscow media in recent months (vedomosti.ru/society/articles/2020/01/19/820938-politicheskih-zaklyuchennih).
The polling agency does not provide a break down of these results, but it is likely that in some places, such as Moscow or Ingushetia, the figures are far higher even than these. In Ingushetia, in this writer’s view, the share who think that there are political prisoners is almost certainly over 90.
What makes even the all-Russian number important however is that it suggests Russian assessments of their political system are more fine-grained than many think – they may say Russia allows them to be free but they are aware that it doesn’t allow everyone to be – and less positive of the Putin regime than figures based on other questions.
And that in term means that the abuse of law by the authorities and reports about their actions is having a corrosive effect on the standing of the Russian authorities, something that over time will make it far more difficult for the regime to rule without turning ever more frequently to coercion – or, more hopefully, reducing the amount of such force it uses.