Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Russians Increasingly Negative about Muslims and That Poses New Problems in the Caucasus, Amelina Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 4—Russian attitudes about North Caucasians and the situation in the North Caucasus have stabilized or even improved over the last three year, even though there are potentially serious problems ahead; but their feelings toward Muslims in general have become increasingly negative, according to Yana Amelina.

            The coordinator of the Caucasus Geopolitical Club says that new Levada Center polls show that Russian attitudes about the situation in the North Caucasus have stabilized or even improved since the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics (kavkazgeoclub.ru/content/kavkaz-v-zerkale-pozitiva).

            According to the Russian commentator, such attitudes are in the main justified: the security situation in the region has improved, but one of the major reasons it has in fact is a matter of concern for the future, especially given the increasing hostility of Russians to Muslims as such.

            A major reason for the improvement of the situation, she suggests, is that the Russian security services established tight control over the southern Russian border and permitted or even encouraged Islamist radicals to leave the region to fight for their cause in the Middle East.  But now the situation has changed from Moscow’s perspective and that may have consequences.

            The Russian authorities are certainly not going to allow the return of Islamist militants from Syria and Iraq lest they reignite problems in the North Caucasus. But they are also unlikely to be willing to allow Islamist militants who want to leave the North Caucasus to go to the Middle East where Russia is now a participant in the anti-ISIS effort.

            If Islamists in the North Caucasus find their exit to the Middle East blocked, they are likely to try to promote their cause within the Russian Federation via terrorist acts, Amelina says.  And they are even more likely to do so if they can mobilize Muslims on the basis of the argument that Russians are increasingly hostile to Islam as such.

            And it is clear from new polls that Russian antagonism toward Islam and Muslims as such is growing “at a rapid rate,” the result of government attacks on Islamist groups in the Middle East and the ensuing media coverage.  The share of Russians who view Islam and Muslims positively has fallen significantly since 2008, while the portion viewing them negatively has risen. 

What is especially worrisome is that there are almost no Russians who do not have a position on this, a pattern that suggests these attitudes may last for a long time, something Amelina suggests Russian officials and the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs must acknowledge and combat.
             

For First Time in a Century, Young Russians Face Downward Social Mobility, Kagarlitsky Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 4 – For the first time in 100 years, young Russians face the prospect not just of slowing upward mobility as was the case at the end of Soviet times but of actual downward mobility in which their life chances and achievements will be less than their parents, according to Moscow sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky.

            In the course of a wide-ranging interview with Kazan’s “Business Gazeta,” he recalls that in the mid-1970s, “reformist sociologists calculated that social mobility was two times lower in the Brezhnev’s times than it had been in Stalin’s” and that this alone suggested the system was entering a period of crisis (m.business-gazeta.ru/article/309544).

            Today, Kagarlitsky says, the situation is quite a bit  “worse” because “if at the end of the USSR, one of the factors of its decay was the reduction in the rates of rising social mobility, now, what is seen is not simply a reduction in the rate of increase but their [actual] movement downward.”

            He points to the findings of his colleague Anna Ochkina who he says “very justly has noted that the phenomenon of falling social mobility is unique for our time” and that “the generation now entering working life faces the risk not only of not rising above the level of its parents but of falling lower.”

            According to Kagarlitsky, in Russia at least, its members are “also less well educated because the level of education has fallen. Sometimes people say that pupils earlier read ‘War and Peace’ but now don’t because it isn’t important. Instead, they know how to use computers.”  But he argues this “thesis is incorrect.”

            “The problem is that they are poorly educated even according to the measures and demands of the contemporary market system.” They lack general knowledge and thus the possibilities of adapting to the market because as studies in the US have shown, those who do best are not those with specialized training but rather broad and high quality education.

            “In other words,” Kagarlitsky says, “the current reform of education which is focused on habits and competences creates a generation not capable of adapting and which will find it extremely difficult to survive under market conditions.”  Such people will be among the first to discover that the social guarantees that had existed no longer do.

