Monday, July 24, 2017

Russians Less Attached to Ideology than Many Assume, Moscow Commentators Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 24 – Analysts of all political persuasions tend to assume that this or that group of the population is deeply attached to a particular ideology and that the future depends on whether groups will maintain or shift their attachment from one to another. But three articles in the Moscow media today suggest that view is at least partially incorrect. 

            More than that, they suggest that those political leaders who accept the primacy of ideology as an explanation for Russian behavior are failing to see what is really going on and often claim victory for themselves without understanding that they haven’t won one or yield to their opponents who see more clearly that other factors are at work.

            The first of these three, by Moscow political scientist Vasily Zharkov, appeared in Novaya gazeta.  He argues that Russian liberals have been paralyzed by their acceptance of the view that the people (the “narod”) are deeply attached to “red-brown” ideas and thus must be opposed rather than appealed to (

                That liberal view, he continues, not only has kept them from challenging the regime’s tightening of the screws but from reaching out to the population and winning its support by speaking to what it is really concerned with.  “The Russian voter,” Zharkov says, “believes not in political values but in personal well-being and personal guarantees.”

            That voter cares only that he be paid and paid on time.  “All ideas, liberal or conservative or whatever are meaningless when he hears the clear signal ‘you will be paid.’” As a result, the acceptance of much that the powers that be insist on has little or nothing to do with ideology, and if liberals were willing to offer something similar, they too would attract support.

            The issue then is how can the liberals find “a common language” with the narod. “To begin with, they must cease to be afraid of their own citizens” because their fears are rooted in a misconception.  And “they must begin to respect them as genuine democrats do.” If that happens, the liberals may find there are far more supporters for democratic change than they imagine.

            The second article by commentator Dmitry Sidorov of the Lenta news agency makes a similar point about the significance or in fact insignificance of ideology in Russian political life by focusing on an entirely different subject: the current purge of Russian nationalists by the Kremlin (

                He argues that this effort to “cleanse” the Russian political scene of these figures and their media outlets has less to do with ideological differences – the usual explanation – than with something else entirely, the willingness even eagerness of such nationalists to form alliances with other political groups in the run-up to elections.

            “Nationalists,” Sidorov writes, “are not the most influential group within the non-systemic opposition but they are persistent and ready for coalitions with others. They constantly try, although not always successfully, to conclude situational alliances with other forces,” and the Kremlin isn’t interested in the possibility that they might do so again.

            At various points in the past, Russian nationalists more than liberals and reformers have reached out in an attempt to form alliances, often with groups that have very different ideological agendas.  That flexibility on their part suggests that they are more interested in gaining power than in realizing all the points of their ideological program.

            And the third article, by journalist Yekaterina Trifonova of Nezavisimaya gazeta, suggests that the civic activity of young people, something that many reformers have placed so much hope in, is far less stable than they imagine because participation in protests for many has more to do with fashion than commitment (

                She cites research by Aleksey Kudrin’s Committee on Civic Initiatives to argue that many young Russians who recently have taken part in protest actions “in fact do not have a defined civic position.” They are far more “apolitical” in ideological terms than their elders.  And taking part in demonstrations is simply a matter of “fashion.”

            Such attitudes, she suggests, explain why the youthful protesters can be usually divided into three groups: the smallest are those who support a particular leader, a bit larger are those who are attracted by the subject of the protest, but the largest of all are those who come to watch or “to make selfies” and then get “many likes” in social media.

Putin’s Promotion of ‘Traditional Values’ Behind Rise in HIV Infections, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 24 – The Russian authorities have not been able to stop the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Iskander Yasaveyev says. Indeed, they appear to be making it worse because “the rhetoric of ‘traditional values’ … used by the Russian authorities not only hasn’t restrained the growth of HIV but on the contrary has promoted it.”

            That is because, the Kazan-based sociologist who is associated with the Higher School of Economics says, these “values” prevent “the sexual education of young people, the discussion of the use of condoms, and the widespread use of programs [such as needle replacement] to reduce the harm in the use of narcotics” (

            Last year, there were 103,000 new cases of HIV infection in the Russian Federation, 5.4 percent more than the year before and not including those identified anonymously, Yasaveyev reports, concluding that “this means that protecting people against HIV infections in Russia is ineffective.” 

            Moreover, he reports, only 286,000 of the almost 900,000 residents of Russia who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are receiving anti-retroviral medications. Some have even been forced to go to court to try to force government hospitals to provide them with these life-saving drugs.

            In this article, however, Yasaveyev focuses on two things: the overly bureaucratic and traditionalist approach to efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and the continuing exclusion and mistreatment of those who have been infected.

            The researcher notes that films and other programs intended to fight HIV/AIDS never discuss safe sex in a serious way and never even mention the use of condoms, something many traditionally-oriented Russians oppose and that are either of low, domestically-produced quality, or of higher quality but imported and more expensive. 

            But what is even worse, he suggests, is that government propaganda in this area reinforces a number of mistaken views about how HIV infections spread and thus gives aid and comfort to those who want to exclude anyone infected with the disease from any contacts with others.

            Indeed, Yasaveyev says, in the past few months alone, he has heard of several cases in Kazan alone where employers fired workers as soon as it was discovered that they were infected with HIV. Nothing happened to the employers who did this, thus sending a powerful signal to those infected that they must hide from others – and not risk getting treatment.

            That in turn means that as a result of the traditional values that inform this Russian government effort more people will die rather than receive the treatment they need.

Russia Needs Whistleblowers But Doesn’t Promote or Protect Them, Yezhednevny Zhurnal Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 24 – The number of Russians who snitch on their neighbors or co-workers other has reached unprecedented levels ( and

But the utility of such reports and the prospect that the authorities will get more of them on issues they care about is severely limited by the inability of the powers that be to protect or reward informants, according to an article in today’s Yezhednevny zhurnal comparing Russian and international experience with whistleblowers (

“Without the participation of a large swath of the population, the struggle against corruption” and many other social ills will be “impossible,” the paper says, given that the police and the siloviki can’t be everywhere at once.  But getting Russians to be whistleblowers is going to be hard unless the law and public attitudes both change.

At present, the paper continues, “even those Russians who say they are ready to report cases of corruption and abuse of power which they say most of the time remain silent. And that is hardly surprising: the collective memory about the horrors of Stalinism, widespread ‘criminal’ ethics, and the deeply rooted distrust in society” all contribute to that outcome.

“To convert a Russian into an important will be possible only if he is motivated and at the same time protected.” More than 30 countries now have whistleblower statutes on the books, but Russia doesn’t have even one piece of such legislation. Indeed, Yezhednevny zhurnal says, “in Russia so far there hasn’t been even a serious discussion” of this need. 

But there are some efforts being made in the public sphere. Aleksey Shlyapuzhnikov of the Vladimir oblast “Swan” public organization describes what his group has done and why its work needs to be replicated elsewhere.  As he puts it, the current situation in which Russia doesn’t have a whistleblower law is “absolutely unsatisfactory.” 

Russian law does protect witnesses, that is, those who provide testimony in open court. But many who might want to report a crime to the authorities but not be identified fear that the procuracy will give their names to those who are committing the infraction and that they will suffer, the Vladimir activist says.  And they have no protection or recourse other than silence.

Shlyapushnikov says that everyone benefits when such a law is put in place, including the authorities who are then in a position to say that the business climate is better or at least less corrupt. He adds that for those like him in the provinces, the only allies are international groups like Transparency International.