Thursday, October 9, 2014

Window on Eurasia: A Majority of Russians Say Putin ‘Most Democratic Ruler Ever’ in Russia -- with Brezhnev in Second Place

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 9 -- A majority of Russians consider that Russia is living through “the most democratic period in its history” and that “Vladimir Putin is the most democratic ruler” their country has ever had, according to results of a new survey conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation.


            In second place in terms of democracy, in the estimation of Russians, was the period of Leonid Brezhnev’s rule, with the periods of rule by Boris Yeltsin, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Dmitry Medvedev trailing, with seven percent, three percent, and one percent respectively, a pattern that Valery Vyzhutovich says needs to be explained (


            There are a variety of reasons for this somewhat unexpected set of responses, the commentator says.  Russians do not have a single definition of democracy or a single assessment of its value. Sixty-two percent say it is important, but 16 percent say it isn’t. “For 43 percent, democracy is ‘glasnost,’ ‘freedom of speech,’ ‘free elections,’ and ‘observation of human rights.’


But only 12 percent of Russians say that democracy involves “the participation of the people in the administration of the country.”


            Asked whether there is enough democracy in Russia today, “a third of the respondents,” Vyzhutovich says, say that there is as much as necessary, 22 percent say there isn’t enough, and one in ten says that “there is too much” democracy in Russia.  Another 33 percent say it is difficult to say whether there is enough or not.


            Such answers indicate, he continues, that when Russians rate their leaders in terms of democracy, they are in fact “subconsciously answering a different questions; who of the named Rsusian leaders is the most sympathetic?” That of course explains the evaluation of Putin given his high standing in the polls. But explaining Brezhnev requires taking nostalgia into account.


            And that nostalgia among Russians today is based on “false memories.” Russians remember that sausage was cheap but they don’t remember that there was no sausage. They remember that they could go to Crimea for a summer break, but they don’t remember how long they had to wait while living in communal apartments.


            As Vyzhutovich notes, “a special feature of false memories” is that idealized memories about one part of life “when ‘lines were shorter,’ ‘ice cream more tasty,’ and ‘girls more kissable’ are all too often “translated into assessments of the political system. In this case, to the Soviet one.”


            The idealization of that system is now going one “from top to bottom,” the commentators says. The government “with the help of the media” and the citizenry “each from its one side is creating ‘a happy past,’ in place of ‘a happy future,’ which was promised but which never came.”


            In place of Andropov who persecuted dissidents is, in the presentation of one media series, “an Andropov who writes poetry. There was no Andropov who practiced punitive psychiatry as a means to cure people who thought differently; instead, there was an Andropov who attempted to establish order and discipline.”


            “There was no Andropov who together with his comrades in the Politbur sent tanks to crush the ‘Prague spring’ and dispatched ‘a limited military contingent’ to Afghanistan; there was instead, an Andropov who was concerned about corruption in the Soviet elites,” Vyzhutovich says.


            The same thing has happened in the case of Brezhnev, he continues, with Russians now forgetting much of what he did and saying instead to themselves that the general secretary was “a normal guy. He lived and allowed others to live. The country under his rule didn’t know grief.”


            “People evaluate leaders of the past not according to historical measures but through the prism of present-day hopes, disappointments and fears,” Vyzhutovich says. The events of the 1990s left some winners in the economic game but many more losers. And as a result, today’s “mass consciousness puts on the pedestal the rulers of former times, even those like Brezhnev.”

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