Center for Economic and Political Reform: Protests on Rise in Russia

Analysts Claim Number of Protests Sharply on the Rise in Russia
Yevgenia Kuznetsova
RBC
July 10, 2017

The number of social and political protests in Russia has risen in the second quarter by 33% compared to the beginning of the year. Experts attribute the rise to seasonal activeness and the growth of social tension.

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Photo courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC

Protest Factors
During the second quarter of 2017, the number of protests in Russia rose by a third compared to the start of the year. There were 284 protests in the first quarter of the year, while 378 protest events were recorded in the second quarter, the Center for Economic and Political Reform (CERP) reported in its paper “Russia in 2017: The Number of Protests Grows.” RBC has a copy of the paper.

The CERP’s analysts divide protests into political protests and social protests. The latter include protests over the violation of social rights, declines in living standards, loss of work, and nonpayment of back wages. Over the second quarter, the number of both types of protest grew. The paper’s authors recorded 148 political protests from April to July, compared to 96 in the first three months of the year, while the number of protests provoked by social injustices rose from 167 to 205. The analysts collected their information about protests from the media, social networks, regional analysts, and workforces, who recorded the protests on the ground.

The paper claims the level of protests was high both in 2016 and early 2017. Last year, however, the majority of protests touched on specific issues—wage arrears, the demands of defrauded investors and residential building stakeholders, increases in utility rates, the launch of the Plato system of road tolls for truckers, etc. The authorities did not solve these problems, and so protests have been politicized this year. People involved in them have taken to the streets with more general slogans, for example, anti-corruption slogans, the paper’s authors note. In their opinion, this is the cause of the increase in political protests. ​​

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Protests recorded in the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2017. [Green] Protests caused by socio-economic issues: 372. [Violet] Political protests: 244. [Light blue] Labor protests: 46. 1st quarter: 167 social protests, 96 political protests, 21 labor protests = 284 protests. 2nd quarter: 205 social protests, 148 political protests, 25 labor protests = 378 protests. Source: Center for Political and Economic Reform, “Russia in 2017: The Number of Protests Grow.” Copyright 2017, RBC

The growth of protests is explained by another factor: seasonality, CERP director Nikolay Mironov told RBC. People protest less at the start of the year than in the spring months. According to Mironov, the regime uses the seasonality of protests to decide when to schedule elections. In 2012, analysts at the Central Electoral Commission determined the populace was politically most active, including in terms of turnout, during two seasons: late March, April, and May, and late October, November, and December. Therefore, the regime moved the nationwide parliamentary and local legislative assemblies election day to September to lower the turnout while announcing the presidential election for March 2018 to raise the turnout

Other eventful factors in the second quarter of this year were the adoption of the law on residential housing renovation and the large-scale protests by Alexei Navalny’s supporters. But the main factor, according to Mironov, was the overall increase in tension due to the fact that the problems that have given rise to protests have not been solved or have been solved on a case-by-case basis.

“This is the Kremlin’s election strategy: solve problems on an ad hoc basis, because it is impossible to solve them as a whole. But you can go to a region and resolve a specific problem in a flashy way for the TV cameras,” Mironov explained.

Mironov argues that the federal authorities also expect that, after a public flogging during the president’s televised call-in show and his trips to the regions, local authorities will start solving problems on their own.

“But it doesn’t work. For example, after the televised call-in show, the workers in Nizhny Tagil got their back wages paid, but the strike by miners in Gukovo, in Rostov Region, was hushed up and will continue to be hushed up,” said Mironov.

The increase in the number of political protests partly has to do with how the media covers the protests, Mironov argues. According to him, journalists usually pay more attention to political protests than to social protests, and this has a dampening effect on protests. People about whom reporters don’t write are “a priori less protected.”

Localization
The CEPR’s conclusions about the growth of protests have been indirectly confirmed by research carried out by the Levada Center. According to one of its surveys, the number of people who agree that political protests are possible in their town has risen from 14% in February to 23% in June, Levada Center sociologist Stepan Goncharov told RBC. The number of people willing to take part in political protests has increased from eight to twelve percent. An even greater number of people predicted social protests would break out in their towns. When asked, “Are protests against decreased living standards possible in your town right now?” 28% of respondents in June said they were, as opposed to only 19% in February.

