Opinions about perestroika, the economy, the CIS, and fascism

Participants in Levada Center’s latest poll were asked a number of questions about current affairs and recent history. Do they regret the collapse of the USSR? Does Russia pose a threat to the security of other countries? What kind of views or behavior would they describe as fascist?

The Yuri Levada Analytical Center has released the results of a representative nationwide survey done March 10-14, with 1,600 respondents. The participants were asked a number of questions about current affairs and recent history.

The legacy of the past

When asked whether they now regret the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, 62% of respondents say yes and 28% say no. (In November 2004 the corresponding figures were 71% and 22%; in November 2005 they were 65% and 25%.)

Meanwhile, 30% of respondents say the collapse of the USSR was inevitable, while 59% say it could have been avoided (11% don’t know). These figures have remained about the same since this series of polls began. Only in 2003 and 2004 did the percentage of those who think the collapse was avoidable rise to 65%.

When asked if they would like the Soviet Union and the socialist system to be restored, 60% of respondents say yes, but only 12% consider this a realistic prospect; and 31% would not want such a restoration.

Most respondents are inclined to regard the policy of perestroika, announced 20 years ago, as the chief cause of the Soviet Union’s break-up and the collapse of their beloved socialism. Two-thirds of respondents say perestroika did more harm than good, while only 16% say the opposite, and 17% don’t know. It’s worth noting that a similar poll done one year ago showed 10% of respondents unsure about perestroika, 70% negative, and 20% positive.

Those most inclined to say that perestroika produced positive results are in the middle-to-upper segments of the middle class, aged 25-39, Union of Right Forces (URF) voters. Actually, these respondents also take a rather favorable view of President Vladimir Putin and his administration. The ratio of approval/disapproval for Putin’s performance among respondents who say perestroika did more good than harm is 84/11, compared to 67/32 among respondents who say perestroika did more harm than good. Overall, the answers of respondents who approve of perestroika show a substantial degree of conformity, although they do express some liberal views as well. They also believe that the government will soon manage to change the situation for the better. However, among those who approve of perestroika there are also many respondents who don’t like any of the present-day political forces. So the 16% of respondents who approve of perestroika comprise a mixture of true liberals, liberal-conformists, and liberals who are disillusioned with politics.

Around half of respondents believe that perestroika was inevitable. What’s more, the answers about why perestroika was necessary show that over the past year the percentage of respondents who say it was possible to do without reforms has decreased significantly. This is evidenced by responses to the question of what would have happened in our country if perestroika had not been launched in 1985. In this year’s poll, 28% of respondents say conditions would have improved, even if slowly (in January 2005, 35% of respondents held this view); 30% (36%) say it would have been possible to avoid serious conflicts and upheavals, and preserve a great, united country; 16% (20%) say nothing much would have changed, with the Brezhnev-era system remaining in place; 13% (12%) say the USSR would have been unable to compete with more developed nations and lost its great-power status; 5% (8%) say there might have been some dangerous international conflicts; 17% (16%) say that the growth of social and inter-ethnic problems within our country would have led it to general crisis and collapse. Respondents in high income brackets, with a political preference for Vladimir Ryzhkov, are most inclined to indicate the prospect of falling behind the developed nations and being unable to compete. The danger of international conflicts is most often indicated by high-status respondents with a political preference for Sergei Ivanov – whom they probably regard as a military leader who is not inclined to raise international tension.

When asked if Russia poses a threat to the security of other countries, 2% of respondents say it definitely does, 7% say it probably does, 40% say it probably doesn’t, and 44% say it definitely doesn’t.

Economic views

Over half of respondents reveal a mindset still steeped in the gloomy vestiges of socialism, characterized by grim hatred of big business, especially foreign corporations. When asked what should be done with large private companies, 31% of respondents say they should remain private property, 16% say they should be purchased by the state at market prices, and 36% say they should be confiscated or expropriated with no compensation.

When asked whether Russia needs a large influx of foreign investment, or whether this influx should be restricted on the grounds of posing a potential threat to Russia’s independence, 27% of respondents say Russia does need a large influx of foreign investment (this answer is most frequent among high-status respondents who are URF voters) and 53% say that foreign investment should be restricted.

In this context, it’s interesting to note the answers given when respondents were asked to identify the greatest threat to national security: external problems such as threats posed by NATO and Islamic fundamentalism – or domestic problems such as economic crisis and instability in the North Caucasus. Nineteen percent of respondents name external problems (compared to 17% in an April 1999 poll), 67% choose domestic problems (74%), and 14% are uncertain (9%).

The fact that people are more concerned about domestic problems than external threats indicates that they’re exercising a substantial amount of common sense. All the same, it should be noted that the role of domestic concerns is declining, and the chief concern is the slowdown in economic growth.

Widespread assumptions that most people in Russia like and trust President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus are not supported by the results of our March poll. When asked if they would like Russia to have a president like Lukashenko, 9% of respondents say they definitely would, 16% say they probably would, 26% say they probably would not, 32% say they definitely would not, and 16% don’t know.

The level of confidence in Lukashenko himself and the political order he has created can also be judged by answers received when respondents were asked whether the March 19 election in Belarus would be a fair contest between Lukashenko and the opposition, or rigged in Lukashenko’s favor: 27% of respondents said the election would be honest, 40% said it would be rigged, and 33% were uncertain.

