Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Russians are Returning to the State They were In at the End of Soviet Times, Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 10 – “Apathy and alienation from politics are the basis of the present-day political system in the Russian Federation, non-participation in it, demonstrative approval of the powers together with a very great indifference or eve extremely critical attitude toward it,” according to Lev Gudkov.

            Thus, Russians are like what they were in the last years of Soviet power and the high rating they give Putin “is not love, not sympathy, not even particular respect for the president but rather an expression of the weakness or ineffectiveness of all institution,” the Levada Center director says (profile.ru/politika/item/120279-my-vozvrashchaemsya-v-pozdnesovetskie-vremena).

            Russians understand that there is no drama involved in the March 2018 vote just as there was no drama in the recent regional and local elections, Gudkov says. “But the difference is that [these actions] are conceived not as elections but as plebiscites, as a way of expressing approval … a certain ritual, a state ceremony, which requires people to come and vote for those in power.

            Approximately 54 percent of Russians say they are prepared to take part in the March 2018 vote, and two-thirds of those say they plan to support Putin, both because they don’t see any alternative to him and because they hope that somehow he will lead Russia out of the current crisis.
            In addition, after the Crimean Anschluss, Russians view Putin as someone who “returned to Russia the status of a great power;” but they are quite critical of his actions in all other spheres, the sociologist says.  Such negative attitudes have a limited impact because they remember how bad the 1990s were and how good the early years of this century were as well.

            At the same time, Gudkov continues, the sense that the future is anything but clear has intensified and that Russians face many horrific personal problems.  But “the elections of the president do not touch these very much; they do not influence the daily life” of Russians. And thus Russians don’t view the vote as being about those outcomes.

            “They do not see any social force which could produce changes for the better,” he says; and thus what they want to avoid is any move that will make them worse. Stability is the best card Putin has.  Only about one Russian in six really wants fundamental institutional change, but the rest simply want things to stay as they are but get better.

            If Navalny were allowed to run, that would generate more interest in the vote. “He wouldn’t win but he would receive quite significant support. But everyone understands that they won’t let him run,” the pollster says. 

            “We of course are returning to Soviet times, to Soviet practices to a very great extent. The motives are different.” Young people may be different but they don’t vote in large numbers while older people who do and especially those who live outside the capitals are simply slipping back into passively going along with what is required.
            According to Gudkov, “people consider that they give a great deal more to the state than they get from it, and consequently, this frees them from responsibility. They suppose that the state is totally corrupt and that the authorities are concerned only about themselves.” At the same time, they are “really proud that Putin has restored the status of a great power.”

            Tragically, he continues, “the opposition is oriented as a rule on a quite thin stratum, conventionally called the middle class … but this small group in a certain sense finds that is interests are defended better by the powers than by the opposition” and are not that willing to back the opposition as a result.

            Moreover, Gudkov concludes, “the enormous mass of social dissatisfaction is not represented at all. Therefore,there is no support or representation of these groups of the population and no resources for that organization which could unite various groups of protesters and represent them as a political movement.”

            And as a result, “the demagogy of the authorities, which promises citizens to solve even their local problems, is thus effective.”

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