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Protests in the 1st quarter of 2017 by federal district. [Green] Social protests: 472. [Violet] Political protests: 244. [Light blue] Labor protests: 46. Volga Federal District: 160 protests. Central Federal District: 132 protests. Siberian Federal District: 86 protests. Northwest Federal District: 82 protests. Southern Federal District: 66 protests. Far Eastern Federal District: 47 protests. Ural Federal District: 62 protests. North Caucasus Federal District: 27 protests. Source: Center for Political and Economic Reform, “Russian in 2017: The Number of Protests Grow.” Copyright RBC, 2017

It would be wrong to say there have been considerably more social protests in recent months, argues Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Petersburg Politics Foundation, based on the results of his own research. According to Vinogradov, the number of political protests has increased mainly due to protests by Navalny’s supporters, but the number of social protests has remained at the same level. It would also be wrong to say the number of social protests depends directly on how the authorities resolve the issues that provoke them, says Vinogradov. According to him, the authorities do not have an overall algorithm. In some locales, they resolve issues immediately, fearing protests, while in other places they ignore problems or get bogged down in talking about them. The problem is that the authorities are not always able to determine the real cause of protests and react correctly to it.

Discontent is growing, but the majority of protests remain local for the time being, argues political scientist Konstantin Kalachev.

“The regime is fairly good at solving problems by nipping them in the bud,” argues Kalachev.

Although we cannot be sure social protests will not segue into political protests.

“For the time being it all comes down to demands to dismiss one governor or another, nothing more,” says Kalachev.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Yekaterina Schulmann

Yekaterina Schulmann. Photo courtesy of Andrei Stekachov and The Village

Political Scientist Yekaterina Schulmann on Why You Should Vote
Anya Chesova and Natasha Fedorenko
The Village
September 16, 2016

This Sunday, September 18, the country will vote for a new State Duma, the seventh since the fall of the Soviet Union. The peculiarity of this vote is that it will take place under a mixed electoral system for the first time since 2003. 225 MPs will be elected to five-year tears from party lists, while the other 225 MPs will be elected from single-mandate districts. Several days before the elections, The Village met with Yekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist and senior lecturer at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). We talked with her about why you should vote if United Russia is going to win in any case, as well as about the changes in store for the Russian political system in the coming years.


The Upcoming Elections

The Village: On Sunday, the country will hold the first elections to the State Duma since 2011. The social climate in the city and the country as a whole has changed completely since that time. Protests erupted in 2011, and the people who protested on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue believed they could impact the political situation. Nowadays, few people have held on to such hopes. What should we expect from the upcoming elections? And why should we bother with them?

Yekaterina Schulmann: Everything happening now with the State Duma election is a consequence of the 2011–2012 protests, including changes in the laws, the introduction of the mixed system, the return of single-mandate MPs, the lowering of the threshold for parties to be seated in the Duma from seven to five percent, and the increased number of parties on the ballot. These are the political reforms outlined by then-president Dmitry Medvedev as a response to the events of December 2011. Later, we got a new head of state, but it was already impossible to take back these promises. The entire political reality we observe now has grown to one degree or another out of the 2011–2012 protest campaign, whether as rejection, reaction or consequence. It is the most important thing to happen in the Russian political arena in recent years.

The statements made by Vyacheslav Volodin, the president’s deputy chief of staff, on the need to hold honest elections, Vladimir Churov’s replacement by Ella Pamfilova as head of the Central Electoral Commission, the departure of someone more important than Churov from the CEC, deputy chair Leonid Ivlev, and the vigorous sacking of chairs of regional electoral commissions are all consequences of the protests. If they had not taken place, nothing would have changed. We would still have the same proportional voting system, the same seven-percent threshold, the same old Churov or Churov 2.0. Continue reading ““We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Yekaterina Schulmann”

Living Levada Loca

Komar & Melamid, Russia's Most Wanted Painting, 1995. Image courtesy of Dia Art Foundation
Komar & Melamid, Russia’s Most Wanted Painting, 1995. Image courtesy of Dia Art Foundation

The Picture Is Going to Get Prettier
Greg Yudin
Vedomosti
September 6, 2016

The latest attack on the Levada Center (this past Monday, the organization was labeled a “foreign agent”) provoked a justified outcry from people in various parts of the ideological spectrum, from the center’s friends competitors, and opponents. The formal basis of the attack was the insane law that punishes people and organizations for something that should be rewarded. If Russia wants to be strong in academic research, then here were researchers who collaborated with serious foreign partners. (The University of Wisconsin, with whom the Levada Center had been working, has traditionally been a powerhouse in sociology.) Worse, the law construes “political activity” as something unsavory right at a time when Russia really needs to awaken an interest in politics, and any NGO willing to study the dynamics of political life in Russia deserves all the encouragement it can get.

