Futuribles Journal n° 446

Institutions - Société, modes de vie

Do Russians Hold Illiberal, Authoritarian Values?

In issue 443 of Futuribles last summer, we published some of the lessons from the latest European Values Study (EVS) carried out in 2017-18. In that article, Pierre Bréchon stressed the — still very marked — differences in values between the various geographical areas of Europe (West/South/East; EU members or non-members; the Nordic countries). In this article, co-written with Myriam Désert, he focuses now on the peculiarities of Russian society, analyzing the findings of the EVS surveys carried out in Russia since 1999 and comparing these with the findings from Europe in 2017. Russians have a reputation for relatively illiberal and authoritarian values, a view bolstered by their support for Vladimir Putin over the last 20 years, but is this reputation deserved?

Bréchon and Désert first remind us of the approach the EVS takes to the notion of democracy and how it surveys for it. They go on to look at Russians’ aspirations for the advancement of a democratic system, recalling in the process how the weight of their history plays into some responses. They highlight the strong nationalist, xenophobic sentiments of the Russian people, but when the objectives they view as important are examined in detail, the article shows that pro-democratic opinions are tending to make headway. And, though not very politicized or much inclined toward protest, Russians aspire to be heard by their leaders. Lastly, the authors turn to the development of social ties in Russia, stressing the correlation that usually exists between the strength of those ties and democratic aspirations: they show, for example, that the breakdown of social bonds in recent decades has played an important role in causing nationalist, authoritarian values to predominate, but that the levers the government previously relied on to consolidate those values are losing a little of their effectiveness on account of the country’s deteriorating social and economic situation. The authoritarian tendency is still largely dominant and movement away from it is very slow, but it does seem to have begun.

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