As funny as it is, independent sociology exists in contemporary Russia still, embodied by the Levada-Center, named after its founder, famous Russian scholar, Ukrainian from Vinnystya oblast Yury Levada (1930-2006). In the country the sociologist are only able to document social moods, no more, as the term public opinion here regards about 12-15% of the population. Moods are a thing subject to other factors, as opposed to more or less rational public opinion. Therefore it is not surprising that about 150 years ago, a poet wrote “Russia cannot be understood by reason…”
Let us turn to the two recent pan-Russian surveys conducted by Levada-Center which confirm the thoughts that were expressed above.
‘DNR,’ ‘LNR’ and the beloved ruble
65% of the respondents think that Russia has to acknowledge the so-called ‘Luhansk’ and ‘Donetsk People’s Republics,’ 12% think that this should not be done, another 23% hesitate to answer. About the same number of people (63% of the respondents) think that the ‘elections’ held in the ‘LNR’ and ‘DNR’ on November 2 are legitimate, 17% consider them illegitimate, 20% hesitated to answer. As duly noted by Petersburg-based publicist and politician Boris Vishnevsky, these are the public moods in the country “where criminal charges are drawn up for calls for ‘federalization’ of Kuban or Siberia (while the word ‘federalization’ is present even in the name of our country, and federalism is a constitutional principle)” and “happily watch on Russian television interviews with ‘field commanders’ from Donetsk and Luhansk (was that not what they once called the leaders of Chechen mercenaries)?” Vishnevky sees the double standards and dangerous social ills here, caused by long-term propaganda. However, the reason may lie deeper. It lies in the lack of habit to think rationally and draw one’s own conclusions regarding various issues in at least two-thirds of Russians.
Another survey regards an internal Russian topic, but its results are even more eloquent. It turns out that only about one-third of Russians have any sort of monetary savings, meanwhile about 80% of this third keep their savings in rubles. The very rubles that are doomed to devalue starting the moment when the West just began talking about sanctions against Russia because of the annexation of Crimea, more so when the sanctions were imposed. However, within half a year almost nobody out of Putin’s well-paid subjects moved to convert their money to more stable currencies to preserve what they earned. While 63% of the respondent are worried by the fall of the ruble. What is more: only 5% of those who have savings converted them into foreign currency to ensure their income from devaluation!
In normal countries those who earn more than the rest are usually able to think rationally and care for their own interests. This is not the case in Russia…
However, another explanation is possible: while the respondents were honest about the ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR,’ they could have been openly lying about financial issues. So that nothing bad happens, in case you openly say you have American or European currency. It is better to pretend to be a foolish patriot, as nobody like smart-pants in Russia after 1917. Not the government, not the neighbors, nor the “vast majority” of the public.
Putin’s propaganda against Putin
If the last hypothesis is true, it is even worse – for Russia as a country, for its citizens, for Putin and Co. In this case, the main success of the current Russian government was not only the enforcement of the traditional for most Russian inability and unwillingness to think rationally, but also turning most of the country’s population into people who are trying to fool not only the sociologists or the government, but themselves. Even if the 80% who have savings do not keep them in rubles, it is millions and millions of Russians to whom irrationality of their own actions has become mundane reality. And this is not just a mood which may change, it is a mental norm.
It has to do not only with the ‘lows’ but the ‘highs.’ Say 41% of the respondents think that Ukraine has no history as a country – at the same time the same number of people are convinced that the Ukrainian state not only has its own, but a long history. Why so sure? These Russians did not read Hrushevsky or Lipinsky… The answer is obvious: in the recent years Russian television, mandated by the government, has shown so many movies about evil Mazepa, Petliura and Bandera followers, than dozens of millions of Russians unwittingly believe that Russia has been fighting “Ukrainian separatists” for centuries, and was unable to beat them, because the omnipotent Right Sector rose to attack Moscow. Can an army exist without a state? No. Mazepa was a Hetman, Petliura was the Head Otaman, Bandera created his own government and the UPA… So Putin’s propagandists, having become hostages of their own myths, transformed the attitude of almost half of the Russian population towards the Ukrainian state.
Similar moods were caused by anti-Ukrainian propaganda in regard to the Russian’s attitude towards Russia’s official invasion of Ukraine. 55% of the respondents think that the ceasefire in Donbas will end in renewed combat, meanwhile only 23% stand for the official invasion of the region, 58% are against and 20% don’t know what to say. In other words, the ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ should be acknowledged, but war should not begin because the blasted Ukrainians are horrible people, they have weapons that target the Russian-speaking people… Again, this mood was formed by Putin’s propaganda, and now it is working against Putin.
In other words, the irrational moods of tens of millions of Russians who love Putin but are unwilling to die for him, who keep their savings in rubles but watch its exchange rate with worry, may one day become something volatile. First and foremost, “a Russian rebellion, merciless and pitiless,” as another great poet wrote 180 years ago. So, the “national leader” of Russia managed to make the absolute majority unable to think rationality – but it is an empty victory.