Respondents were then asked to predict the outcome of the March 26 parliamentary election in Ukraine. Twenty-four percent said that the orange forces would win (Viktor Yushchenko, Yulia Timoshenko, and so on), 17% predicted victory for the opposition (Viktor Yanukovich and the Communists), and 18% said that neither side would win (this opinion was most widespread among URF voters and residents of the Russian Far East).

Opinions of Ukraine, which fell to a 12-month low in February (6% strong approval, 46% moderate approval, 27% moderate disapproval, 12% strong disapproval), picked up slightly in March (5%, 47%, 27%, and 10% respectively). Respondents who hold strongly positive opinions about Ukraine are most common in the Far East federal district (where many ethnic Ukrainians live) and among supporters of such disparate politicians as Sergei Glaziev, Vladimir Ryzhkov, and Sergei Ivanov.

It should also be noted that most respondents (52%) see the immediate future of Ukraine as less promising than that of Russia: they say that five years from now, life in Russia will be better than life in Ukraine. Six percent of respondents hold the opposite point of view, while 25% say that conditions will be much the same in both countries.

Nationalist and fascist phenomena

In March, the question of giving Russians special status as the ethnic group that forms the foundation of the state was on the Duma’s agenda and an issue of public debate. When asked if ethnic Russians should have that status, 20% of respondents say they definitely should, 31% say they probably should, 22% say they probably should not, 14% say they definitely should not, and 13% don’t know.

Since “forming the foundation of the state” is a fairly vague concept, an additional question was asked: should members of the ethnic group that forms the foundation of the state be given preference in employment, admission to educational institutions, health care, and so on? With regard to ethnic group privileges like these, 13% of respondents are strongly in favor, 26% are moderately in favor, 30% are moderately opposed, 22% are strongly opposed, and 10% are uncertain.

The next question aimed to determine what people consider to be signs of fascism. When asked whether those who demand privileges for ethnic Russians as the group that forms the foundation of the state should be described as fascists, 8% of respondents say that such people definitely are fascists, 18% say they probably are fascists, 38% say they probably aren’t fascists, 18% say they definitely aren’t fascists, and 16% don’t know.

Neither do most respondents consider “Russia for Russians” to be a fascist slogan. When asked whether those who use the “Russia for Russians” slogan should be described as fascists, 10% of respondents say they definitely should, 19% say they probably should, 36% say they probably should not, 22% say they probably should not, and 13% don’t know.

The assertion that Russians are superior to other ethnic groups is seen as a clearer sign of fascism. When asked whether those who maintain that Russians are superior to other ethnic groups should be described as fascists, 14% of respondents say they definitely should, 29% say they probably should, 30% say they probably should not, 12% say they probably should not, and 15% don’t know.

Most respondents acknowledge racial and ethnic intolerance as an obvious sign of fascism. When asked whether people who promote racial and ethnic intolerance should be described as fascists, 32% of respondents say they definitely should, 36% say they probably should, 14% say they probably should not, 4% say they probably should not, and 14% don’t know.

Respondents who resolutely refuse to recognize even those who possess this generally-accepted quality as fascists are most often residents of Moscow, residents of the North-Western federal district (so it’s probably no coincidence that a St. Petersburg jury acquitted the killers of a Tajik girl, and a Moscow judge ruled that a multiple stabbing in a synagogue did not incite ethnic hatred), and supporters of Gennadi Zyuganov.

Respondents also see the use of fascist symbols as a fairly clear sign of fascism. When asked if people who use fascist symbols should be described as fascists, 28% of respondents say they definitely should, 40% say they probably should, 18% say they probably should not, 3% say they probably should not, and 10% don’t know.

The respondents most inclined to determine fascism according to external attributes are Moscow residents, supporters of Grigori Yavlinsky, and supporters of the LDPR.

The figures given above indicate that people’s notions of fascism are fairly vague; they are reluctant to apply this definition to numerous categories that are actually subject to nationalist and racist influences.

This creates a danger of falling into nationalist extremes, especially since the people of Russia aren’t fully aware of their responsibility, and seem to be preparing a “historical alibi” for themselves ahead of time. When asked if the blame for any particular tragic event in history lies with entire peoples (the Germans, the Russians, and so on) or just their leaders, 74% of respondents blame the leaders, 12% blame the peoples, and 14% are uncertain.

Most respondents don’t think the Russian authorities are making systematic efforts to counter fascism in Russia. Only 32% say that the authorities are fighting fascist organizations; 32% say the authorities don’t pay much attention to them, 10% say the authorities use fascist organizations for their own purposes, 4% say the authorities support them, and 17% don’t know.

United Russia, the LDPR, the URF, and some other political and public organizations signed the Anti-Fascist Pact in March. The Communist Party and Yabloko refused to sign. They described the Pact as nothing more than self-promotion on United Russia’s part, aimed at earning that party some extra points with voters while simultaneously discrediting the Communist Party and Yabloko – instead of making any real effort to counter the growing influence of fascist ideology.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents agree with this description of the Anti-Fascist Pact, while only 25% say it’s a serious, important step in fighting fascism. But most respondents simply weren’t interested: 37% didn’t even know about the Pact, and 14% had no opinion about it.