The Russian Ministry of Justice can paralyze the operations of one of the country’s three major public opinion polling factories one and half weeks before national and regional parliamentary elections on September 18. In this case, the elections will be held with a newly configured polling industry, which has not changed for a long time. Putting our emotions aside, however, the assault on the Levada Center seems unexpected. For the past decade, the organization has objectively worked to maintain the current regime’s legitimacy.

The public opinion research field, a field once populated by many players, was purged by the Kremlin ten years ago, leaving only three companies standing. Two of them, FOM (Public Opinion Foundation) and VTsIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center) are substantially affiliated with the Kremlin, since they are wholly dependent on the commissions they regularly receive from the presidential administration and other government agencies. The Levada Center, on the contrary, has been financed independently of the Kremlin, and the liberal views of its senior staff have put the company almost in political opposition to the current regime. Yet the outcomes of the Levada Center’s polls have rarely diverged from the data published by its colleagues and competitors. The numbers adduced by all three pollsters have usually generated a sense of broad or overwhelming support for everything the authorities do, however aggressive and irrational it sometimes might appear.

Praise from the enemy is worth twice as much, especially if it is voiced publicly. Vladimir Putin has confessed on several occasions that polls mean a lot to them, and when the Levada Center records public support for him, this is proof the support is undeniable. Look, even our opponents are forced to admit the people are behind us, the regime’s supporters say time and again. These same people sincerely believe research results depend on who pays for the research.

Research studies, however, are much more complicated, and the results of Levada Center’s polls have had nothing to do with the political stance of its executives. Instead, they are stipulated by the way polls are conducted. In daily life, Russians show little interest in politics, so if you deluge them with a wave of news reports about some issue of little importance to them, such as relations with Turkey, and then ask them the next day whether we should be afraid of Turkey, they will respond in good faith based on the information they got the day before. With few exceptions, the Levada Center has humbly tackled the political agenda set by television, and asked the same questions as the other pollsters, questions focused on this agenda, predictably garnering nearly the same outcomes as the other pollsters. However, the center’s alleged oppositional status made the answers more important for the authorities and, at the same time, indirectly increased the credibility of the other companies. The depressive antidemocratic discourse about the stupid, aggressive common people with which the middle classes have been spooking each other nationwide has largely been the product of the Levada Center’s poll numbers, even if the outcome was unintentional.

You need a good reason to shoot the goose that has been laying golden eggs. What compelled the authorities to break off a piece of the rigging propping up its legitimacy? I should explain right off the bat how the Levada Center does actually differ from the other two major Russian pollsters. The difference has nothing to do with honesty or professionalism. The myth that one group of sociologists does honest work, while the two others fake the numbers is not even worth discussing seriously, and yet they all get the same results.

What matters much more is the fact that the Levada Center does not get commissions from the Kremlin. The Kremlin cannot tell it what questions to ask and what results to make public. We should not forget the poll results reported in the Russian media are only the poll results the client has allowed them to publish. The client can impose a temporary or permanent veto on publication of the results. The media’s picture of public opinion thus passes through two powerful filters nowadays. First, the client imposes on the polling organizations the subjects for which he is willing to pay, and then he decides what information he would like to make available to the public. The Kremlin can easily ban publishing results that shatter the image of monolithic public support for its decisions, and it has often done this.  It has no such power over the Levada Center, although in recent times it has not needed it, since the company has not produced polling data that would put the Kremlin in a vulnerable position.

Polling data has been long the main fodder from which Russians shape their notions about the balance of power at election time and decide how to vote. The numbers act like a tranquilizer, persuading voters not to waste time and energy by getting involved in elections whose outcome is clear in any case. Simultaneously, they send a signal up and down the power vertical about how much “slack” needs to be made up at the local voting precincts. The main thing is not diverge to too radically from the polls. If the Kremlin has had to break with this way of doing things on the eve of the elections, it means the independent player had become too dangerous. The mirror reflected something that forced the Kremlin to throw a stone at it.

If the Levada Center is forced to suspend operations, the credibility of poll numbers will drop, and the client will increase pressure on the remaining players. We will have to treat the polling numbers we see before and after the elections with a bigger grain of salt. If before, the public was shown only the pretty half of the picture, while the ugly was hidden from it, now it will see even less of the picture.

Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader

The 501st: Russian Death

russian death
“Russian Death”

‘Sociologist Denis Volkov from Moscow’s independent Levada Center pollster, on the other hand, says the bill is unlikely to make Russians more wary about what they post on the Internet. “Most people are not aware of these laws,” he says.’

