Saturday, November 4, 2017

Today’s Russians More like Residents of Franco’s Spain than of Brezhnev’s USSR, Levinson Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 4 – The post-Soviet man is different from his Soviet predecessor in three major ways, Levada Center sociologist Aleksey Levinson says. He lacks an idea of the future, he is no longer messianic, and his pantheon of heroes from the past has been reduced to Stalin alone.

            As a result, Levinson continues at a roundtable organized by the Moscow Jewish Museum and the Gaydar Foundation, the Russian of today, reflecting the circumstances he finds himself in now, more closely resembles the residents of Franco’s Spain or Mussolini’s Italy (

            The contemporary Russia’s lack of an idea of the future is not something that emerged over the last several years, the sociologist says. “It began under Yeltsin and has continued under Putin.”  Both individually and collectively, Russians no longer think in the long term or make such plans.

            The lack of messianism reflects two things. On the one hand, Russians are now convinced that they have no message they will bring to or impose on others around the world. And on the other, they mostly don’t want to have anything to do with other countries as long as they are respected and left alone.

            And the departure of so many heroes from the past in the minds of Russians is striking, Levinson says.  “Lenin has gone,” and most of the others, “even Ivan the Terrible,” are found only in the media but not in the heads of people. Only Stalin remains in this firmament, polls show.

            Before the Crimean Anschluss, he argues, “Russians suffered from not being able to life in a myth” about themselves. Instead, they “lived in a sad reality in which [they] were no longer a great power. But then Crimea was returned.” That was read as an indication that Russia and thus Russians are again a great power.

            “This equation works here stronger than the fundamental laws of physics,” the sociologist suggests.

            Russians have demonstrated that they can “mimic” others if they live among them and in a different socio-political system. “But the Russian socium is really different,” Levinson says; and as a result, “we have certain characteristics more in common with Franco’s Spain or the Italy of Mussolini than with the Soviet Union.”

            The two other participants in the discussion, historian Aleksey Kuznetsov and political scientist Mark Urnov both offered arguments in support of what Levinson said and added some additional points about contemporary Russian identity and its sources.

            Kuznetsov stresses that “post-Soviet man has more sources of information and greater opportunities to compare them but the majority of Russians do not have any desire to do so … The late Soviet man had a surprising bifurcation in the brain: On the one hand, he believed the media, but on the other, at a subconscious level, he understood they were lying.”

            Now, many Russians feel much the same way.

            Urnov says that he would “prefer to speak about post-Soviet man because one of the most characteristic aspects of the contemporary Russian is his greater attachment to social inequality.” In contrast to Americans, Russians want to live better than others but to have that handed to them by the state rather than achieved by their own efforts.

            “Such a consciousness is typical of corporate communities,” the political scientist adds. “The closest parallels here may be drawn with Franco’s Spain.” Such authoritarian states also want to be recognized for greatness even if they do not offer something to others.  And they take pride in being bigger or stronger as a result.

            Urnov also notes that if the future is undefined, the past is increasingly foreshortened. Now few Russians think much about the past before 1945 and can’t correctly identify leaders or events before that time.  Moreover, what history Russians now do know is not about achievements but rather about who they fought and defeated. 

            That is why the return of the image of the enemy and of being surrounded by enemies fits so neatly into their current mental framework. 

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