Society / Issue August 28, 2008 63

189 Photofit of the Russian average citizen



We continue building up a collective portrait of the Russian citizen jointly with the leading sociologists from Levada Center: Director of the Center Lev Gudkov; chief of the social and political research department Boris Dubin; chief of the social and cultural research department Alexei Levinson. The previous séances of building up the image of the average Russian citizen were published in the ## 23, 40, 46, 60 of Novaya Gazeta in 2008.  

Archaization of consciousness

Lev Gudkov: Xenophobia per se means unacceptance (fear, antipathy, hidden or open aggression) of the strange. This strange may be anything forms of social behaviour, common for some and felt as unacceptable by others; cultural particularities; notions of decency and etiquette. Most often xenophobia is understood as exactly inimical or unfriendly attitude towards the members of other ethnic groups or ethnic minorities, especially when they are migrants or adherents of different faith. At the moment of the crisis of the soviet system in 1988-1989 we established the lowest level of xenophobia among the Russian population taken on the whole. The situation in Russia was calmest against the background of national-ethnic consolidation in the union republics and raising hostilities there towards the members of non-titular ethnic groups, including Russians. That time Russia had not woken up yet. Compared to the data of the European polls, the xenophobia indicators in Russia were significantly lower than in Europe on the whole. It was similar to FRG, but much lower than in Austria, Poland, and Hungary.       

Only when the reforms began and real changes came, when economic crisis appeared and the soviet institutional system collapsed, then xenophobia figures began to show a rapid growth. By the mid-90s the need in unaccountable self-assertion had become obvious and it was exactly then that we detected for the first time the growth of significance of the slogan Russia for Russians. That was a reaction to the crisis and instability and uncertainty. By the time of Putins coming to power and at the initial period of his presidency the support of the slogan above reached its maximum of 66%.    

Boris Dubin: In parallel, a feeling was growing that Russia was surrounded with enemies. When we began our measurements, that sign was practically insignificant: there was no need to look for enemies when the matter was about our own mistakes. In 1989 half of the population considered so. However, by the late of the 90s everything had changed.    

Lev Gudkov: In 1988-1989 only 13% of people said that Russia had enemies. Today the figure is 70-77%.

Alexei Levinson: Interestingly, when people said we had enemies, some of them said we dont know exactly who it is. 

Lev Gudkov: Yes, the hidden enemies are most dangerous. Along with the growing popularity of the slogan Russia for Russians the anti-western feeling began to grow too, with anti-American trend presented most of all. What was there behind that? First of all, its about a feeling of ones own weakness, inferiority and imaginary threat coming from stronger partners, from other world powers. Hence, there was nostalgia for the great power that was afraid of by everyone and was respected in the world. At the same time it intended the restoration of notions of the hierarchic structure of the social space. That means, Russians must have advantages over others. This is first of all about power relations, enforcement structures, educational system, culture and television. That is, the archaic notion of hierarchy of unequal ethnoses began to be restored and affirmed. Through that, the idea of the empire as a state for Russians holding the ethnic variety, began to be reanimated too. Today, if we compare with the western researches, the level of xenophobia with us is 2-2.5 times as much as in Europe. What is it manifested in? There are standard procedures of measuring the inter-ethnic relations, like the Bogardus scale. For example, I would not like that strangers be present in the town I live in, I wouldnt like to work with strangers, I wouldnt like my children to get married with strangers, I wouldnt like strangers to teach my children at school and so forth. This alienation and a social distance grew significantly in the late 90s and early 2000s. The ties in the society got the traits of tribal solidarity, while people felt belonging to simpler, if not to say primitive, communities. The social world got more atomized in terms of its inner relations and it became isolationist-like, closed for the outer world and strange influence.                

Boris Dubin: Russian consciousness cannot imagine the president or defense minister to be non-Russian, like it cannot imagine a woman to fill those positions. In that sense, the archaization of the consciousness is present. The society used to be more tolerant towards sexual minorities and towards the opposite sex. Now the intolerance has sharpened in parallel to ethnic xenophobia. 

Lev Gudkov: This is why all those talks about the Year of the Family, strengthening the traditional family values are just a reaction to incomplete modernization.  

Alexei Levinson: This incomplete modernization had a paradoxical form. The Soviet regime was based on the documents made in universalism terminology, as the communist ideology is universalist-like in its origin. The presence of those norms (even violated ones) legitimated the universalist notions, driving the rest into the area of the unofficial and everyday life. Even over the course of struggle with cosmopolitism he who called someone yid in the public, he could be held responsible and punished administratively by the Communist Party. The collapse of this formal structure of the soviet rules caused their substitution for folk notions meaning that derogatory ideas of the non-whites are the main definitions of those people. And the fact that we all are citizens of the Russian Federation, this is just a game intended for others. That has been a significant change that happened in our country.     

The story of banishment of Georgians has affected greatly the public morale, as a signal was sent from the very top saying it is possible and allowed to think and to act so.   

