“The concept of inequality occupies a fairly large place in the minds of our citizens”

Anastasia Nikolskaya about the sore points and demands of our society

“Corruption income causes strong indignation in 100% of the people we interviewed, and the deserved income does not cause indignation. People understand that one can get 10,000 a month, and the other — a million, and if this million is deserved, then there is no problem. People even say that it is not necessary to introduce a progressive tax on the rich because 13% of their million is still a significant amount," said Anastasia Nikolskaya, the sociologist, Associate Professor of Psychology at the Moscow State University of Design and Technology, under whose leadership a group of sociologists conducts regular university studies of public opinion. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, she spoke about the “moral protest” in Russia and whether confidence in the government in our country remains.

“Young people are rather apolitical in general”

Anastasia Vsevolodovna, could tell us about the results of public opinion research and focus groups you have received recently?

We conducted research on the perception of forms of inequality in Russia. This means that the very concept of inequality occupies a fairly large place in the minds of our citizens. Already earlier this year, we held focus groups on the Russian president's address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. In general, they revealed poor knowledge of what the president specifically said. Second, there was a very sluggish reaction, and third, as the age of the respondents was lower, this reaction became more negative. But in general, young people are more apolitical than political.

Why?

I would say that there are things they are more concerned with. Young people are not very interested in politics, in particular, because they have been told for a long time that it is almost impossible to influence it, and second, they believe that it is dangerous to be active in the political sphere now.

At the same time, we can not say that they do not care. No, they are really concerned about charity, ecology, etc. Apparently, they believe that in these areas they can really do something, help in some way. And I do not see a request for a leader-politician among young people. I see a request that they want some kind of prosperous state in which they will have to live and somehow raise their own children.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
And I do not see a request for a leader-politician among young people. I see a request that they want some kind of prosperous state in which they will have to live and somehow raise their own children

“The proceeds of corruption caused strong resentment among 100% of respondents”

In the video Results 2019 on the page of your group of sociologists on Facebook, you said that protest in Russian society is becoming moral. What did you mean?

Look, our prices are rising, new taxes are being introduced, but we are not on strike for these reasons, right? We start to protest when they build a temple where we want to walk, when they want to make a garbage dump where we do hunting and fishing. This means that our values have shifted from survival values to other values (ecology, freedom, etc.). Let's take, for example, these “Moscow cases” when people protested against dishonesty in nominating candidates to the Moscow City Duma. In this sense, people's protest is based on higher values than survival values. In this sense, the protest is already beginning to have a moral character, not the character of a challenge.

So people want to live in a society where everyone is equal before the law?

Of course, it is the legal form of inequality, when we are not equal in court, that causes the maximum indignation among all respondents, and this was a quantitative survey (about 2,000 people), and not a focus group. It is clear why we want to live in a legal society — because we can also defend our own rights in it. We have a serious lack of legal justice. In this sense, we are ready to advocate for such justice.

At the same time, we have no need for economic egalitarianism, no demand that everyone must be paid the same salaries. People perfectly understand that different jobs should be paid differently. They are against the proceeds of corruption because they consider them unfairly earned. People really believe that someone can earn a lot of money with their work and talent.

What causes the greatest indignation among Russians?

The biggest demand in society is for equality of opportunities, and we also have the biggest deficit in this area.

People perfectly understand that acquaintances and political connections are necessary in our society. 85% of the interviewed citizens believe that it is political ties that contribute to success in our country. That is, there is no equality of opportunities, and this causes dissatisfaction.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
The biggest demand in society is for equality of opportunities, and we also have the biggest deficit in this area

What about corruption?

It's the same thing. If there is no equality of opportunities, and people get certain posts because of political connections or a successful birth in a rich family, and they continue these corruption schemes, then corruption, of course, will continue. Proceeds of corruption cause strong indignation in 100% of the people we interviewed, and the deserved income does not cause indignation. Again, people understand that one can get 10,000 a month, and the other — a million, and if this million is deserved, then there is no problem. People even say that you don't need to introduce a progressive tax on the rich because 13% of their million is still a significant amount.

Do Russians consider the existing tax system fair and normal in general?

We didn't put the question that way. But in principle, we have not heard any talk that taxes are unfair.

“To protest in the streets, you need an idea. It's not there yet”

When and after what events was the greatest drop in confidence in the government over the past few years? Apparently, as a result of the pension reform?

Everyone is talking about pension reform. Certainly, it played a role, but I do not think that this role was dominant. I think that, first of all, the government lost support when it stopped showing formal signs of respect for the population. And when the situation in the country is not getting better and officials allow themselves public statements like “You were not asked to give birth, the state does not owe you anything” — this causes great irritation because people understand that this entire army of officials lives off our taxes.

I always give my students the following example. Let's imagine that we have an agreement: the whole group chips in and one of us in the morning brings sandwiches with cheese for everyone. But suddenly, after a few days, he begins to bring one bread and does not bring cheese. And to the question “Where is the cheese?", he answers: “Eat bread, it'll be enough for you.” Naturally, this causes discontent and questions. Approximately the same thing is happening now in the country.