Ha-ha. It’s good that reporters are forced to turn to “sociologists” and “pollsters” for quotable quotes, and that the Putinist state decided at some point long ago it would pollocratize everyone and their cousin into submission, because otherwise the “independent” Levada Center would have had to pull up stakes long ago and move to Nevada to start calling odds on the trifecta at Santa Anita racetrack.

I have already seen the chilling effect that the bill and the generally malignant, soul-destroying climate of the last year or so have had on what people talk about politically (or not) in daily life, much more dare to post on the Internet, e.g., Russia’s role in Syria, which absolutely no one I know has discussed, publicly or otherwise, under any circumstances for a very, very long time now. And that is just the top of the list.

A fair number of Russians, young and old, know very well how to read signals coming from on high and when to keep their mouths shut. Or how to substitute abstract, self-important chatter or furious trivial pursuits for meaningful conversations about what is happening in their country and what to do about it. Now is one of those times, and it is absolutely depressing.

All it will take is a few more “light touches,” and the country will essentially be dead, that is, waiting for its Supreme Leader to kick the bucket (when? twenty years from now?) so it can rejoin the rest of the world and resume building “democracy,” “capitalism” or whatever it has been pretending to do the last twenty-five years.

Photo courtesy of the Facebook page of Russkaia smert’ (Russian Death)

Manufacturing Half-Baked Consent in Russia

Here is a textbook example of today’s Russian-language propaganda journalism (the bill footed by Russian taxpayers, one sixth of whom have slipped below subsistence level living, according to Rosstat).

canadian smiThe headline reads, “Canadian media: By provoking Russia, US risks following in the footsteps of Hitler and Napoleon. With its mendacious rhetoric and endless military exercises near the Russian border, the US is trying to pull Moscow into a military conflict, write Canadian media. However, journalists [sic] argue that Washington should remember how previous attempts to conquer Russia ended.”

If you actually read the article—and why bother, because its robot compilers want you to scan three things very quickly and get the takeaway message in under ten seconds: 1) like Napoleon and Hitler, the US wants to “conquer” Russia for some reason; 2) the US has been taken over by neo-Nazis—just look at the picture; 3) even the otherwise loyal “Canadian media” are writing about this fiendishness—you’ll find out that the “Canadian media” referred to is really just this one article, published on the more than dubious Canadian Putin fan club website Global Research.

The article was written by someone named Stephen Lendmann, “who lives in Chicago.”

Well, Mr. Lendmann does much more than just live in Chicago. He has also edited a nice little anthology of pro-Putin writing by western leftists and “anti-imperialists,” entitled FLASHPOINT IN UKRAINE: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III.

At $24.95 a pop, it’s a steal, I think.

Meanwhile, back in Putinland, where it will probably soon be a crime to read or speak English (lest anyone get any funny ideas), Russian readers will have to content themselves with this Russian-language summary of Lendmann’s article, which features, inexplicably, a photo of someone dressed up as Hitler and looking desperate.

A waxwork of Adolf Hitler before a 41-year-old man tore its head off from the controversial exhibit on the opening day of Berlin's Madame Tussauds July 5, 2008 is seen in this July 3, 2008 file photo. The man was arrested by police after he jumped over the desk and ripped off the head of the waxwork figure in protest of the controversial exhibit that showed a glum-looking Adolf Hitler behind his desk in a mock bunker during the last days of his life.   REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz/Files  (GERMANY) - RTX7NQ0

A quick Google image search reveals that this is not someone dressed up as Hitler, much less the world’s greatest villain himself, photographed on the eve of his demise in the bunker, but a waxwork figure of Hitler whose head was torn off by an enraged visitor on the opening day of Madame Tussauds Berlin in July 2008.

This has been a brief lesson in how consent is manufactured facilely and cynically in Putin’s Russia at taxpayer expense. Basically, all the major Russian media outlets have been engaged in this manufacturing of reality for most or all of Putin’s reign, but since the winter of 2014, the brakes have come off the buggy and fact-based reality almost never makes an appearance in such “news reports.”

* * * * * *

Sadly, lots of people here buy into this stuff, at least partly, if only in a half-baked “since they rant on about it day and night, at least some of it must be at least sort of true” way. I am not the “liberal” (i.e., profoundly misogynistic, Russophobic) Levada Center, and I don’t believe that polls in this country are used in any other way than the implicitly violent, authoritarian “we get the feedback we want” mode, so I will never cite any of these dubious surveys to make an argument about how many people believe this crap, much less how they believe it. (Which really would be the only interesting aspect of this “pollocracy” to study.)

