Ilya Matveev, PhD student in Political Science at the European University at St Petersburg, Russia where he studies Russian political economy and neoliberalism in comparative perspective. He is an editor of the online platform Openleft.ru and a member of the Public Sociology Laboratory.
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- By Sean — 5 years ago
This week’s Russia Magazine column, “The Kremlin’s War against the Russian Left,”
Two weeks ago, Aleksandr Ivakhnik argued that over the last year Russia’s security organs have waged a campaign to neutralize the radical left and in particular the Left Front. “The impression is that having made convenient use of the “Bolotnaya case,” security organs are attempting to weaken left-wing radicals,” he writes. “This is all the more of interest for the authorities because the ideology of the Left Front strongly conveys the social side of protest which will clearly become more attractive and all the more believable in conditions of economic crisis.” Indeed, the place of the Russian radical left as a target of Russian state repression is rarely reported. Not only has current trial of twelve Bolotnaya suspects, who face up to eight years for “mass disorder, physically assaulting police officers and disobeying police instructions” garnered little continuous coverage outside of Russia, so has the ongoing pre-trial detention of Leonid Razvozzhaev and house arrest of Sergei Udaltsov, both of whom stand accused of conspiring to overthrow the Russian government, nor the wider campaign that has sent left-wing activists into political asylum and apartment searches, seizure, and interrogations of activists in the provinces. As Andrey Tselikov recently wrote, the travails of the Russian left are “out of sight, out of mind.”
- By Sean — 11 years ago
“Democracy” enjoys the support of only 36 percent of Russians according to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development’s report “Life in Transition: A Survey of People’s Experiences and Attitudes.” Moreover, 40 percent of Russians prefer a planned economy over a market one. These statistics made Kommersant declare that “1/3 of Russians Prefer Authoritarian Rule” and Vedomosti write of a “Planned Satisfaction.”
But why the glass half full assessment? Clearly there is another 64 percent and 60 percent of respondents think otherwise. A clear majority. Yet given these two articles, one would assume that Russian’s are ready to return to the halcyon days of Brezhnev, or one might even dare say, Stalin. But this is not the case.
I think it is important to note that in regard to the 36 percent of Russians favoring “authoritarianism” (whatever that means) is a bit misleading. Respondents were given the following answers for questions about democracy: 1) “For people like me, it does not matter;” 2) “Under some circumstances, an authoritarian government may be preferable to a democratic one;” 3) “Democracy is preferable to any other form of political system.” About 20 percent of responds from the CIS plus Mongolia chose the second answer. But what does “under some circumstances” and “may be preferable” mean? What kind of circumstances? On this the report does say.
While about 55 percent of respondents chose “Democracy is preferable to any other form of political system”, it is interesting almost 30 percent don’t care either way. This means that either they don’t feel the effects of “authoritarianism” or “democracy” on their daily lives, or don’t really see the difference between the two. I think this ambivalence deserves far more investigation.
Respondents’ attitudes toward the market are similar. Again, the survey provided similar answers: 1) “For people like me, it does not matter;” 2) “Under some circumstances, a planned economy may be preferable to a market economy;” 3) “A market economy is preferable to any other form of economic system.” Again, “under some circumstances” isn’t defined. A bit over 40 percent of respondents from the CIS plus Mongolia said that the market economy is preferable. Almost 30 percent chose “under some circumstances” a planned economy may be better. And like with democracy, a good 30 percent didn’t care either way. Again, if Kommersant and Vedomosti would have had headlines like “1/3 of Russians are ambivalent toward democracy, authoritarianism, planned economy, and market economy” a whole different light would have been cast on “Life in Transition.” Namely, that despite what ideologues think at least a third of the population, if not more, will go along and cope with whatever system they’re given.
These statistics break down in interesting ways when you combine authoritarianism and democracy with planned economy and market economy. 19 percent of Russians favored “democracy and market economy”, 12 percent “democracy and planned economy”; 5 percent “authoritarianism and market economy” and 23 percent “authoritarianism and planned economy.” One might immediately point out that the last choice scored higher than the other three. However, it becomes less significant when you see that 21 percent of respondents said that “neither matters” and 20 percent favored “all other combinations”. As to what those “other combinations” are the report doesn’t say. But the point I want to emphasize is that as many people are ambivalent about their political economic system as those who care.
