Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ten New Studies on Russian Realities Not to Be Missed

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Last month, at the 14th annual conference of Moscow Higher School of Economics, more than 900 scholarly papers were presented on various aspects of social, economic and political life.  Journalist Boris Grozovsky selected and summarized 24 of them; below are ten of the most important for those seeking to understand new Russian realities.

            Grozovsky presented his list in two articles on the portal of the Higher School of Economics ( and  In each case, he provides a hypertext link to the full papers and a more detailed summary of them than the key conclusions presented here.

1.For Most Russians, Elections are a Cargo Cult.  Russians view elections as a requirement or a carnival but rarely as the occasion to make choices between candidates or policies, according to Mikhail Chernysh of the Moscow Institute of Sociology. And officials are interested in maintaining these attitudes as long as possible.

2.Low Incomes, Absence of Savings Preclude Long-Term Planning and Social Solidarity.  Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center says that more than 60 percent of Russians live in villages or small towns, “a milieu which forms a zone of chronic social depression, stagnation, and social anomy.”  Seventy percent “don’t have any savings, and three quarters of them live from paycheck to paycheck.”  They don’t even have sufficient means to move where they might get better jobs.

3.Russian National Identity Less Egoistic than Most.  When people are encouraged to feel pride in their country, they may either display egoistic or altruistic attitudes, Magarita Fabrikant and Vladimir Magun of the Higher School of Economics argue that Russians who are proud of their country are less egoistic and more willing to sacrifice themselves than are residents of other countries.

4.Market Reforms of 1990s Pushed Russians into Survivalist Mode.  Elena Gabert and Leonid Polishchuk of the Higher School of Economics and Denis Stukal of NYU say that Russia’s market reforms have had “a very long cultural echo,” making most survivalists, reducing trust in almost all public institutions, and making people more tolerant of “opportunistic behavior” such as corruption and tax avoidance.

5.Children of First Post-1991 Russian Capitalists Plan to Retire Early.  The first generation of post-Soviet Russian capitalists is now in its late 50s. Its children, who stand to inherit their wealth, plan to work less and retire earlier, possibly as early as age 45, according to Elena Rozhdestvenskaya of the Higher School of Economics.

6.Official Management of Elections Began in Regions and Moved to Moscow. Rostislav Turovsky of the Higher School of Economics says that managed democracy and the use of administrative tools began in the regions in the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin and then migrated to the center rather than as many think the other way around.

7.Media-Promoted ‘Rally Round the Flag’ Campaign Keeps Putin’s Ratings High.  In response to Russia’s foreign policy isolation and economic difficulties, Anastasiya Kazun of the Higher School of Economics says that the Russian media have promoted the idea that Rtussians must “rally round the flag” and that this has kept Vladimir Putin’s ratings high.

8.Experts Say Moscow Likely to Choose Least Desirable Policies to Cope with Crisis.  Natalya Akindinova, Yaroslav Kuzminov and Yevgeny Yasin of the Higher School of Economics say that a survey they have conducted among the Russian expert community found general agreement that “the less desirable for Russia of any scenario of economic policy in the near term, the higher the probability that it will be adopted.”

9.Corruption in Russia’s Regions Greatest Just Before and Just After Gubernatorial Elections. Oleg Sidorkin of Prague’s Charles University, and Dmitry Vorobyev of the Urals Federation University say that “the level of corruption in the regions is highest at the start and at the end of the terms of governors,” as officials try to take advantage of office either to boost their wealth or test the loyalty of their subordinates.

10.Russia’s NGOs Caught in ‘Hybrid Authoritarianism.’  Elena Bogdanova of the University of Eastern Finland and Eleonore Bindman of London’s Queen Mary University say that NGOs in Russia are caught between two competing Russian government policies. On the one hand, the authorities welcome the social services provided by some; but on the other, they persecute those supported from abroad who work in the areas of human rights, ecology and civic enlightenment.

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