However, a student of mine, an otherwise level-headed psychiatrist, told me the other day that the large numbers of young patients he sees with severe personality disorders and traumas had something to do with the chaos of the nineties, when many of these young people, then small kids, were left to fend for themselves, emotionally, at least. It is hard to argue with that hypothesis.

But then he said something I am sure he didn’t believe himself when he said it.

“Russians have been better off psychologically when they have had a strong leader.”

The desire to conform to “public opinion” among God’s allegedly smartest creatures is strong, almost irresistible at times, and not only in Russia.

P.S. A simple Google image search revealed that the photo of the Sieg-Heiling US neo-Nazis, above, was undoubtedly filched from this Reuters article about how, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (who never saw a hate group they didn’t like to blow out of proportion), the number of hate groups in the US has declined by 17% over the last year.

And yet, if RT is to be believed—visually and viscerally, so to speak—these selfsame declining neo-Nazis have somehow either seized power in the US or are dictating US policy towards Moscow. Or have something to do with provoking the powerful anti-American, pro-Moscow tilt of the “Canadian” media.

In reality, they have nothing to do with anything.

us neonazis

Halluci Nation

BabiBadalov8light

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Maybe there is no direct connection, but soon after the first article, below, ran in The Moscow Times, the following message appeared on the newspaper’s web site: “Due to the increasing number of users engaging in personal attacks, spam, trolling and abusive comments, we are no longer able to host our forum as a site for constructive and intelligent debate. It is with regret, therefore, that we have found ourselves forced to suspend the commenting function on our articles. The Moscow Times remains committed to the principle of public debate and hopes to welcome you to a new, constructive, forum in the future.” When I glanced at the comments to this article, it did seem that a lively “debate” was underway, but I no longer read such things to preserve what is left of my mental well-being. The emphasis, below, is mine.

Russia’s Empire State of Mind
Pyotr Romanov
October 26, 2014
The Moscow Times

Following World War I, the Russian Empire bid farewell to Poland, Finland, the Baltic states and Bessarabia [in modern Moldova]. The Soviet Union later regained only some of that territory — and yet that did not prevent the world from continuing to view the Soviet Union as an empire. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia decreased in size even more than it had after World War I, and yet many today continue referring to it as an empire.

I recently read an impassioned plea on Facebook from several Ukrainians that God call down on Russia a host of biblical chastisements and hasten its demise. In their view, the only way to escape the claws of the Russian bear is to kill the animal. At the same time, they have no intention of fighting the beast themselves, convinced that Europe and the U.S. alone have the power and the responsibility to vanquish the foe.

In other words, they prefer that others break their bones in the bear’s den so they can mount the pelt over their fireplace. I somehow doubt that the rational West finds that prospect very attractive.

In fact, a number of historical figures dreamed of dismembering Russia. Peter the Great’s arch-rival King Charles XII of Sweden held that dream even before Russia formally declared itself an empire. The French ambassador in Stockholm at that time said, “The king will make peace with Russia only after he has arrived in Moscow, toppled the tsar from his throne, divided the state into small principalities and summoned the boyars to divvy up the kingdom into their personal provinces.”

In hindsight, knowing how the Swedes suffered defeat at the Battle of Poltava, it is tempting to assess such a claim as pompous bravado. However, that was a serious plan that the Swedish king and his allies had discussed on more than one occasion. Charles really did plan to install his own puppet ruler on the Russian throne. He dreamed of Pskov, Novgorod and all of northern Russia as Swedish possessions. He planned to allot all of Ukraine and the Smolensk region to Polish King Stanislaw Leszczynski. Charles agreed to give Russia’s southern lands to the Turks and Crimean Tatars. There are countless other similar stories in history — but where are all those dreamers today?

However, this is not the main point. I see no reason to blame my ancestors for their imperialist actions. Russians have no more to feel ashamed of in this regard than do the British, Germans, Spaniards and French. All of their imperialist pasts were dictated by fate, God, geopolitical factors and their national character — that with which it is absolutely pointless to fight.

The collapse of the Russian Empire deeply troubled many of its citizens, and the later collapse of the Soviet Union gave them a disturbing sense of deja vu. Even today, millions of Russians wax nostalgic for the past — particularly for the Soviet Union — recalling much that was also good from that time.

This is the second time in a century that Russia has gone through such painful “withdrawal symptoms” while overcoming its imperialist mentality. Russians have nothing of which to feel ashamed: the same process was no less painful for other “imperial” nations.

