Saturday, February 27, 2021

Russians’ Passivity Welcomed by Regime Puts Country on Way to Failure, Scholars in Regions Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – The widespread notion among Russians that nothing depends on them and that officials will take all the necessary decisions, an attitude that officials promote for their own interests, is sometimes dismissed as unimportant, a group of scholars from Russia’s regions say. But in fact, that attitude has put the country on the road to failure.

            Using ideas on how such passivity leads to national failure offered in 2012 by US scholars Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their book, Why Nations Fail, and developed earlier this year by Knife commentator Aleksandr Shertobitov in an essay entitled “Elites are Not Enough,” three of them interviewed several experts on this issue.

            Yevgeniya Sibirtseva, Yevgeny Malushev and Yekaterina Malysheva spoke with Aleksandr Romanovich, a specialist on public attitudes, sociologist Sergey Patrushev, sociologist Anna Ochkina, and urbanist Svyat Murunov about the links between social passivity and state failure (

            Romanovich says public activism promotes the development not only of individuals and society but of the country; and the absence of such activism in Russia means the country can’t form a civil society or have economic modernization. When Medvedev was president, people talked about civil society all the time. Now that term has “disappeared” from everyone’s lexicon.

            The major reason for the passivity of Russians is their belief, encouraged by the powers that be, that they can’t do anything on their own and that officials can make all the decisions needed. If people believe that, they will become ever more passive; and that is what has been happening.

            To be sure, Russians will organize to defend specific things; but that isn’t enough. The authorities can make concessions without creating a genuine exchange of ideas that will promote civic activism, Romanovich continues.

            Patrushev says the powers have encouraged Russians to believe that decisions are only to be made by others, aristocrats and communists in the past and professional managers now. “But democracy does not presuppose decisions by professionals. Rather, it presupposes decisions which satisfy the interests of people as to what is correct and incorrect.”

            A majority of Russians want change, but they don’t know how to achieve it. And a large share of them thus believe that some new “good tsar,” perhaps Aleksey Navalny, needs to come and put things right. They do not see themselves as part of this process, and they would likely exit from politics quickly if a Navalny or someone like him took power.

            Ochkina makes the same point and says that even those who want change now view protests as something objectionable that they don’t want to take part in. Replace the leader and then all will be well, they think. And they thus fail to understand that they must be a part of decision making for it to be effective.

            But Murunov puts it most clearly: “In Russia, he says, a unique situation has taken shape: practically everyone wants change, but no one can realize it.” Most look for some kind of a savior who will be a good tsar in place of a bad one. They do not see themselves as continuing actors in politics, economics and society.

            Because they think only in the short term, most officials are delighted with this situation, forgetting that without the input of citizens, the decisions of those in power will increasingly degrade because those with power will ignore the realities they need to take into consideration to make good choices.

            For things to change, he argues, the powers must “cease doing everything themselves” and instead of issuing bans and prohibitions, they must pass laws that include words like “one could,” “it would be welcome,” “it is permitted,” and “try.” So far, there is little evidence that the powers are ready to do that or the population to demand it.

            As a result, the prospects for Russia are anything but good.


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