Half of Russians Now Blame Putin for Russia’s Problems — But Most Support Him Anyway

Putin Descending a Staircase

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, December 11, 2017)

Forty-nine percent of Russians say that Vladimir Putin is responsible for the problems Russia faces, up by nine percent over the last year, a Levada Center poll finds (politsovet.ru/57449-polovina-rossiyan-schitaet-putina-prichinoy-problem-v-strane.html https://www.levada.ru/2017/12/11/17232/).

Slightly fewer – 45 percent – blame the government, and fewer still blame Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an indication that Russian attachment to the idea that they have a good tsar but bad boyars may be slipping somewhat and that Putin’s obvious power means that an increasing number of Russians now hold him responsible for the bad as well as the good.

But the same polling agency reports not only that the share of the population prepared to vote for him remains overwhelmingly high but also that “the number of Russians who consider that Russia needs ‘a strong hand’ at the helm is growing,” a finding that works to Putin’s benefit (regnum.ru/news/polit/2355661.html).

The share saying Russia needs “a strong hand” now stands at 40 percent, 13 percent higher than three years ago; and, according to the same poll, “38 percent additional respondents said that there are situations when it is necessary to concentrate all power in the hands of one person.” Only 17 percent expressed the opposing view.

But the same polling agency reports not only that the share of the population prepared to vote for him remains overwhelmingly high but also that “the number of Russians who consider that Russia needs ‘a strong hand’ at the helm is growing,” a finding that works to Putin’s benefit (regnum.ru/news/polit/2355661.html).

The share saying Russia needs “a strong hand” now stands at 40 percent, 13 percent higher than three years ago; and, according to the same poll, “38 percent additional respondents said that there are situations when it is necessary to concentrate all power in the hands of one person.” Only 17 percent expressed the opposing view.

This pattern has prompted a bitter reflection by opposition politician Gennady Gudkov who observes that if these figures are correct, then “Russia does not have a future” because it shows that Russians have not learned the difference between a strongman and an effective leader (echo.msk.ru/blog/gudkov/2108542-echo/).

“We are a unique country,” he says, “one which has not been able to learn the lessons from its own victims and sufferings and has become accustomed to subservience and slavery as th norm of its existence. A nation in short that finds it easy to betray the memory of its ancestors who were killed by tyrants, executioners, and dictators.”

“‘A firm hand,'” he continues, “is the main cross, the main evil, the main CURSE of our people which has destroyed our strength and condemned it to eternal lagging behind the advanced countries of the world.” One has to ask, Gudkov says, have Russians “gone out of their minds?” and do they really want to return Lenin and Stalin?

“For almost 20 years in Russia, Putin has ruled in Russia with ‘a firm hand,’ thank God still not an entirely dictatorial one.” As a result, Russia with all its wealth is not only falling ever further behind the rest of the world with ever lower incomes but isolating itself from others who see it as a bandit and an outcast.

He calls on Russians to look around and consider a country like Finland, which is now “one of the wealthiest countries of the world” with incomes ten times that of Russia. The reason for that, Gudkov argues, is that “already in 1881,” it turned away from “‘a firm hand'” and put its trust in a parliamentary democracy.

Russia needs to do that, but to do so, it must give up its absurd faith that only “‘a firm hand'” can save the country. In fact, as history shows, a hand of that kind can only succeed in strangling Russia in the name of saving it because, as Russians don’t seem yet to understand, “‘a firm hand'” is not the same thing as an effective government.

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/12/half-of-russians-now-blame-putin-for.html]