Of course, modern Russia is not an empire, and it is unbecoming to act like a broken record, continually repeating the same old cliches. It is just that the process of adapting to the new realities is not moving as quickly as some in the West — and also in Russia, by the way — would like it to. But it is impossible to hurry it along.

It is decidedly easier for a tiny little ship of a state such as Monaco to make a sea change than it is for a massive ocean liner such as religiously diverse, multiethnic and multicultural Russia. A little patience is needed.

I understand that what seems fast by historical standards might appear painfully slow to people. History is measured in ages, but individuals measure time in terms of a single lifespan. Nonetheless, it takes nine months for a baby to come into this world, and no amount of impatient fingernail-biting will change that.

Making a baby come into the world any sooner is not the healthiest option either. In the same way, it does no good to keep impatiently tugging on Russia’s sleeve. Every fruit has its given period of maturation. When the time comes, Russia will let go of the last vestiges of its imperial past.

Until then, praying for God to curse Russia with a swarm of locusts or the 10 plagues of Egypt is not only unseemly, but also a bit archaic and completely meaningless.

Pyotr Romanov [sic] is a journalist and historian. 

___________

Post-imperial melancholy has also got the unnamed editorial writer (the West’s most beloved Russian “leftist”?)  at Russian “leftist” web site Rabkor.ru waxing poetical in the vozhdist mode in the run-up to November 4, National Unity Day.

The West intends to play hardball in its long negotiations with Moscow. Zeal and rigidity might betray it, and then events will not go as planned. That has already happened in Ukraine. However, the US and the EU understand that Russian liberals have increased their grip on power and will stubbornly seek a compromise. Dmitry Medvedev has already said that a “reset of relations” requires a return to the “zero position,” meaning normal trade without sanctions. The ruling class will do anything for its sake, particularly if its position is complicated by economic problems. If solving the problem with Western Europe and the US requires presenting Putin’s head on a platter, then that it is how the problem will be solved.

But Russia is not a banana republic or a tiny country in Eastern Europe, where you can just organize a color revolution by gathering several thousand “civil society” activists on a central square. And so only Putin himself can remove Putin’s head for the US, and not only through his own carelessness.

Patriots stubbornly dream of persuading the current president to become like Stalin or Ivan the Terrible. Members of the liberal intelligentsia scare each other and the gullible western public with this same prospect. However, with each passing day, our ruler [sic] becomes like a completely different predecessor, Mikhail Gorbachev, who was also, incidentally, a politician who banked on compromises.

The growing prospect of a “liberal putsch” becomes more apparent with each passing day. The final act has not started, but the play is already underway. Liberals are making ritual sacrifices. They are sacrificing the exchange rate of the ruble and social policies. They are sacrificing Novorussia [Novorossiya]. They are sacrificing the country’s dignity. They are destroying the possibility of Russian society’s development. They are even willing to sacrifice the one who protected the system for many years. Only none of this will bear fruit, because only a different course can save Russia from economic disaster.

And let no one be deceived: if the liberal coup becomes a reality, its authors will quickly discover how correct the thesis “Ukraine is not Russia” was. Unlike its neighboring country, Russia, with the exception of the capital, will turn into one solid Donbass.

The preceding was an excerpt from “Who Will Bring Them Putin’s Head?”, published on October 20, 2014, by Rabkor.ru. You can read the entire editorial in English here, as translated by other, less shaky hands.

__________

After a friend mailed me the following “news” item, he wrote, “This is how the whole ‘television—Levada—television’ scheme works.” As Kirill Rogov has argued, many people will tell pollsters what authoritarian state television has told them to think, especially when it comes to things that don’t really matter to them, like musician Andrei Makarevich’s alleged “treason.” It’s no wonder that one of the world’s leading offshore Putin apologists was worried, last year, when it seemed as if the state was cracking down on the Levada Center. He needn’t have worried. My friend titled his email to me, “Levada will receive the Stalin Prize posthumously.” That about sums it up.

Almost Half of Russians Consider Makarevich a Traitor to the Motherland 
October 27, 2014 | Gazeta.ru

Almost half of Russians believe that when he performed in Slovyansk, which is occupied [sic] by the Ukrainian army, musician Andrei Makarevich betrayed the interests of the motherland, according to the results of a survey conducted by the Levada Center.

45% of those polled agreed with the statement “Makarevich betrayed the interests of Russia, and now the public does not want to go to his concerts.” However, among Muscovites there was a high percentage (32%) inclined to believe that Makarevich “acted in good conscience” and that he had been the target of a defamation campaign. 28% of respondents admit that Makarevich behaved unpatriotically, but that administrative resources have been used to disrupt his concerts in various Russian cities.