How many protest-minded people are ready to take to the streets?

One need an idea for this — for what they will do this. So far, there is no such idea. No one has any desire to do it for no reason, at best to pay a fine or, at worst, to go to jail for disrespect and aggression to the power (that is perceived by National Guard of Russia as aggression), no one has any desire.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
I think that, first of all, the government lost support when it stopped showing formal signs of respect for the population

Was there a turning point when people abruptly stopped trusting the authorities?

People in Russia have already no special trust in the government for a long time. But what we see now in the polls: people stopped trusting them from the end of 2016 to the beginning of 2017. Then they started to say: “Everyone lies to us. Nothing can be trusted.” By the way, there is an interesting evolution in social networks, when people who were not interested in politics at all and, relatively speaking, liked cats, suddenly start sending each other some political anecdotes, videos, which contained a pronounced satire in relation to those in power.

A friend of mine made a very nice comparison. She said: “Imagine that you are living behind a high solid fence in your dacha and you are planting flowers. And somewhere far, far away, you are hearing a discontented hum, but it doesn't particularly bother you. And the hum is getting louder and louder and suddenly it's under your fence. You don't come out of the fence yet, but you have to get up and look over the fence to see what's going on.” This is approximately what we are seeing now. That is, many of us look over the fence but still do not go out and try to understand what is happening.

Are there any opportunities for the authorities to regain the trust of the people?

I don't think that's possible anymore. The other question is how long this state of our society will last. But in principle, this can continue until there is either a consolidating idea or some kind of consolidating event of federal significance.

Can we call our society responsible?

We are moving toward taking responsibility for our own survival. It never happens quickly. Moreover, 70 years of Soviet power have taught us that we are not responsible for anything. We clearly knew that we would finish school, go to some educational institution for free, finish it, get a job for sure, then get paid by buying approximately the same furniture, clothes and food set. Then we would get a pension at a certain age. There was nothing to think about at all. It is clear that we did not bear any responsibility, and this was a completely purposeful policy.

Now, when there are no such guarantees of survival, we are learning to take responsibility because we have to survive. How responsible have we become? Let me tell you what the Russians answered in our questionnaire to the question: “Should people take more responsibility to provide for themselves, or should the government take more responsibility to provide for everyone?" 40% say that it is people who should take responsibility. We have at least 40% of people who are ready to take some responsibility.

How many such responsible people are there among young people?

Young people may declare their readiness to take responsibility, but it is not always clear how real they are ready to take it. Because people who study at universities, even if they work part-time, only for “ice cream”. We understand that their parents pay for this educational institution there, that is, in one way or another, parents still help. The declared willingness to take responsibility and the real opportunity and ability to take it are different things.

I can say the following with certainty. The idea that you need to take responsibility comes to the mind of young people, they understand this need. This is a good sign.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
The idea that you need to take responsibility comes to the mind of young people, they understand this need. This is a good sign

“When will the new generation come to power? Maybe in 10 years”

In the same video, you talked about big changes in Russian society, which primarily concern the inner world of people. When will we see these changes in the external world?

First, the generation of people who are now in power should change. They will leave sooner or later simply because of the passage of time, and others will take their places. I'm not saying they are good or bad, they were born in the same country, after all. But, first, due to the development of the Internet, more and more Russians understand that there are no special Russian values. Everyone has the same values — honesty and fairness. All people around the world have the same demand. In this sense, people are more alike than not. We are one species.

The history of mankind itself shows us that society evolves, and we are going through the process of humanizing human interactions. So something will change.

When will the new generation come to power?

Maybe in 10 years. Although, again, look: the unstable situation in which we find ourselves makes us think that now some events or the emergence of a consolidating idea will lead to changes. But how positive will these changes be for us? How final and stable will they be? I can't say. Another thing is that the instability we are in cannot last long. The system is unstable, it is faltering. It is mainly the system fails because the government misinterprets the signals that society sends it. That is, it gives the wrong feedback.

What is the stability of society expressed?

If we are talking about a system, then stability is expressed in that we receive signals from the external environment and we have some reactions developed in the course of society's life, which we react to the environment, which leads us to a certain system of equilibrium. In simple terms, when you want to eat, your stomach sends a signal to your brain: “Let's go get something to eat.” You go outside, look around and see a store. Then your brain processes the signal from the inside of the stomach and the signal from the outside “store” and gives the command to move towards the store. You go there, buy something, eat, and your stomach says: “All right, let's go to bed now.” You have come to a state of equilibrium with the environment. Society as a system lives the same way.

Imagine that we (society) are the stomach. And we send a signal to the authorities: “Don't act like that to us.” And instead of hearing this signal, the authorities start stuffing food into us. We say: “We're not hungry! We need something else!” Then power gives us a slap. In this sense, we start to fail, that is, we want neither of these. And the system becomes unstable.

By Matvey Antropov