1. Russia

Window on Eurasia — New Series: Russian Reaction to Regime and Its Policies Resembles That of Soviet Times, Levinson Says

Listen to this article

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 10 – The reaction of Russians to the Putin regime increasingly resemble those of Soviet times: they are very critical of specific policies, critical enough to sometimes take part in demonstrations, but they are supportive of the regime out of fears that its fall would lead to chaos or worse, Aleksey Levinson says.

            This pattern, the Levada Center sociologist continues, is a major reason why protests don’t threaten the regime: they are about specific abuses and they are limited by the fact that even those who are angriest are not ready at least not yet to demand regime change (

            Supporting Putin and the system doesn’t mean approval of Putin’s policies or Putin personally, he continues. Rather it is about fear of change for the worse. In this, Levinson argues, the situation very much resembles that in late Soviet times, when people were very critical of policies but couldn’t imagine any real change.

            “Today’s 60-year-olds,” he says, “who at the start of the Putin era were in their 40s had perhaps not liberal but in any case, not ultra-conservative views. But now they have aged. And as it turns out in Russia, if you age, you become a supporter of the KPRF and a supper of Putin, a combination that however strange is not incompatible” given their view of the system.

            “In the West, there is the saying that only if you have no heart would you not be on the left in your youth, but only if you have no brain will you not stand on the right once you are older.” With Russians, Levinson says, “the situation is exactly reversed.” Young people are on the right and become ever more leftist as they come to depend ever more on the state.

            One related consequence of Russian attitudes is that political change is almost always the work of those at the top in the form of palace coups or at least of a relatively small group of people rather than the outcome of popular pressure, a pattern that many people fail to recognize, the sociologist continues.

            “In Russia, these were always events crudely speaking inside the palace. Khrushchev at the 20th Congress spoke not because the popular masses had come together against Stalin. Gorbachev launched perestroika not because of the popular masses but because he had his tasks set within the Politburo.”

            In sum, Levinson says, “we are a country which on the one hand, sits at the center of a certain web and spreads its impulses to various ends of the earth where some events assume phenomenal size up to the fall of the Berlin Wall but in Moscow, these were events” within a small circle of the elite.

            “The conflict between Gorbachev and Yeltsin was resolved not on the streets, although there were demonstrations … But they didn’t do this. It isn’t pleasant,” he continues, to admit that one lives in a country where that is how the powers that be function and that is how society is prepared to allow them to act.

            Levinson says that he doesn’t see thing changing in that regard. The situation “is changing but in another direction,” one which provides “a more conservative mechanism” that defends the powers that be. “I don’t like it when people say that Russia has always wanted a tsar. Those times have passed.”

            “But there is a mechanism of power where the powers exist because they are the power” and society accepts that, fearful only of what might happen if the powers cease to exist. But society can change and become “completely different” if the power does disappear. In that event, there may be a chance for “the flowering of democracy.”

Window on Eurasia — New Series