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End of Decade: Public Sentiment in Russia
December 31, 2019 10:11

The beginning of the 2020s is here.  The attention of Russians is once again taken by disasters, corruption and the income gap between rich and poor. Like 10 years ago.

In the modern world, thousands of messages fall on a person every day. In this thread, it’s hard to keep track of what happened last month. It is even more difficult to remember what worried us over the past ten years. We tend to constantly overestimate the events of the past, and what seems important here and now may lose this significance and be forgotten.
One way to remember the passing tenths is to look at arrays of regular opinion polls. 

Early Tenths: Crisis and Disaster

At the beginning of the past decade, public sentiment was largely determined by the economic crisis of late 2008, which for many in Russia marked the end of  stability, the so-called Putin stability. As a result of assessing the state of affairs in the country, the situation in the economy, the ratings of top officials have been falling for several years. There was a growing sense of impasse. It was this pessimism and dissatisfaction of the general population that resulted in mass protests in 2011-2012. The reason for the protests then was election irregularities and the “castling” of Putin and Medvedev, but still the source of mass disappointment was social and economic problems.

It is interesting that the protests themselves and the “white-tape” movement turned out to be significant only for a small part of Russian citizens - primarily the middle class of large Russian cities, which were the main participants in what was happening.

The attention of the bulk of Russian citizens at that time was primarily captured by disasters, terrorist acts and corruption scandals. These events were noted by the majority of  respondents as “the main events of the year”. Among them were forest fires and abnormal heat of 2010, flooding in Krymsk in 2012 and in the Amur Region and Khabarovsk Territory a year later. The terrorist attack in the Moscow metro at the very beginning of the tenth and the subsequent terrorist attack at the Moscow Domodedovo airport, the crash of the Bulgaria motor ship, the death of the Lokomotiv football team in a plane crash near Yaroslavl in 2011, and the plane crash in Kazan two years later caused a general shock.

Then, at the beginning of the tenths, the public was shocked by the anti-corruption investigation against the Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov. People were shocked by the fact that a federal minister appeared on the dock, by the scale of the theft,  and the love story connected with the case. One thing is certain:  respondents still recall this matter in focus groups, seven years after it began. This investigation was the most striking in a series of other criminal cases, which turned out to be a passing decade.

Mid-Tenths: Crimea and devaluation

Events in 2014 and 2015 determined public sentiment for the remaining half of the decade. The accession of Crimea to Russia undoubtedly left the greatest imprint in public opinion. For most Russians, it became a symbol of the revival of the greatness of the country, lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and therefore led to an explosive growth of public optimism, pride in the country and ostentatious patriotism. Which, in turn, led to an increase in confidence in the main state institutions: the president, government, army, party in power. In fact, the annexation of Crimea predetermined the victory of United Russia in the 2016 parliamentary elections and Vladimir Putin in the presidential election two years later.

Since then, events related to the Crimea and Ukraine were regularly named among the main events of the year. Among them is Euromaidan, which for many in Russia with the help of Russian television channels is still a horror story and a symbol of chaos and a violent change of power, as well as the war in the Donbass, the conflict in the Kerch Strait, and  the construction of the Crimean bridge. The victory of Vladimir Zelensky in the presidential election, although it did not become an event of the year for most Russians, significantly improved the image of Ukraine in the eyes of our fellow citizens and became a symbol of the opportunity to change unpopular power during the elections.

It is worth noting that the majority of our fellow citizens understand the Ukrainian conflict in terms of the confrontation between Russia and the West, where the neighboring country turned out to be just an excuse and an arena of confrontation. The participation of Russia in the war in Syria, which has been marked by respondents among the main events of the year for five consecutive years, is roughly understood. The peak of anti-Western sentiment was in 2014-2015, then sanctions were called among the main events of the year. In 2015, many also remembered well the Russian plane shot down by the Turkish Air Force, but this conflict did not continue. Only today a positive attitude towards the United States and Europe for the first time in five years begins to prevail again.

The Sochi Olympics also became a symbol of 2014 once, but the plume of the doping scandal that erupted after those Games still haunts our country and excites public opinion. So, the removal of the Russian team from participating in competitions has repeatedly figured among the main events of the outgoing year - in 2016, 2017, and again in 2019. Something tells us that this year will not be the last.

Finally, another significant event in the middle of the decade was the collapse of the ruble at the end of 2014, which marked the beginning of a new economic crisis. Its influence on public opinion was reminiscent of the situation after 2008: a sharp collapse of hopes, a deterioration in sentiments and assessments of the situation in the economy, which was accompanied by a slow and steady decline in power ratings, which updated the minimum values by the beginning of the outgoing year.

The end of the tenths: pensions and apathy

The main event of the late tenths, undoubtedly, was the pension reform. Most Russians perceived it from the very beginning as unfair. As people in focus groups explained, the government shifted economic problems to ordinary citizens, “there is no money”,  however not oligarchs, officials or deputies will pay for it, but ordinary people. But pension reform in many ways only culminated in a five-year drop in incomes and a deterioration in the standard of living, which is recorded by both opinion polls and state statistics.

Against the background of deteriorating moods and a shortage of good news, disaster is beginning to draw people's attention: fires and floods - this time in Siberia - tragedies like last year’s fire in the Kemerovo shopping center Winter Cherry or the shooting of schoolchildren in Kerch, a terrorist attack in the St. Petersburg metro two years ago, more and more plane crashes. In the latter case, only the recent successful landing of A321 on a corn field in Zhukovsky near Moscow turned out to be a happy exception. All this strongly resembles the beginning of the decade.

In relation to the outside world, towards the end of the decade, isolationism begins to dominate in public opinion. The 2018 World Cup, one of the main events of the past year, according to most Russians, only paused these sentiments for a short while. The society has accumulated fatigue from Russia's participation in the affairs of Ukraine, Syria, and Venezuela. Over the past couple of years, focus groups have often heard the opinion: it's enough to help others, it's time to tackle your problems. Increasingly, one can hear claims that the authorities “forgot about ordinary people”, and that the president is more interested in foreign policy than the problems of ordinary citizens. What was recently credited to the authorities, today begins to cause discontent.

Today, as in the early tenths, people are increasingly annoyed by the income gap between the rich and the poor. Concern over corruption is growing again.  The news constantly contains arrests of ministers, governors, mayors of cities, generals of special services.   

On the whole, the ratings of the authorities, which grew strongly in the middle of the decade against the backdrop of the accession of Crimea and the conflict with the West, returned to the indicators of the beginning of the decade. As in the early tenths, public sentiment is again determined by socio-economic problems. Like there were not these ten years. The circle is closed.


Author: Anna Dorozhkina

Tags: Russian society Sochi FIFA Russia 2018   

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