            There are many possible responses to this crisis ranging from escapism to political activism, but “in Russia,” the sociologist continues, “young people will not be the factor which will put someone forward.” Instead, they will be available for mobilization by older people as is happening in the US with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

            “Today in Russia,” he argues, “as polls show, the older generation is much more radical and ideological” than the younger ones.  If one considers attitudes toward the family, for example, “the older generation in Russia even pensioners sees a quite emancipated role for women and supports freedom and equality of the sexes.”

            Young Russians in contrast, Kagarlitsky says, are increasingly attached to “domostroy” traditional values at least at the level of declarations.  “In practice, of course, everything is not that way: young people live free lives but their ideas about what is ideal are very conservative” compared to their parental generation.

            “Conservatism can be healthy, but this is simply an archaic revival,” the sociologist concludes. “Therefore there will be an inversion of roles: young people now will not be in the avant-garde.” Instead, at least at the beginning, older people may take the lead – although once the young realize their own power, things could get “really interesting.”


Moscow and Regions Adopt Different Protest Strategies, Kagarlitsky Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 4 – Russians always talk about the divide between Moscow and the rest of the country, but according to sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky, most of them fail to understand either just how deep this split has become and how it is likely to be a primary factor in Russian political life in the coming months.

            In a wide-ranging interview with Kazan’s “Business Gazeta,” the sociologist says that all too often analysts, despite nodding to this Moscow-provinces divide, extrapolate from what they see in the Russian capital to the country as a whole and thus fail to understand what is going on – and even more what is likely to take place (m.business-gazeta.ru/article/309544).

            Observers see in Moscow that members of the middle class do not consider themselves part of anything or trust anybody. That is true of the middle class of the country as a whole but the situation in the regions is not what it is in Moscow. “The capital’s middle class emotionally [is sliding] ever more into depression;” those in the regions somewhat less so.

            In both places, he continues, members of this group “will not vote for anyone, but however strange it may seem, they will not protest either. And what is most interesting is … [that as a result] the middle class will marginalize itself, psychologically and emotionally but not socially.”

            Russians are dissuaded from taking part in protests not only by what they see in Ukraine but also by the fact that Russian society today has greater access to information: it is “open informationally, in contrast to the USSR.” In Soviet times, people often thought the regime was lying about the West; now, they can read what people in the West are saying.

            As a result, he says in expressing agreement with his interviewer, Russians in the middle class are afraid that any protests they engage in will be exploited by outsiders. They will only decide to protest when they feel there is no other way out. That will reduce the importance of the middle class at the beginning of any rising.

            “An effective protest [in Russia],” Kagarlitsky continues, “will not be the style of the Maidan. It will be a mass political expression through the channels of loyal reporting of information which will then become converted into demands.  That is, first we will use these channels to report to the powers that be and then demand that they act.”

            In this process, he says, the situation in the provinces and the one in Moscow are “radically” different.  The Russian middle class in Moscow and St. Petersburg is more inclined to grow depressed rather than to act even in this way, while those in the provinces “will begin to be drawn to these channels” of communication and thus begin to respond to the powers that be.

            There is a good reason for this: “the regional middle class is much more closely tied to the bureaucracy. In Kazan, there are universities, theaters, a city with all the institutions that exist in the capitals. But the distance between the lower and middle links of the bureaucracy and intelligentsia and small business is much smaller and emotionally and socially the integration of these groups is higher.”

            The middle class in the capitals “will sit, cry and get angry about live on Facebook, but in the regions people will get involved in channels that give a chance for a feedback loop and they will quickly understand one thing: they are potential leaders because they have the experience, knowledge and social status and in some cases psychological qualities which will allow them to quickly move forward.”

            Consider the recent case of truck drives in Yekaterinburg, he continues. There, the drivers wanted to form a union but didn’t know how. They first turned to the KPRF, but the KPRF advised them to ask university instructors who investigate trade union movements.  “In this way, the instructors became involved in this activity.”

            “If the provincial middle class begins to ‘succumb’ to the bloc of issues arising from the demands of ‘the proletarians’ and lower bureaucracy,” Kagarlitsky concludes, what is likely to emerge in Russia in the near future is a real divide and conflict between “the patriotic provinces,” on the one hand, and “liberal-comprador Moscow,” on the other.