Saturday, March 9, 2024

Most Russians Still Say They are Free Because They Define Freedom as ‘Freedom From’ rather than ‘Freedom For,’ Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 5 – Polls continue to show that a majority of Russians believe they are free, despite all the repressive actions of the Putin regime, Lev Gudkov says; and many observers believe that such reported findings are one more reason not to believe what such sociological surveys say.

            But in fact, the polls are reporting accurately, as becomes clear if one understands that Russians since the end of Soviet times have defined freedom “not as freedom” for doing this or that but rather “freedom from” shortages, restrictions, and comparisons with other countries, the senior Russian sociologist says (

            Once that is understood, Gudkov continues, it becomes far easier to see that this dominant Russian definition of freedom is one of the major reasons that Putin enjoys the support he does because his economy has continued to deliver, his policies have maintained stability, and his isolationist and aggressive stance has eliminated for most comparisons with the West.

            The majority of Russians understand freedom negatively rather than positively.  “’Freedom for …’” including elections, civil society organizations and parties, is the defining value of only a minority who may have more influence because they have more social capital but that does not define how the majority views things, he says.

            That doesn’t mean, he continues, that the majority of Russians “have no idea about the value of freedom of speech, fair elections, the need to criticize the authorities and so on, but for them such ideas are in the sphere of ‘politics’ from which they are alienated, something that fuels “the most anti-elitist attitudes of populists.”

            Perhaps almost three out of four agree about what would be the optimal arrangements if Russia were prosperous and stable, but they aren’t prepared to take the risk of losing what they have and fear that getting involved in politics will only put them and their country in danger of precisely that.

            And so they support Putin and declare that they feel free – and they are even grateful to him for helping to solve their own deeply ingrained inferiority complex by isolating Russia and thus reducing the danger that they will have to face up to the shortcomings of their own country in comparison to Western democracies.

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