Russia for Russians

Lev Gudkov: Now about the slogan Russia for Russians. It has been 50-52% of the interrogated people to support it. The initial indignation about this slogan, which used to be considered a fascist-like by many, is getting weaker. In 1998 it was about 32%, and by 2003 it had reduced to 18%. However, now it has increased a bit again and is 26%. Different groups put different meanings into this slogan. However, there is still common ground for those meanings. More educated strata relate to it some incentive actions of the state policy, encouraging the development of the indigenous nation. It may be about holding cultural festivals, publication of the heritage of the Russian writers, studies of the Russian folklore, or support given to the Russian Orthodox Church acting as a synonym of the ethnic unity, etc. As for infringed and little educated lower strata, they demand for toughening the control over concentration of the comers in the cities or even for their direct deportation. Its about 20% who speak for the latter point, while such a policy towards illegal immigrants would be approved by more than a half of Russians. Along with that, no distinction is made between a Russian citizen, for example, from Kabardino-Balkaria and a man who came from Armenia or Azerbaijan.        

Alexei Levinson: This is best demonstrated by skinheads who do not care beating a Korean diplomat, a Yakut chess player or a sweeper from Uzbekistan.  

Lev Gudkov: Shortly speaking, the range of requirements to the authority from the adherents of the slogan Russia for Russians is rather wide: from making privileges to direct aggression. 

Boris Dubin: As for readiness for radical actions towards the strangers, the population now is expecting some actions from the authoritys side. As for activities by single groups, the major part of the population do not support them. However, in case of the authority beginning to regulate all that, the public opinion may change.   

Alexei Levinson: This is why what was done by our militaries towards the Chechen people, was not condemned inside the country. And if skinheads do same thing in the streets, thats no good. Of course, in public opinion they should not be punished as strict as if that was done by Caucasian expatriates, but still skinheads should not act so. 

Lev Gudkov: Radical nationalist actions are supported by no more than 6% of the population.   

Boris Dubin: People value the current stability and this is why they do not have sympathy for the groups that appear to be single ones, non-state, acting under their own initiative. 

Lev Gudkov: In most cases such actions are interpreted as acts of hooliganism and not as showing the ethnic hatred.  

Alexei Levinson: The governor of a large region once showed a reaction to a situation where young people of the indigenous nationality bashed the young people of non-titular ethnic group. He said its no chauvinism! Its just because those guys wanted to have relationships with our girls. We carried out a research of employment of legal -I stress this point - migrants in the agricultural field. I interviewed the employers. Their thinking was split. They explained why they hired Tajiks, Uzbeks, and did not take the local Russians. The reason was not that one may pay less to the migrants. Many employers pay normal price and also pay taxes out of that. They specially bring those Gastarbeiters, as they are more industrious and efficient. They do not take alcohol, and they are quiet, and there are no scuffles among them. In short, they are good and advantageous workers. And in case you accept local people, youll have a lot o troubles. On the other hand, when over the course of the interview same person started talking of Moscow, one could hear standard complaints saying that it is overcrowded with immigrants and there are no Russians remaining there etc, including sympathy for London and Paris about same problem.       

Lev Gudkov: This xenophobia develops despite the real needs of our society. Authorities often say that the migrants take away jobs from the native dwellers and run down prices in the labor market. All that is a pack of lies. Moreover, the aggregate public convenience is rather significant out of the drift of labor into the country from outside. This is the only thing to secure filling of the labor market and it enables significant growth of the public welfare. As for communal and municipal services and for construction, the absence of migrants would really lead to disastrous consequences.  

Alexei Levinson: A useless discussion is going on about interpretation of the word Russian. There are at least two approaches: taking it as a civic definition, i.e. as an inhabitant of this country and a citizen of Russia without nationality taken into consideration; interpreting it as the word Russian meaning belonging to an ethnos. Significantly, this discussion began at our days; it did not exist in a sharp form even in the 19th century. To this effect we are going through somewhat less civilized times; it looks like we are returning to repeated social incompetence. In a sense, the society has degraded. When a society demonstrates archaic structuring division into friends and strangers, that indicates of a very low level of its organization.     

Boris Dubin: When discussing this topic, we often skip the cultural sphere. Amazingly, despite the fact that our country consists for 20% of ethnic minorities, we have no idea, for example, of the Tatar or Buryat or whatever else literature, cinema and television. It looks like the culture of the non-titular nations does not exist we do not see this problem and do not discuss it, unlike France, Germany, Great Britain, let alone the US. For example, when I come to a common German bookshop, I see that 4-6 books out of 10 on the shelf there are written by Turkish, Albanian, Greek, Romanian authors. These are novels in German where main characters live in Germany, but they are no ethnic Germans. I can go to another shop and see there Turkish literature written in Turkish. I turn on TV and see two programs in Turkish, one program in Albanian, Spanish etc. That is, returning to Russia, Tatar literature does exist, of course. But it exists in Kazan only (Tatarstan capital), and it does not exist as a common problem for Russia.         

