Friday, March 3, 2023

Russian Society Dominated by ‘Depressive Discourse’ of Pensioners, Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 28 – It is a bitter reality but one that must be accepted, Lev Gudkov says. Russian society is “dominated by the depressive discourse of older, poorer, poorly informed women preoccupied with taking care of themselves.” It is heavily female not because most Russian men die far earlier, leaving women to dominate that cohort.

            The opinion of this age group, the Levada Center sociologist says, “statistically  dominates data reported by agencies such as ours because given the structure of the population, these people represent the majority” (

            That cohort, Gudkov continues, not only has negative emotions, feelings that mean they define themselves in terms of enemies and what they are against, but also positive ones, including the idea that their government must be “strong and reliable,” capable of standing up against the world and taking care of them. Both are important.

            Many young Russians don’t share these views, positive or negative. But they are so much smaller in number that they don’t dominate public opinion polls or lead members of this group to take to the streets in protest. Instead of fighting for their ideals, he says, they choose either to hide them or go abroad in the hopes of realizing them on a personal basis.

            In the course of the interview, Gudkov makes several other important observations. He calls that Yury Levada who founded the polling organization for which Gudkov now works, often said that Russians respected rights less because they were given them rather than having won them in a struggle.

            When Levada said this, Gudkov recalls, he and many others thought the sociologist was overly pessimistic. But now it is clear that Levada’s insight was fundamental. Having been given rights, Russians were less resistant to having them taken away than were other nations who had to struggle for them.

            Moreover, Gudkov notes, Russians have always focused on social rather than civil rights, even mixing the two together; and for them, “the most valued” of the latter is the right to the free exit and entry into the country. “Freedoms of speech, conscience and assembly have been at he very end of the list” when Russians are asked which rights are important to them.

            And that has another important consequence: “when people take part in large demonstrations, they do so without thinking that they have a right to do so. They simply go without reflect about whether they have the right to go into the streets.”

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