Thursday, February 16, 2017

Only By Invoking Totalitarian Soviet Past Can Putin Retain Legitimacy, Lev Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 16 – Speaking to the annual meeting of sociologists his Levada Center has just convened, Lev Gudkov, its director, says that in his view, “the only means which will permit the powers that be to keep their legitimacy in the eyes of society is an appeal to the totalitarian ‘great’ Soviet past.”

            That is just one of many observations about the state of Russian society and its prospects for the future that Gudkov and other experts made at the meeting (,  and

            In his plenary address, Gudkov made the following points:

·         “The Crimean mobilization and the massive patriotic upsurge has ended. Russians in 2017 expect a growth in worries and disappointments.”

·         Putin’s standing in the polls reflects the impact of state television which is viewed by about the same percentage as the percentage approving the Kremlin leader.

·         “Politics in recent years has led to the appearance in [Russia] of a young generation with harsh illiberal views … [and] the formation of an ideology of state patriotism which blocks the evolution of the country toward development and liberal values.”

·         The elite “is becoming ever more conservative and primitive and society is withdrawing into depression.” If there isn’t a breakthrough following Trump’s election, Putin’s rating will eventually but not immediately fall as will that of the authorities in general.

·         Russian society is moving toward “something close to the late Soviet variant of its existence, that is, toward the total domination of the state over the economy and personal life and as a result to the demoralization of society.”

·         Only two groups retain any optimism: the young because that is their nature, and those close to the top because of the advantages they have.

·         Young Russians who might have been expected to promote liberalization are “now even more totalitarian in their views than their opposite numbers in Soviet times.” They know little history and consequently a turnover in the elites may not lead to breakthrough to democracy.

·         Democratic institutions have discredited themselves in the eyes of Russians, and now people don’t want to have anything to do with politics or with the institutions that might represent them and their views.

Other participants amplified some of these points. Mark Urnov of the Higher School of Economics reported on a comparative study of students in Russian universities and their counterparts at Princeton. He found that the Russian students were more concerned about their country becoming a world power and were more authoritarian in their views.

Sociologists Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov found in the course of a study of independent and patriotic media that “the more informed audience is not always the more likely to have opposition views.

Sociologist Aleksey Levinson said that increasingly Russians see themselves as poor people living in a rich country and that they do not now have any gratitude to Putin for the “fat” years before the current crisis. 

And political scientist Dmitry Orlov said that he doesn’t see a real interest in articulating a formal state ideology.  “The Crimean mobilization simplified the argues of the sides in that dispute and increased aggressiveness in society, but the powers that be recognize this and since last summer there has been a move away from this aggression.”

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