Russian Poll Reflects "Optimism," Readiness for Security vs. Liberty Tradeoff
9 January 2003
Report by Igor Pankov:
"Fascination with Liberalism -- The Number of Optimists in Russia Has Unprecedentedly Risen"
The Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Philosophy [IFRAN] has summed up the results of its newest sociological research under the long-term monitoring study entitled "Our Values and Interests Today." One hundred questions were answered by almost 1,500 respondents from 12 regions. The study's results have turned out to be unexpected even for the researchers themselves: in the past 80-plus years, the foundation of public awareness has finally changed. There is talk among the public: mentalities have taken a turn...
The first report made by the Center for Studying Socio-Cultural Changes, headed by Russian Academy of Sciences corresponding member Nikolay Lapin, which was prepared as far back as 1990 (the data has since been updated every four years) was submitted to the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] Central Committee's science and propaganda division. And that was the last to be seen of it... Because scientists were still not able to publish it then. Besides, the censorship of those "responsible for ideology" was almost predictable: despite the euphoria of perestroyka, more than half of those surveyed manifested "poor social sentiments."
What Are You Complaining About?
An outstanding BBC correspondent once noted that the British have always had a very high opinion of Russia. This country, they said, will still catch up to and surpass the United States. The only thing that surprises them is why, in a country with huge potential, there are so many problems and people constantly complaining that they live poorly.
The image of the Russian grumbler and hypochondriac is customary not only for the British. This is the favorite personage of domestic media sources -- whether in the guise of an inoffensive street reportage or a political talk-show. It is thus all the more surprising that today 44 percent of people are not completely satisfied with Russian reality (judging by recent studies, there is approximately the same proportion of the US population that is not delighted from the United States as it is today). When has this been the case in the new Russia? "Dissatisfaction with life in general" took on a mass scale in 1994 -- more than 80 percent of those surveyed shared this feeling. Not only among the elderly, I stress, but also among young people, who, crudely speaking, did not know "which way to run." Analysts essentially witnessed the catastrophe of Soviet society and of the Soviet person in particular.
But every cloud has a silver lining. And so now, as IFRAN director Vyacheslav Stepin has stressed, a departure from paternalistic traditions, dominated by the principle that "my life depends on the authorities, not on me," has taken root among society, and there has been a move toward liberal values. Since 1990 the proportion of independent people who live according to the principle that "everything depends on me and those close to me" has grown from 43 percent to 78 percent.
And this is understandable:under conditions when there is no one to take care of you any longer (even though such care was previously reminiscent of psychological institution staff's care for their patients), you begin to try to take care of yourself. Some respondents honestly reported in their interviews that they had from two to five jobs. One in four of those surveyed -- and this, incidentally, is something marvelous for us -- are not only ready to look for a "lucrative job," but also to change their profession in order to do so. And although two thirds of those surveyed continue to consider themselves poor or not-well-off, thanks to labor market mobility the stratum of those well-off or affluent, who can afford everything except summer houses or apartments, has risen from 25 to 30 percent since 1998.
Economic coercion, Professor Lapin believes, is nevertheless better than the all-too recently prevalent administrative, forceful coercion. Because it gives rise to a belief in one's own capacities, to social activeness, and ultimately -- to a prosperous economy. Almost two thirds of those who participated in the study were optimists. They believe either that they stand to lose nothing in 2003, or that they stand to gain, in other words they will begin to live better.
The Price of Freedom
In 1990 the scholars of IFRAN identified 11 rights and liberties that are now in one way or another enshrined in the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and asked people to answer the question of how important strict respect for these rights and liberties is. In this way, they drew up a sort of rating of human rights as seen by Russians.
In the wave of acceleration and glasnost, nine of 11 of these items were immediately listed as "very important." Everything seemed important and indispensable to the people at that time. But the ugly duckling of the market, which has yet to become a swan in Russia, has nevertheless forced people to isolate what is most important and to sweep aside what is secondary. There has emerged a group of the five "most, most important" (which from year to year is consistently supported by no less than 90 percent of respondents), now looking like this:
-- the equality of citizens before the law and the judiciary,
-- the right to safety and personal security,
-- the right to own property,
-- the right to employment,
-- the right to education.