The percentage of those supporting Makarevich and condemning the defamation campaign was quite low—13%. Respondents with a higher education were generally more supportive of what the musician did than Russians with less than a secondary education.

The poll was conducted among 1,630 people aged eighteen years or older in 134 municipalities in forty-six regions of the country.

Earlier, Makarevich recorded a song about how he has been hounded. On October 27, news came of another cancellation of one of the musician’s concert, this time in Kurgan.

__________

Image (above): Babi Badalov, Halluci Nation (Orna-mental poetry), 2014; ink on paper, 26.5 x 19 cm. Courtesy of La Galerie Jérôme Poggi, Paris, and the artist.

Kirill Rogov: Why You Shouldn’t Trust Russian “Public Opinion” Polls

One of my hobbies in recent years has been closely observing the development of Russia’s “pollocracy”—the proliferation of “public opinion” polling, media discussions of poll results, and the obvious ways in which this “mirror” has been held up to the actual Russian public to con it into believing it supports the country’s authoritarian regime and its policies with ever increasing wildness and fervor, even as other democratic venues for it to voice its opinion, such as free elections, grassroots organizations, and protest rallies, have been whittled away, hacked at or more or less outlawed (depending on the season and the concrete causes) by the regime, its security services, and the loyalist media. 

So I was amused, the other day, to read about yet another such “public opinion” poll. This one “showed” that over seventy-two percent of Petersburgers support Georgy Poltavchenko, the Putin-appointed nonentity currently warming the chair, in the city’s upcoming gubernatorial elections. Even more hilariously, this same poll claimed to have discovered that the “majority of respondents rated the campaign as calm, and not interfering with the usual lifestyle” of Petersburgers.

When I sent the “news” article about this goofy, cynical poll I had found to a local journalist friend of mine, he responded by complaining that he had been having a hard time explaining to colleagues and acquaintances in the West that “public opinion” polls attesting to the Russian public’s allegedly overwhelming support for Putin and his aggressive policies vis-a-vis Ukraine should be treated with a grain of salt, at very least. Why, he had asked, do people who otherwise think that Russia is not a free country have an almost religious faith in Kremlin-directed polls alleging fantastic levels of support for Putin? Doesn’t it occur to any of these otherwise skeptical people that there might be something fishy about the polls, how they are conducted, and the conditions (of unfreedom, rampant propaganda, fear-mongering, and coercion) in which they are conducted?

He also wondered whether I had translated anything on this topic, something he could use in his arguments with Western friends. I said that I hadn’t, but I immediately recalled the following column by liberal political analyst Kirill Rogov, published in December 2013 in Novaya Gazeta. Sadly, it has become only more relevant and timely over the intervening nine months.

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The Fiction of the “Backwards Man in the Street”
Kirill Rogov
December 3, 2013
www.novayagazeta.ru

Not a week goes by without a dreary discussion in the media of the results of yet another opinion poll showing the narrow-mindedness and conservatism of the majority of the Russian people.

The week before last, the discussion focused on a survey showing that most Russians support the repressive decrees of the “enraged printer”—the self-styled Russian Duma. Last week, poll results showing that around eighty percent of Russians believe enemies surround our country were eagerly paraphrased.

Week after week, like cold raindrops falling on the heads of the educated class, these surveys persuade it of the futility of striving for something better. They demoralize the opposition and plunge business and the liberal elite into depression. Pack your bags and turn out the lights!

In general, the past year of Russian history has been an excellent case study for political scientists, showing how authoritarian regimes buy time by tearing it, so to speak, from the clutches of history.

An explosive mixture of revolving political (and not only political) crackdowns, unbridled propaganda, and a series of skillfully organized public hysterias have spread the dark pollen of proto-fascism in the air, which has settled as a deep depression in the souls of the educated class. And those people who a year and a half ago were confident in their strength and rightness (“Who is the power here?”) walk around with heads sunk down to their collars and their pretty tails tucked between their legs.

Polls are an important part of the picture. They are the “naked sociological truth,” after all, and have a powerful effect on just those people who are able to resist the onslaught of fear, hysteria, and propaganda. It is not so easy to understand how sociological surveys are turned into a weapon of authoritarianism in its fight against society’s desire for progress.

