Pandemic and Economic Crisis Changing Russians from Observers to Citizens But Leaving Them Divided, Levinson Says

Map of Russia and Russian Flag adapted from images at state.gov

(Paul Goble – Window On Eurasia – Staunton, Dec. 29, 2020)

Because of the pandemic and the associated economic crisis, many Russians are being forced by circumstances to shift from being passive observers to taking more demanding positions as citizens, a change that could outlast either of the problems that generated it, according to Aleksey Levinson.

The two crises, the Levada Center sociologist says surveys and focus group discussions show, have confronted Russians with very specific and personal challenges. Almost all of them have experienced or know someone who has experienced one or the other. Consequently, these issues have become personal (vtimes.io/2020/12/29/glas-naroda-chem-poradoval-2020-god-a2278).

And unlike many issues which remain more nebulous or apparently beyond the capacity of individuals to change, Russians today when dealing with these two problems have often concluded that they have no choice but to address them directly in order to save themselves and their families.

As one might expect, different groups of Russians are reacting differently. Better off Russians living in the largest cities feel that healthcare has come through for them even if they may feel the economic crisis more severely, while those in other cities who are less well-off may be more concerned about problems with medical care because their insurance is less good.

These differences in reaction also reflect, Levinson says, the only contradictory and even disorienting comments of officials. “Bosses at various levels accustomed to be more worried about the reaction of those above them than those below them sometimes lie and sometimes tell the truth.”

Thus, on occasion, these officials will understate the nature of the threat lest Moscow be angered and, on others, overstate it to show how important they are and how much support they need. “As a result,” the sociologist says, “mass consciousness has turned out to be disoriented.”

Another divide that has opened is between parents of school-age children and everyone else. The former in the main and especially women don’t want schools closed while most of the latter favor that step as a way of fighting and defeating the pandemic so that economic consequences will be less severe.

Lockdowns and the inability to travel abroad have also divided people. But in the case of the latter, both those who had to give up plans to go abroad and those who had no such plans felt that domestic tourism was no substitute because Russian venues could not compete in quality with foreign ones or give them the sense of escape that the former did.

One important indication of the way in which the pandemic and the economic crisis have changed Russians is provided by polls about the constitutional amendments. Last June, Russians were overwhelmingly supportive of them, but now they are divided nearly equally between those who call them “extremely negative” and those who support them.

According to the sociologist, Russians felt positive about only two things this year: the retirement of Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister and the departure of Antaoly Chubais as head of Rosnano. Many Russians had long wanted these two to leave the scene. This year, 2020, they got their wish.

[article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/12/pandemic-and-economic-crisis-changing.html]