Staunton, Jan. 2 – Russians don’t want war but now view that as a real possibility because of the actions of other countries rather than their own, Mariya Matskevich says. But if a real war does start, some Russians will rally around the Kremlin but others will be silently opposed until someone emerges who promises to stop it. Then that individual will gain support.
The senior scholar at the Institute of Sociology at the Russian Academy of Sciences makes that argument in the course of a wide-ranging interview on the nature of public attitudes in Russia and the ability of pollsters to capture them adequately (severreal.org/a/god-posle-yanvarskih-protestov-kak-izmenilos-obschestvo/31683836.html).
Popular attitudes have changed in essential ways since the late Soviet period, Matskevich says. Then, people who talked in their kitchens about things felt that they were not marginal or a minority but reflected the true attitudes of the entire population. They divided the “we” and “they” between the people and the powers.
There was as sense silently held that “we understood one another and that we were together. Today,” she continues, “this clear dividing line has blurred; there is no sense that there is any single “we” and that “we are the majority.” Instead, people feel isolated from one another and recognize that society is radically divided economically and in other ways.
It is difficult for pollsters to capture the real attitudes of people now because people are less inclined to speak the truth when they are afraid and the polarization of society means that various groups are living in different worlds, something that surveys which ask a common question can’t elicit.
And there is another limiting factor as well, Matskevich says. The younger generation is far smaller than it was even at the end of Soviet times, and thus its independent-mindedness has less of an impact on public attitudes especially as its most radically inclined members can simply decide to move abroad rather than protest.
The Nezygar telegram channel is reporting that there were 2433 protest actions in Russia over the last year (https://t.me/russica2), but these changed from political demands at the start of the year in connection with Navalny’s arrest to social and even medical complaints at the end because of the pandemic. They should not be lumped together, the sociologist says.
Surveys do show that war fears are greater and that the possibility of war has become “a legitimate theme” that people take seriously. But the majority of Russians blame other countries for this rather than their own. In their view, if there is a war, Russia will have been attacked or provoked into it.
Regime propaganda works, of course, but “it works when it falls on well-prepared fields and corresponds with what you thought already,” Matskevich argues. “It is especially effective when there are no other sources of information as for example on international issues,” a situation the government works hard to maintain.
But the most serious shortcoming of surveys is that they do not do a good job in predicting when people will be so fed up that they will go into the streets in massive numbers whatever they say now. No one in Kyiv predicted the Maidan, not even the best Ukrainian sociologists, Matskevich says.