Staunton, October 23 – In many countries, the growth in poverty and inequality that Russia has experienced over the last few years would spark massive protests against the government, Moscow commentator Sergey Baymukhametov says. But in Russia, “the impoverished are not inclined to active protests.”
They generally remain supportive of Vladimir Putin if not the bad boyars, but they live with a sense that they are victims who can do little about their situation, a state psychologists refer to as “the syndrome of learned hopelessness” (newizv.ru/article/general/23-10-2020/kontsa-ne-vidno-novoe-smutnoe-vremya-v-rossii-dlitsya-uzhe-30-let).
“They are certain that none of their actions will improve the situation, that everything is useful, and that one need not try because nothing depends on them, not in their own lives nor eve more in the life of the country,” Baymukhametov continues. That hurts them but it also undermines the state because it limits Moscow’s ability to mobilize the population.
According to the Kazakhstan-born commentator who has lived in the Russian capital for many years and writes frequently on post-Soviet Russia, the country as a whole remains in the condition of the time of troubles it entered in 1991 and shows little or no sign of exiting anytime soon.
Economically, ever more Russians are becoming impoverished, and income differentiation has reached horrific heights. Demographically, Russians are having fewer children and dying out more rapidly than at any point in recent history. And politically, it is increasingly difficult to say what the silent majority really believes.
Polls are anything but trustworthy as Russians indicate that they don’t always tell sociologists what they really think, and the state media the Kremlin has relied on are increasingly distrusted and being replaced by the Internet as a source of news and information for an increasing number of Russians.
That creates a dangerous situation in which the elites and the masses are increasingly isolated one from the other, a situation in which disturbances among the elites or among the population will lead to precisely the kind of radical shifts that brought Russia out of times of troubles in the past without creating conditions in which new such times will recur again.
And that possibility is perhaps the most frightening aspect of the current time of troubles which are now entering their fourth decade and in which a majority of Russians have lived most or all of their lives.