The syndrome of a besieged fortress

Boris Dubin: Here is a recent poll with two mirror questions. The first one is Do the western countries have grounds for being afraid of Russia? 32% of the respondents consider that yes. The second question: Does Russia have grounds to be afraid of the western countries? 62% of the interrogated, i.e. two times as many, say yes. In other word, we think that we are threatened, while we are rather peaceful. And this is going on now, when there are no big wars. Significantly, this proportion of 1 to 2 is quite stable. What changes is only the figures of our enemies.

Lev Gudkov: Over the period of the collapse of Soviet Union, the notion of our external enemies got reduced to minimum. After that, over the course of the process of the national self-assertion the role of enemies began to be more significant. Here, an old virgin complex begins to work, who thinks that all the men are messing around her with dirty intentions about her virginity. For us that meant, whatever happened in the world, that was intended against Russia. Of course, the US is the traditional and since-soviet-time-existing enemy. However, America is too strong to get in serious confrontation with her. So, like it happens in case of a banal envy, other candidates for playing part of foes appear, to whom this role is ascribed. There is taking turns going on: for some while it was Ukraine to be our foe, then Georgia and Baltic States, some time ago it was Poland.     

Alexei Levinson: Why exactly those countries? First, all of them have chosen their own way of development and turned their back on Russia, which aroused our displeasure. But there is also another thing. Russia often gets involved in conflicts with those countries which cannot be explained in rational way from the point of view of the Russias interests. It looks like there is a task of worsening the relations with neighbors. I see only one explanation to that thats special making of the burning border. Its made not for consolidating the society but for putting it within the usual surroundings where we must be besieged by foes. Amazingly, the created by Stalin syndrome of the besieged fortress turned out to be in demand under conditions of freedom. Putin did not invent that; he just found that and made a use of it.      

Boris Dubin: But that thing was and is present in the activities by significant and fundamental institutions. This may be found at school and in the media. Why dont we make up a national holiday dedicated to liberation from Polish-Lithuanian invaders? It turns out that the figure of discrimination not only separates us from them; it has inserted into the middle of our consciousness. Our we-construct implies opposing to the enemy in any case.

Lev Gudkov: We cannot express our virtues and merits without putting an accent on the figure of a foe or a stranger. Because to express oneself through some achievements, one must really have and present some achievements.  

Boris Dubin: A foe is needed for constant maintaining the state of consolidation and keeping people in squatting position where they permanently are.

Collective paranoia

Lev Gudkov: I would not like to put a stress on a moment of manipulation, which takes place, of course. Its impossible to manipulate something if there is no inclination to being manipulated. I like very much an old Buddhist saying If the hand is not wounded, one may carry the poison in hand. The poison would not harm the hand. And according to the Orthodox tradition, the weakness is always in the human creature itself.   

We always have to discriminate two things: antipathy for the population of some country and antipathy to that state itself. For example, there is no antipathy to Ukrainians, while Ukraine as a state is disliked. On the contrary, China as a state is not disliked by us, while we feel some xenophobia towards Chinese. Its obvious that our authorities demonstrate open sympathy to the Chinese regime that is far from democracy. This is detected and supported by our population. There is also no dislike towards the Central Asian states where real authoritarian and despotic regimes rule. We like even Turkmenia where Russians had and have serious problems.      

Boris Dubin: Return of the habitual attitude of Russia standing up from her knees influences the masses in a beneficial way. On one hand, people like it that we got foes again. On the other hand, people like it that everyone began to listen to us again, and this is considered to be a factor of stability.  

Alexei Levinson: What is the discourse of the cold war? This is the discourse of our and the older generation. The problem is that it gets accepted by younger people. The young are featured either with a tourist-pluralistic notion of the world or with a new edition of notions from the cold war times. There is no new approach among the young politicians from Nashi movement to those working in the foreign ministry. All what they say is just a rehash of the old confrontation policy.      

Boris Dubin: It falls into absurdity. We have polled recently a thousand of rather rich and successful young people in the large and largest Russian cities. Three forth of them say they would not mind if their children went to study and work in abroad, and one third is even ready to reconcile to a situation where their children stay abroad for good. Along with that, three forth say that the West does not like Russia and treats it in an inimical way. Why do you intend to send your children to this West, when it is so hostile!   

Lev Gudkov: This forkedness is set deep inside of the collective consciousness. The country appears to need the hostile attitude towards itself. The realizing itself that todays Russia may arouse disgust and indifference, that she may be uninteresting and unpleasant for the world, as an ill-bred or drunken neighbor, this idea seems to be unbearable. And the collective paranoia that interprets anything to be directed against Russia, is the most powerful remedy for raising and self-satisfaction of the national self-consciousness. There is no other equal remedy in terms of effectiveness.   

In this sense, the authority is not alien to the mass of population; they are of same nature. Todays authority is no modernizing but a very conservative institution, and this is why it interprets the happening like the mass does. It does not invent anything specially, it just uses the hints from the mass.


To post a comment you must login or register