Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Interview with Lev Gudkov of Levada Center

Interesting translation by A. Ignatkin of a Novye Izvestia interview by Yeggenia Zubchenko of Lev Gudkov (Лев Дмитриевич Гудков) of Levada Center. The translation was distributed by Johnson's Russia List via email today. The article was titled "Our Society Is Used To Repressive Government" and outlines Lev Gudkov's observations of the differences between the older and younger generations in Russia, and how they differ from other Europeans.

Some interesting excerpts are as follows:

Question: Pollsters have been saying that Russian citizens fear reforms and innovations in general. Does it mean people will be greatly upset by any and all dramatic changes, say, in the political situation?
Lev Gudkov: More or less. The reforms have lost their meaning and significance. When Putin became president, many social groups hoped he would promote particular reform policies. Then global economic circumstances changed and sent oil prices soaring sky-high. The state's revenues are rising, and the government has curtailed reforms in practically all areas. People don't know what to expect from reforms or what to associate them with. They hope that the status quo will continue without any dramatic changes.

Question: You've said in an interview that Russia is turning inwards and isolating itself from the rest of the world. Why is that?
Lev Gudkov: The regime cannot offer our society any new goals - political, national, or whatever. It therefore finds it necessary to exploit the old imperial complexes of a world power. The regime even promotes a policy of force with regard to neighboring states and the international community per se. And the public likes it because it scratches the national ego.

Question: And what may it result in?
Lev Gudkov: Nothing in particular in the foreseeable future. In the long run, however, Russia will slide down into the category of peripheral stagnating countries that do not evolve and cannot modernize themselves. It will become a third-rate country.

Question: And how do Russian citizens perceive their country now?
Lev Gudkov: Hard to say. Young people, those born after perestroika, accept Russia and its present position (much more modest that the Soviet Union's) as the norm. They sincerely hope that Russia will eventually become a normal country just like any other developed nation. That rapprochement with European countries will proceed unchecked. These young people... they lack imperial aspirations, you know.

The older generations are different. They regard what happened in these last 15 years as some sort of drama, even perhaps a catastrophe. In short, they wish Russia had never lost the status and the role of a world power.

Question: What are young people focused on nowadays?
Lev Gudkov: Our young people greatly differ from their European counterparts because the latter are much more ideological and political, they are more actively involved in all sorts of political movements and structures of civil society. Young Russian citizens are more pragmatic. They want to earn more and they don't like to look too far ahead into the future. Russian young people are apolitical compared to their elders, and fairly cynical. They do not believe any statements concerning human rights, morality, and so on. Young Russian citizens want to live the way they think people in other countries live, but refuse to invest in it or work for it.

Question: A few words on the forthcoming election, if you have no objections. There is the widespread opinion that society cannot tell populist slogans from actual deeds and programs.
Lev Gudkov: Sure. I'd say that people listen to these populist slogans with a deep sense of satisfaction but also with skepticism. For example, the so-called national projects were met with satisfaction but people do not really believe they will be carried out. They know that the general direction chosen by the regime is correct but they nevertheless expect the money set aside for the national projects will be either misused or embezzled. People are extremely wary of the authorities.

Question: How civilized are we? How well are we integrated into the international community? We bowed to the West back in the 1990s. What now?

Lev Gudkov: We are different. Unlike people in the West, our people do not respect themselves and have all kinds of hang-ups... And why would people be proud of themselves? They cannot earn as much as people do in the West, and neither can they enjoy living standards typical of countries of the West. Most Russian citizens maintain that they are underpaid, and that the national economy iself is arranged in such a manner as to undervalue them. Disappointment with their careers causes disappointment with everything in general. It generates a sense of inferiority, inability to realize one's own potential, envy, and inner aggression. Regardless of who falls victim to this aggression - Americans or people from the Caucasus. We are talking about a very considerable potential for aggression here.


The last comments I find particularly interesting, considering the recently increasing threat of labor strikes within Russia.

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