polling Russians

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Tue Jul 28 14:46:00 PDT 1998

[an interesting poll reported on Johnson's Russia List]

>From RIA Novosti
Obshchaya Gazeta July 23, 1998 RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT NOT LEGITIMATE, PEOPLE SAY Political Chaos in Minds and in Deeds By Leonid SEDOV

The Power poll held by the National Public Opinion Research Centre in February-March 1998 offers an embracing picture of the depth of the crisis of the government system which became established in Russia in the past six years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The spontaneous development of the regime pushed the country towards crime, the appearance of local authoritarian regimes poorly controlled by the central authorities, the transformation of virtually all organisational structures into corporations which rely on force in their relations with other structures, and the development of authoritarian trends in the central power, which is becoming an "omnipotent-impotent elected monarchy."

This was bound to affect the public consciousness. It is regrettable, but the bulk of the people see a way out of the crisis not in the continued development of democratic foundations in social and economic relations, but in the use of such original ideas as the "iron fist" power, workers' self-government, and on to "Red restoration." The idea once voiced by Winston Churchill that democracy is a very bad form of government, but all other forms are worse still, is supported by only 25% of Russians.

When asked about democracy in Russia, only 10% of the respondents reply that it is the best possible variant of development, while nearly 50% believe that "there is another, more perfect form of government for Russia." We are sorry to say that the people think this better form is the previous, Soviet regime, which they recall somewhat idealistically and compare it as such to the current regime.

Replies to the question about the qualities of Soviet power of the late 1970s to the early 1990s leave no doubts to this effect (see Table 1).

Table 1 (in % of the respondents)


Qualities Soviet regime Current regime


Close to the people 36 2

Alien to the people 8 41

"Our own," which we are used to 32 3

Legal 32 12

Illegal 1 13

Strong, durable 27 2

Weak, impotent 8 30

Bureaucratic 30 22

Short-sighted 23 28

Respected 21 2

Secretive, closed to the people 17 8

Honest, open 14 3

Fair 16 3

Criminal, corrupt 13 63

Narrow-minded, unwise 9 12

Inconsistent 8 32

Parasitic 8 18

Unprofessional 6 12

Educated, intelligent 8 6


"Corrupt and criminal" are the dominant characteristics of the current authorities. Unlike the Soviet power, which was "close to the people," the current regime is "alien to the people," and "weak" and "inconsistent" into the boot.

The most paradoxical thing is that the Soviet regime, which existed without genuine elections and was clearly the regime of usurpers, is regarded by a considerable part of the respondents as "legal," while only 12% accept the legality of the current regime, which survived quite a few elections. At the same time, 61% of the respondents regard elections as the best method of forming the national leadership, and 45% are convinced that we should have parties and a parliament.

It should be remembered, though, that none of the positive characteristics of Soviet regime got more than 35% of votes. Only 35% of the respondents regard it as "power by the people," "humane," and these respondents are the reliable electorate of the left-wing opposition. On the other hand, 75% of the respondents had a positive word to say about the previous regime, and barely 20% see positive elements in the current authorities, while the number of those who regard the current government negatively reached 85%.

To get a better view of the people's dissatisfaction with the current system of public relations, we compared the real and ideal (desired) structures of influence of the current forces, as seen by the people. By comparing the number of answers to the question who wields the greatest influence now, and who should wield such influence, we get an inverted pyramid, which testifies to the people's desire to turn the situation upside down.

Table 2 enumerates the current influential forces in Russia and the number of positive answers with regard to their current or (in the second case) desired influence.

Table 2 (in % of the respondents)


Who has the influence Who should have the influence


Criminal groups 80 Intelligentsia 81

Bankers, financiers 77 Trade unions 64

Bureaucrats 61 Mass media 56

Businessmen 50 Directors 54

Mass media 48 Bankers 44

Foreign businessmen 47 The military 44

Company directors 45 Bureaucrats 38

The church 23 The church 33

The army 16 Businessmen 26

Intelligentsia 10 Foreign businessmen 11

Trade unions 4 Criminal groups 4


The direction of this "turnover" is clear. The people want to see their authorities above all smart and educated. (It is another matter than in practice they seldom can make the distinction correctly, and the most talented and competent administrators lose to such "doctors of science" as Zyuganov.)

They believe that the influence of intelligentsia, which is negligible in Russia today, must become predominant. The other preferences are clearly social-democratic and syndicalist. The second most influential force should be the trade unions, the respondents say, and the role of major directors and industrial associations must grow.

It is interesting that such institutions as the mass media, the church and the army, which are traditionally trusted by the people, should occupy a higher place in this pyramid. This means that the people have learned to value the freedom of speech, as proved by the fact that the mass media are afforded a place close to the top, although quite a few respondents (44% and 33%) spoke up for the growth of influence of clerical and military forces.

This can be interpreted as a potential threat of the militarisation of society, or a leaning towards religious fundamentalism. But, when they speak about a higher influence of the church, the respondents mean above all the peace-making function of religion, and its possible role in cushioning the confrontation which is tearing society apart. Such hopes are widespread among less educated people, pensioners, state officials, and (most interesting) criminal groups. (The poll showed that 4% of the respondents advocate greater influence of criminal groups and at the same time a stronger church.)

The respondents who described themselves as "the upper class" are leaning towards "reliance on Christianity," too. This may mean that in conditions of a dramatic aggravation of the crisis and the threat of a "Red revenge," a part of the elite, searching for ways (not necessarily constitutional ones) to preserve their power, might pin their hopes on the church as a political force and a source of legitimacy.

The legitimacy of the regime is becoming a burning question, as proved by the data given at the beginning of this article. It can be buttressed by observations which prove that the Russian society is moving towards a deep split between the ruling elite, which the people think has lost the right to rule, and the bulk of the population, who can hardly claim the name of citizens.

Most respondents agree that the state does not fulfil its obligations to the people, while the people do not do their duty to the state. But they place the bulk of the blame on the state. In particular, only 5% of the respondents think that the state is doing what it has to do, while 70% disagree. Only 40% said they did not do their duty to the state, while 18% think they perform their civil duty quite well.

This is an excessively complimentary evaluation. If the standards of maturity and consciousness of Russians are so high, why then is the quality of Russian statehood so poor? We might explain this by the influence of some extraneous, heavenly forces, but this would be in the realm of superstition, rather than a sober analysis of reality.

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