But let us turn to facts no less naked than the polls themselves. The experience of the elections of 2011–2013 definitely implies that data about the political preferences of Russians, as reflected in the polls conducted by two of our leading pollsters, FOM and Levada Center, are regularly biased in favor of the authoritarian regime by at least ten to twelve percentage points. When purged of falsifications, voting results show that not sixty-five percent, but a little over fifty percent voted for Putin in the 2012 presidential election; not sixty percent, as the pollsters had it, but around forty-eight percent voted for Sobyanin in the 2013 Moscow mayoral race; and not fifty percent, but a little over thirty-five percent voted for United Russia in the 2011 parliamentary elections. This follows from both statistical calculations and the data collected from a fairly broad sample of monitored polling stations.

We will leave the conspiracy theories as to why this is so to the lowbrows. The non-conspiracy theories are more interesting. We can assume that the regular shift in the data comes from the fact that everyone involved in the process has a solid understanding of the “correct” result.

Simply put, they know that the majority is for Putin, Sobyanin, United Russia, and “everything bad.” As a result, people who do not support “everything bad” will be on average more likely to shy away from contact with sociologists.

Of course, there are firm “supporters” and “opponents” who express their opinions, regardless. There are, say, from fifteen to twenty percent of such people on each side. But between them is the “majority,” those people for whom politics is not a matter of daily reflection. For them, the most important thing is not even fear, as is sometimes suggested, but ordinary self-doubt and discomfort from the fact that their feelings do not coincide with the views of the “majority,” views of which they are aware in advance.

It is logical these people will be more likely to refrain from participating in polls. (The quasi-Duma, after all, has not yet issued regulations stipulating fines, suspension of driving licenses, and corrective labor for such evasiveness.) We can assume, as is likely, that they participate half as often as those whose opinion coincides with the “correct” view. (Such escapism, by the way, is quite typical not only of the uneducated but also of many educated people, whose awareness of the gap between their opinion and the “common” opinion provokes an irritated rejection of the entire public sphere and social scientists as well.) On average, this will mean, for example, that of twenty people “for Putin” and twenty “against” him, ten of those who are “for” him will agree to respond to sociologists, while only five of those who are “against” him will respond. Sociologists will come to the depressing and mathematically precise conclusion that two thirds of respondents support Putin.

Let me say it again. The majority of people, who are not very politically motivated and do not think a lot about politics, find it extremely uncomfortable to express an opinion that is not supported by “public esteem” and does not coincide with the opinion of the “majority.” This can be defined as the indirect effect of propaganda. The direct effect is when people reproduce what they have heard on TV. The indirect effect is when they do not express opinions that differ from those they hear from “authoritative sources.”

In polls on “hot” topics, this distorting effect should be even stronger. People are asked whether they think Pussy Riot should be punished, whether adoptions of Russian children by foreigners should be allowed, and whether we should feud with our enemies. But the truth is that the majority does not think anything at all about these topics. The values conflicts behind these questions are remote from these people’s lives, and all they can say about them is what they have heard from the same authoritative sources. Or they can avoid answering the questions.

This does not mean we should give up on sociology. On the contrary, we need more of it. Personally, polls are like bread, water, and air to me. We just need to understand that what sociology measures are not “thoughts” and “opinions,” but the echoes of thoughts and opinions. It finds out what clichés and ideologemes people use. Under pluralism, quantitative sociology usually works as follows: the mass media, politicians, and experts actively discuss two viewpoints on a topic, and sociologists go out into the “field” and measure which way the scales are tipping. Under authoritarianism, in which channels of public communications are monopolized, this mechanism stops working or, rather, its meaning changes. In this case, polls reflect not the balance of opinions, but the imbalance in communications—authoritarianism’s informational superiority in quantitative terms.

However, we should remember that the “common people” do not always “obey” the TV. Thus, on the issue of corruption and lawlessness, the opinion of seventy to eighty percent of respondents radically diverges from the TV’s opinion.

That is because this problem lies within the scope of their daily experiences. But the admissibility of self-expression on church altars, the international situation, and adoption regulations are complete abstractions, and the man in the street can only repeat what he has heard in passing. And we know what he has heard in passing. But this does not mean that the average person is willing to put up with all the other outrages of the regime.

The image of the “backwards man in the street” who supports “everything bad” is a fiction created by authoritarianism and is meant to justify its existence by suppressing the will of “dissenters” to resist. Not that this “backwardness” does not exist, but authoritarianism amplifies it several times over, simultaneously suppressing other overtones of public perceptions. The success of this technique, on the one hand, extends the life of authoritarianism, but on the other hand, it generates the mechanism of unpredictability that plays a key role in its subsequent downfall.

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 Photos courtesy of The Telegraph and Business Insider.