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Rossiiskiye Vesti
No 1
January 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
A Sociological Survey
By Leonty BYZOV, sociologist

Russian society has now become rather stable; this also amounts to a certain test, just like specific changes do.

Russian political life isn't marked by any significant events whatsoever; meanwhile covert tensions continue to increase. Large-scale opinion polls highlight that allegedly complete harmony between society and Russian authorities.

Over 40 percent of all respondents believed that the 1999-vintage national situation was something "catastrophic"; meanwhile their current share, which is just 13-14 percent, continues to dwindle steadily. On the other hand, though, more and more Russians are inclined to think that the nationwide situation is "normal"; as a matter of fact, their share exceeded the 23-percent mark by late 2002.

However, Russia's powers-that-be, which have facilitated national stability, are still unable to adequately meet other social demands.

An overwhelming majority of Russia's society, which was discontent with the obtaining situation in the late 1990s, believed that Boris Yeltsin's ouster was the most important thing of them all. About 50 percent of all Russians used to blame Yeltsin for the nationwide crisis. The federal center is virtually beyond all suspicion nowadays. First of all, this concerns Vladimir Putin's record-breaking popularity (more than 70 percent); meanwhile the Government is trusted by 20-25 percent of the pollees. Another 10-15 percent trust the Federal Assembly (Parliament), which apparently performs worse than the executive branch; however, the Federal Assembly now evokes complete indifference, rather than any negative emotions, on the part of the Russian population.

Indeed, any parliament should have some opposition-minded factions because it would otherwise fail to attract anyone's attention. Meanwhile one gets the impression that the Russian parliamentary opposition won't exert any real-life influence on the authorities in the foreseeable future. The opposition, which boasted much better State Duma positions in the late 1990s (as compared to the current time period), was unable to offer any alternative, except ostentatious actions, to the then corridors of powers. An alternative to Yeltsin, i.e. Putin, emerged from the state-power system itself, rather than official-opposition circles.

Objective statistics highlight positive economic trends; among other things, production has expanded to some extent; living standards have also improved in sprawling megalopolises, first and foremost. Meanwhile historical experience shows only too clearly that, instead of subsiding, tensions continue to increase at a time of slow-poke economic growth. This situation is also typical of modern Russia. Negative expectations still persist.

Approximately 12 percent of all Russians believe that things will be changing for the better; another 32 percent are voicing a diametrically opposite opinion. That's why Putin's sky-high popularity ratings reflect the fact that there doesn't seem to be any other alternative to the incumbent Russian leader. But such popularity doesn't reflect society's satisfaction with the current state of things.

Moreover, society expects little from institutions of state authority. True, various sample surveys show only too clearly that social expectations to the effect that the President is the man, who can change the national-development vector (that shaped up over the 1990s) are being increasingly devalued. Society understands that the President has no one to rely on, and that he is in no position to conduct a vigorous policy. (This apparently doesn't concern his foreign policy - Ed.) Putin also wastes most of his time and effort on purely ceremonial activities; in the meantime they are often imitating the solution of snowballing problems.

Considerable segments of Russian society think that the population's troubles and privations can be largely explained by the fact that big-time capital, which is closely linked with regional and federal officials, keeps plundering the country on a regular basis. Big-league tycoons are stealing sky-high incomes being derived through the development of mineral deposits, i.e. the so-called natural rent, and transferring them to foreign banks. Hence the pathetic federal budget, which makes it impossible to solve any current or long-term national problem; at the same time, those population categories, which completely depend on the budget, are doomed to life-time poverty. More than 75 percent of the entire Russian population are ready to support such a measure as the confiscation of ill-gotten fortunes in favor of the state.

At the same time, these sentiments are rather of a passive, declarative nature. Society's real political activity is extremely low. One gets the impression that the generations that are more actively participating in economic life, have largely reconciled themselves to the fact that any protests and energetic political activity are useless, while the best strategy in life is the organization in one's direct environment of social and economic niches, that is, integration as far as possible into the existing, even if unfair, world order. Serious changes are possible only after an active socialization of subsequent generations. At the same time, passive anti-oligarchic sentiments may be artificially invigorated to promote specific political interests. Inside the ruling elites, the struggle for a new re-division of property and control over the country's main economic and political resources is gaining in strength. The latent tensions existing in society may be used by these circles as a weighty argument in the current "fight of giants". Almost 65% of the polled Russians are prepared to back in elections a political party working for the restoration and protection of social justice, which is three or four times the electorate of the KPRF.

However, Russia's main trouble is inability to form national subjects. The future of the Russian nation is causing growing concern among the Russians. Our research into the mentality and myths of the post-Soviet man shows that practically nothing of the traditional archaism we got used to seeing as a manifestation of Russian specifics has been left in him. The inability of the members of society to organize themselves and cooperate is in evidence. Having lost the archaic structures and myths of the collective unconscious, which integrate traditional sociums, Russia has not gone over from traditional society to a nation. So far, there are no ample grounds to claim that such transition will take place in our country in the foreseeable future.

During modernization inside individual groups and corporations, the social fabric of society proves to be absolutely ownerless, on the whole. The more intensive such pin-point modernizations, the more intensive the destruction of common social fabric. The point is not that modernization is proceeding at a snail's pace in Russia; it is destroying national identity and horizontal social ties. This is what makes Russian modernization radically different from other European modernizations.

Meanwhile, the resource of development by inertia is very limited, while the historical time allotted to forming a nation is condensed to the utmost. In order to get at least a chance for a worthy future, mobilization political projects designed for the solution of strategic tasks are vitally needed.

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