Meanwhile, one of the recognized fundaments of democracy -- the right to free association -- brings up the rear of the list, while the right to have confidential correspondence and telephone calls (in sixth place) is valued more than the freedom of speech (in 8th place). In Professor Lapin's opinion, a certain contradiction that requires further study lies in the low rating given to religious freedoms (in 9th place), although confidence in the Orthodox Church (41 percent) is much higher than in the same parties (5.6 percent, barely, in order to enter the Federal Assembly).
In the impression and experience of Russian citizens, the most frequently violated right in our country is that of safety and personal security. (Last year, the number-one threat was identified as crime -- from domestic offenses to international terrorism. And this was the case even before the Dubrovka events.) Next in line were the right to employment, the right to own property, the right to be treated equality before the law, and the freedom of speech. The latter freedom --- which is not, as has already been noted, the most significant in the eyes of citizens -- ended up in the first five most likely because any infringement of the right of public expression sparks a wide reaction in the press. When a cobble-stone is thrown into the river, the first to react are the fish.
What is a Right?
People, it goes without saying, are prepared to fight, and do strive to fight for their rights. But here, a depressing dependency has been identified: the more important the right, the more frequently it is violated, the more intensively citizens strive to defend it, and the less success they enjoy. In defending their own safety, let's say, acting in defense of their own person, only three in seven achieve any sort of positive result for themselves. We are not speaking here about the elite, of course, but about rank-and-file Russian citizens. All the more so as elite strata represent a fraction of a percent in the given sample -- just as in life.
This is why, in the last 12 years, the list of our "eternal values" has now for the first time come to be topped by "family." It is specifically here, like a kangaroo baby in it's mother's pouch, that we try to hide from the adversities of the external social environment. To establish and maintain here our own "order" (the number-two value, which had previously been on the top, as we were surely short on order in the 90s). To find joy in "communication" (value number 3). And this, as sociologists say, is the integrating nucleus that presently unifies the majority of Russian Federation citizens and, in principle, should assist the authorities in determining domestic policy, in finding a common language with the public. Even with as contradictory a public as ours.
That Sweet Term "Private Trader"
Since the breakup of the USSR the majority of Russians, even during a time of complete hopelessness, have traditionally been in favor of reforms. The question is: what kind of reforms? The market economy's unquestionable achievement is: high prices, but many goods. An inherent characteristic of socialism, on the other hand (we know, we lived through it) is: low prices, but a total shortage. Such an arrangement of affairs only is only advocated by 33 percent of people. But... A planned (read: socialist) economy was favored in the latest survey by more people than the market economy was. Anti-reform sentiments are prominent among the group of those over 45 years old (in other words, as they are pushed out of the market of highly-paid jobs and grow closer to a meager pension). And so still, far from everyone associates abundance with a particular market mechanism.
Be that as it may, Russian citizens have nevertheless come to appreciate the advantages of a multi-structure economy. The word "private trader" has ceased to be used to scare respectable girls. Today, 15 percent of those surveyed work in the private sector. And 84 percent would like to work there! Given the opportunity to chose several spheres of work, approximately 50 percent of respondents came out in favor of the state sector, and 50 percent for the mixed sector (including joint-stock company, cooperative, or other non-state ownership).
In the opinion of the report's authors, the chaos of the 1990s has on the whole passed. The country has finally overcome the anomaly, or the discord between officially declared norms and how citizens truly behave. A new social order is taking root, in which Western liberal values are combined with the values traditional for a particular ethnic group -- a kind of Russian liberalism of the Eastern-European type, markedly influenced by Orthodox culture and the personification of power. It is not for nothing that the President of the Russian Federation's confidence rating is beating all records -- at two-thirds of those surveyed.
Moreover, 80 percent of Russian citizens to not feel protected from crime, 78 percent from ecological dangers, 73 percent from poverty, 70 percent from public officials' arbitrary abuse of power. Under such conditions the majority are ready to forego liberties for the sake of physical, social, and judicial guarantees. Whether Russia remains within the bounds of democracy itself will depend on the extent to which the fundamental problem of democratic society can be successfully solved -- the contradiction between freedom and security.