The survey gives other charts that chop these results up further according to age, gender, and income. It is no surprise that the young and wealthy have more positive attitudes toward “democracy” and the “market” than the old and the poor. After all, the lives of the young and the wealthy have had an easier time in the “transition.” Such tends to be the case anywhere.
The survey also records attitudes toward corruption, “trust in society,” and “trust in public institutions.” The vast majority of Russians despite age and income level feel that corruption is about the same as it was before 1989. Trust in society, however, has fallen sharply. Before the collapse of communism, trust in people hovered between 70 and 60 percent. Now its fallen to between 30 and 40 percent. One can include a bit of nostalgia to explain the pre-1989 numbers. But it is important that regardless of age and income most people perceive that people can’t be trusted.
Statistics about how people feel about public institutions are also interesting. Over 50 percent of respondents said that they had “complete plus some trust” in the Presidency, surely a boost for the effort to make Putin a “National Leader.” About 10 percent were ambivalent toward the president and about 30 percent didn’t trust him at all. The public trust hierarchy went as follows: the military (40 percent), the Government (30 percent), the Banks and Financial System (30 percent), the Courts (28 percent), the Parliament (22 percent), the Police (20 percent), and finally Political Parties (13 percent). “Neither trust nor distrust” in all these hovered around 20 percent.
I think the discrepancy in trust in the Presidency and in Political Parties says a lot of what Russians think about politics. Especially in regard to the upcoming Duma elections. But I also think the gap suggests something else: When Russians say that they favor democracy what do they mean exactly? Here, as always, were are left to our own speculation.
- By Sean — 11 years ago
“Today we are successful in politics, economics, the arts, sciences, sports. We have reasons for pride. We enjoy respect and difference. We are citizens of a great country and we have great victories ahead. Putin’s plan is a victory for Russia.”
“Why are we certain in the stable development of Russia? Because Russia today has a growing economy and new technologies. Russia’s high global standing and order at home, priority national projects and an up to date military-industrial complex, are because today our leader is bringing us new victories. We are working for one common cause. United Russia. We believe in Russia, we believe in ourselves!”
Such is the text of the two United Russia campaign commercials above. They are slick, exciting, and most importantly positive and optimistic. No political opponent is mentioned. There are no campaign smears. Nor is there any indication of what United Russia specifically stands for, except for Russia itself.
United Russia’s message to voters is a simple one. The future is bright and tomorrow will be brighter. Russia has one task–progress, and United Russia, under Putin’s plan, is the only political force to ensure it.
It’s all quite genius, really. Where the Communists and liberals preach a language of decay, corruption, and negativity, United Russia’s commercials’ tap into the emotional centers of pride; the music makes you want to leap up in celebration; and by their end, the viewer, if not already totally ensconced in cynicism, can’t help mobilize the self for what tomorrow will bring. Those looking for objectivity need apply elsewhere. For, United Russia’s proactive imagery seeks to be more than an ad, more than mere propaganda. It seeks to be a dose of Ecstacy for the dejected and depressed voter.
The commercials’ message is a throwback to the progressive rhetorics of the Soviet times. “Life has become more joyous comrades,” Stalin was famous for saying. And why not? Life actually has, discovers the Washington Post. The Post’s subject, one Vadim Ignatiyev from Nizhny Novgorod, is an archetype of the United Russia supporter–middle-aged provincial Russian family man, a full fledged member of Russia petite-bourgeoisie. Decent wages (they’ve doubled in the past two years), a new car, new TV, CD player, and furniture. A package vacation to Turkey. His family’s first abroad. All attributed to Putin. “I believe the president has given people the possibility to work and to make money,” Ignatiyev told the Post. “If five years ago I might have had some doubts about him, now I have none. I don’t see any alternative.”
At that is exactly what United Russia’s campaign commercials hope to say to Ignatiyev: the reason he sees no alternative is because there is none.