Friday, May 5, 2023

Russians Don’t Use the Internet the Way Soviets who Listened to Western ‘Voices’ Through Jamming Did, Levinson Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 2 – Many analysts argue that those who support Putin’s war in Ukraine get their information from state television while those who oppose it get theirs from the Internet, but that notion is wrong on at least two counts, according to Levada Center sociologist Aleksey Levinson.

            On the one hand, he says, most people who rely on television do so because it provides them with what they wanted before they started viewing. It serves to reconfirm what they think and allows them to feel part of something larger and display loyalty (подкасты/интервью/20230502-что-россияне-думают-о-будущем-после-путина-и-возможности-военного-поражения-обсуждаем-с-социологом-алексеем-левинсоном).

            And on the other hand, those who turn to the Internet do so for very different reasons and under very different conditions than did Soviet citizens in Brezhnev’s time who listed to the Voice of America, Radio Liberty and other Western “voices.” The idea that what is happening now resembles what was happening then has long been out of date, Levinson says.

            Most Russians who use the Internet do so not for political information but to get information on cooking or travel, and they don’t go to Ukrainian sites – not from a fear that the police will come but because they don’t want to put themselves in the position where they will suffer the cognitive dissonance of views at odds with one another.

            That is a very different situation than was the case in Brezhnev’s time, Levinson says. Then, “loyalty to Soviet life was quite relaxed. One could live here and laugh at Brezhnev, even tell a joke about him. That didn’t create an intense internal conflict.” But today, “this is impossible … we are moving towards a totalitarian society.”

            “Totalitarianism requires unanimity,” the sociologist continues. “This is not some double think like the kind Orwell described.” Instead, “totalitarianism demands total commitment and in such a situation, any alternative source of information is very disturbing” and is generally avoided even by those who have doubts about their country’s course.

            Russians are thinking about life after Putin and they are very divided about that. Some fear things will get worse, others believe that things will get better, and some are convinced that even if he is succeeded by people like himself, they will back away from his positions to escape sanctions from purely pragmatic calculations.

            At the same time, the view that after Putin, Russia will dissolve into chaos and disintegration, is spreading. But as far as the issue of a Russian defeat is concerned, few Russians can imagine that – perhaps not more than one percent – and they are afraid to express that not just to pollsters but to themselves.

            If Russia loses in Ukraine, they believe, then Russia itself will disintegrate into a number of smaller states, “the most horrible end” except for a nuclear war because they believe that what will follow defeat will be disintegration; and “the majority cannot allow themselves to think about that possibility.”

            “It is impossible [for most Russians] to think that your country is weaker than Ukraine.” If the West is one Ukraine’s side, then “we are alone.” We may not be able to defeat it all at once but it can’t defeat us either. According to Levinson, this “idea of parity” is “quite acceptable. Parity with the West is OK; parity with Ukraine is impossible.”

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