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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

The features of an image

Do the Russians evaluate themselves adequately?
18 June, 2018 - 18:02
Sketch by Viktor BOGORAD

On the opening day of the soccer World Cup, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (known by the Russian acronym VTsIOM) unveiled a survey of the main features of the image of the Russian people as perceived by the Russians themselves. One could mark up to five such features out of the list proposed by the pollsters. Thus, it turned out that the Russians saw themselves mainly in a positive and very positive light. According to respondents, the main quality of the Russians is hospitality (it was named by 45 percent), followed by capacity for hard work (41 percent), and spirituality (33 percent). The Top 5 also includes generosity (named by 26 percent of respondents) and sociability, which was noted by 25 percent of respondents. The strength of Russian people almost made it to the top, named by 23 percent of those polled.

Interestingly, only 18 percent noted high education level as a characteristic feature of the Russians, while 17 percent of respondents named religiousness as one. Finally, 5 percent of the Russians consider themselves enigmatic, and 4 percent ironic.

Regarding negative qualities, heavy drinking is the leader, having been named by 16 percent of respondents. Moreover, young people (those aged between 18 and 24 years) characterize the Russians as drunkards more often (25 percent) than do other age groups. Laziness is in the second position of this “anti-ranking” with 13 percent. The lack of discipline among Russians was noted by 6 percent of respondents, rudeness and wiliness each by 5 percent of the respondents, and only 2 percent mentioned weakness.

It seems that these Russians are pure angels, except for being drunkards and sluggards. Of course, it is predicated on trusting the data of a state-sponsored polling agency. Unlike the websites of the leading Ukrainian pollsters (say, Rating), where one can easily access the most complete materials of the polls, the VTsIOM’s website does not provide access to these materials, citing software failures... But it would be very interesting, for example, to see how the question about the qualities of the Russian people was framed, in which order – alphabetically or otherwise – the proposed answers appeared in the questionnaire (there were 30 of them in total). There are other issues with it as well, but they are of a purely expert nature. And in general: how much can one trust any opinion poll dealing with matters of ideological importance for the regime in a neo-totalitarian state?

However, if a significant part of respondents listed exactly those values that they believe to be most acceptable to the authorities (or those suggested by the state-sponsored pollsters), this is also an extremely significant indicator of the real social situation. “I think one thing, say the second, and mean the third” was the common practice in the Soviet time; at the same time, the majority of the USSR’s population genuinely ascribed to certain ideological dogmas and political myths that they felt comfortable with, which was famously described as “the unique pride of the Soviet citizen.”

One could stop here, if not for the fact that three years before the just-discussed all-Russian poll, theVTsIOM conducted another poll that dealt with a similar subject. The respondents were asked to mark the qualities of the Russian national character, separately grouped as positive and negative ones. It turned out that the most important positive features of that character were listed as kindness and honesty, nobility and decency; they were marked by 41 and 26 percent respectively. Readiness to assist each other and sociability were named by 13 percent, tolerance and dependability by 12 percent, capacity for hard work also by 12 percent, hospitality by 10 percent, courage and perseverance, steadiness and purposefulness by 9 percent each. Such qualities as trust, peacefulness, optimism, patriotism, talent, justice, generosity were named by 1 to 6 percent of respondents, and 14 percent hesitated to answer and failed to name any positive qualities. Meanwhile, the worst negative qualities of the Russian character were listed as the passion for alcohol and drugs (by 43 percent of those polled) and carelessness, laziness, lack of initiative (23 percent). The Russians also named lack of culture, rudeness, boorishness (11 percent), brutality, anger, jealousy (11 percent), irresponsibility, mismanagement, disorganization (9 percent). A few percent each chose slow-wittedness, excessive simplicity, character weakness, slavish obedience, excessive forgiveness, promiscuity, slovenliness, laxity, and indifference. A total of 17 percent of those polled failed to answer.

As you can see, the Russian state-sponsored pollsters have drawn some conclusions from that earlier poll: in this year’s questionnaire, the negative qualities of the Russians were not put into a separate rubric, so it resulted in a beautiful picture showing them as almost angels. However, it was only according to their “almost angelic” self-evaluation. I do not doubt that the devils in hell, if offered the questionnaire of 2018, would also portray themselves positively...

But there was another important question in the 2015 survey. Respondents were asked to note the main positive and negative qualities of the modern Westerners. I do not know how honestly Russians responded to the state-sponsored pollsters’ questions, but... However, judge for yourself: 42 percent of respondents could not name any positive qualities inherent in the Westerners. Those who mentioned such qualities chose high capacity for work, business efficiency (16 percent), responsibility, ability to keep themselves in good shape (10 percent), respect for each other and the law (9 percent), confidence in their strengths and abilities, purposefulness (8 percent), politeness, attentiveness (6 percent). A few percent of respondents noted the culture of behavior, thriftiness, prudence, pragmatism, vigor, honesty, tolerance. Among the main negative features of Western people, 15 percent named excessive fondness for money, 10 percent – arrogance and swaggering, presumptuousness and haughtiness, 7 percent – wiliness, rationalism, and selfishness, 5 percent – indifference, lack of spirituality, insensitivity, heartlessness, promiscuity, debauchery. Less than 5 percent of respondents noted aggressiveness, individualism, contempt for people of other ethnicities, dislike of Russians, and the desire to interfere in other peoples’ affairs, brutality and insincerity. This is how, according to the VTsIOM, the Westerners were evaluated by ordinary Russians. And it does not really matter whether they spoke their hearts or were guided by the stereotypes of state propaganda, as the result is same: xenophobia and imperial haughtiness.