Saturday, December 18, 2021

Four Answers to the Question: Why Do Russians Appear So Indifferent to Repression?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 30 – As Russians marked the Day of Memory for Victims of Political Repressions and the number of political prisoners in Russia has climbed to one like at the end of Soviet times, Meduza asked a sociologist, a political scientist, a historian and a psychologist why Russians appear to indifferent (

            Sociologist Denis Volkov, who heads the Levada Center, says that the inattention of Russians to this issue reflects the lack of interest in politics among most Russians. Only about 10 percent are now interested in politics, and they are concerned about repressions. They are the most informed, and that is critical.

            “Trust in official sources of information never was very high,” he continues, but “for a long time there was no alternative to them.” Now, for those who make the effort, there is. And those who turn to the Internet and especially to Telegram Channels are increasingly attentive to the issue of political prisoners.

            But even among the informed, Volkov says, many don’t act because the regime has made the costs of doing so ever greater. If more people do pay attention, however, such repressive actions may not work as well in the future as they have in the past.

            Margarita Zavadskaya, a political scientist at the European University in St. Petersburg, agrees. She says that what she sees among Russians as far as repression is concerned is “not indifference but rather concern and the adoption of a strategy of avoiding risks,” given what happens to those who act on their observations.

            When people see the risks of acting declining or when large numbers decide they can act for other reasons, as in Belarus last year, mass protests about this and other issues become possible. For now, however, “the Russian political context is so repressive that passivity however strange this may seem, is the better part of wisdom.”

            “The authoritarian regime maintains its stability on three foundations: economic stability, a positive image of itself, and targeted repressions.” As these run out as they are in Russia, the regime has to increase repression or it will face extreme difficulties especially as more people as a result of more information come to recognize what the real situation is.

            Historian Sergey Bondarenko who works for Memorial says that an enormous share of Russians know and care about repressions but for a variety of reasons don’t show their concerns in public. Again, as in Soviet times, many fear the consequences of doing so or don’t know enough to decide they have no choice but to act.

            And Andrey Aksyuk, a psychologist at Moscow’s Mental Health Center, says that, following Maslow’s pyramid, people focus on meeting their own immediate needs before focusing on political problems and since Russians currently face economic difficulties, they are addressing those first. Fear and lack of information, he suggests, only intensify that pattern.

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