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"The Society Is Ready to Go Long But Only on Condition That This Will Be Altogether"

Since mid-2014 the country has been in a kind of turbulence: the foreign policy events and the economic crisis affect the lives of citizens. But how does the society itself perceive the events? A large-scale study made by the scientific team of the RAS Institute of Sociology led by Ph.D. Mikhail Gorshkov, the Director of the Institute, academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is dedicated to what manifestations of the crisis are most worried among the Russians, in what they see its causes and how they intend to overcome these difficulties.

This is the third wave of large-scale study of sentiments of Russian citizens, conducted with the support of RNF in October 2015. To assess the palette of public sentiments in this period, the researchers looked at indicators of socio-economic relations, expectations of the citizens and their political preferences, and took into account the religious dimensions.


Who Lives Well in Russia?

One of the main research units is devoted to how much the crisis has affected everyday life. And if the citizens' attention had been focused on the foreign policy arena up to autumn 2014, when the drama in the Ukraine just began and countries of the West and Russia "exchanged" the sanctions, then Russian citizens ever more clearly felt the crisis in the economy since the autumn of 2014.

In general, the current crisis is perceived by the population easier than it was in 2008-2009, 44% of Russians said that they were weakly affected by the downturn in the economy or felt no impact at all.

Socio-psychological state of the society is rather evaluated by the specialists as disturbing than extremely depressive.

"We waited for a much sharper drop. The proportion of satisfied Russians decreased from 37% to 28%, it unlikely could not be reduced, but this decline is not of a radical nature", – Gorshkov said.


Rising prices, one of the most significant forms of impact of the crisis on the daily lives of citizens, turned out to be significant. It has affected a larger part of the population than the crisis of 2008-2009 did, and is more painful. "But the Russians do not blame the government for the rise of prices. In their view, it is a fault of the oil prices fall and the subsequent growth of the dollar and the euro. And this is like snow – it snows today, and the snow melts tomorrow", – Natalya Tikhonova, the chief researcher at the Department of Social and Economic Studies of RAS IS, explained.

Another scourge of the population during the periods of economy fall is unemployment and falling wages. Unlike the situation with the prices of products, the unemployment rate in the current crisis is not as widespread as six years ago. But the fear of staff reduction and, consequently, lack of means, was one of the major pain points of the Russians in the last year.

Another, disturbing, phenomenon has emerged amid aforementioned concerns PhD Vladimir Petukhov, director of the Center for Complex Social Research of RAS IS, said. The unemployment rate is relatively low, but relations between employers and employees have changed amid negative expectations. More and more employees agreed to work overtime for the same salary, passing rightful weekends and holidays in order not to lose job in 2015. And, as it is noted by the scientist, the lack of workers' desire to protect their labor rights is frightening.

"Our citizens consider neither trade unions no strikes no judicial system a tool to defend their labor (and civil) rights. According to surveys, too little people use these institutions – at the level of statistical error".

However, in general, our citizens are willing to endure all these difficulties – for the sake of higher purpose. "There is a formula "we are ready to tighten our belts not to make it worse". The only question is how tighten and with whom, – Mikhail Gorshkov said. – Our data strongly suggest that the society is ready to go long, is ready for such things that can be called a sacrifice, but only on condition that it will be done altogether..."


And indeed, a unique feature of the current crisis is that its aftermaths have affected all layers of the society, particularly its poles – the poor and the affluent.

"In the 1990s, income gains took place in high-income groups. Then, in the 2000s, medium- and low-income groups began to catch up. Now the high-yielding groups have got smaller income gains than low-yielding ones. The income of upper ten percent of people not only didn’t increased in the pre-crisis and crisis periods, but even decreased".

Moreover, as the scientists say, it is quite a precarious balance.

"Judging by what motivates this patience, citizens will have enough patience for another year or year and a half, – Tikhonov said. – A critical mass of deferred demands will be accumulated during this time, but until then we can be confident that the massive outbursts of dissent will not happen.

However, this does not exclude that some groups will fight for their interests".

But if the crisis drags on for five or ten years (as such concerns are expressed more and more clearly), patience may not endure.

"Russian society is neither mentally nor institutionally not ready for the long-term crisis", – Vladimir Petukhov believes.

Not by bread alone...

However, the patience, which has been shown by the Russians for the second year, cannot be explained solely by economic reasons. The so-called non-economic factors of growth join the "game" here, the researchers believe. "This is a huge slice of the spiritual and psychological phenomena and processes, which are not determined by purely material factors. It is poorly discussed, even in the scientific community, but intangible factors objectively affect the public mindset, – Mikhail Gorshkov said. – We cannot say about the growth of sensation of statehood in the mass consciousness of Russians. This was very clearly said by massive amounts of data that we use.

We are seeing a unity of views among the overwhelming majority of the population that relies on common attitudes and perceptions of the outside world. Positions of highly affluent Russians and needy ones, officers and soldiers, engineers of high qualification and ordinary workers, residents all over Russia converge here. Our working group is unanimous on this issue – it is this common position that will enable us to go through the hoops with dignity".


At the same time, Gorshkov said that more and more of our fellow citizens are no longer rely on the state as the sole source of solutions to the problems now, and increasingly rely on themselves. "It's certainly a positive trend, given the more vivid impressions, which brings this part of society, greater sociability, more proactive stance. It is this part of the population that will set the tone for public life in the next, very difficult for Russia years".


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