‘Hedonism and novelty risk have been steadily growing in Russia since 2006. We haven’t seen such explosive growth in most European countries’

Sociologist Maksim Rudnev on why Russians appreciate stability and support the economy

‘Hedonism and novelty risk have been steadily growing in Russia since 2006. We haven’t seen such explosive growth in most European countries’
Photo: hse.ru

“It is a good question why Russians’ engagement in politics hasn’t formed in the last 30 years. Probably because crises and big fears regarding well-being and safety kept the value of stability up. People are tuned up to save what they have and they are afraid to change something globally. One big change — the transition from communism to democracy — led to nothing good from the perspective of the masses,” thinks leading researcher of the Laboratory for Comparative Collective Consciousness Research of Higher School of Economics Maksim Rudnev. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, he talked about differences in values between Russians and Europeans and their change from a historical perspective.

“Hedonism and novelty risk have been steadily growing in Russia since 2006”

What are the core values of contemporary Russians?

In our research with Vladimir Magun, we use terms of the relative importance of different values, therefore the core values are those that matter more than others. And from this perspective, the values of people across Europe including Russia are very similar.

If we are talking about the average situation in countries, altruistic values or values of care (equality, fraternity) and the value of safety are more important for people, while money and accomplishments are less important. If we consider values in specific groups of people, the picture can be different. The youth all over the world usually have more pronounced individual and egocentric values. Consequently, the value of an accomplishment, wealth, novelty is greater among them, while the value of conservation of traditions and safety is lower. The youth love life, various pleasures, appreciate hedonism. Young people are in motion, as they receive an education and they have things to achieve, what to aspire to. A situation when somebody cares about them is more habitual for them than when they care about somebody. This is why they are focused on themselves more than the older generation.

Between what countries are there significant differences in their attitude as such a value as safety?

It depends on the well-being of a country. Safety ranks one of the top values among contemporary Russians. It is not so appreciated in richer and socially more prosperous countries.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
The youth all over the world usually have more pronounced individual and egocentric values. Consequently, the value of an accomplishment, wealth, novelty is greater among them, while the value of conservation of traditions and safety is lower

Which values change in Russia?

The value of the same safety reduces, the value of hedonism and novelty risk increases a lot. Novelty risk is a readiness to risk, a desire to try new things. Hedonism and novelty risk have been steadily growing in Russia since 2006. We haven’t seen such explosive growth in most European countries. We think this happens, first of all, because Russians began to own free money by the end of the noughties, and consumption culture appeared.

What research on Russian society do you participate in?

European social research is done in Russia, our laboratory supports it. It is a very reliable all-European survey with representative samples in 30 countries. First of all, we base on it. This research has been done in Russia since 2006 and is repeated once in two years.

Do you really interview different people or do you have a questionnaire with multiple answer options?

It is very reliable questions with very reliable answer options. We base on Shalom Schwartz’s theory. He did interviews too. Starting his research, he created a questionnaire, and his colleagues did the research in 70 countries. Then he summarised the results and brought them all together in a theory, then this theory was improved and complemented in other research around the world. All this helped to create a huge amount of empirical information. As a result of his research, Schwartz created a tool that can accurately cover people’s values.

Our critics say: “You show people answer options, and they have to choose one”. Practice shows that if we ask people without options, the answers turn out different, of course, but then when researchers summarise and classify them, most of them anyway go back to Schwartz’s theory and categories of values.

“The importance of materialistic values reduces around the world give or take. This is especially fast in Western Europe

Does it mean that the ideal of altruistic life for the common good is now driving out the famous American dream (to make a lot of money, build a career)?

There is a political conception of values by Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel where the opposition of materialistic and post-materialistic values is considered. I will note in brackets that Inglehart describes a small part of values, while Schwartz is up for describing all values more abstractly. Materialism is an accent on material comforts such as putting order in the country, a fall in prices, safety, material well-being. While people who share post-materialistic values prefer not material living conditions but things linked with a higher level of needs, it is a desire to be heard in the management of the country, it is aesthetic requirements for the city they live in, it is linked with tolerance and necessity of self-expression.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
Values in our country almost haven’t changed since the beginning of research in 1990 until now. This happens because we have constantly experienced big upheavals over this time

If we reason like Inglehart, the importance of materialistic values reduces around the world give or take. This is especially fast in Western Europe. Russia is an exception here. Values in our country almost haven’t changed since the beginning of research in 1990 until now. This happens because we have constantly experienced big upheavals over this time. After the dissolution of the USSR, there might have been a transition to post-materialistic values, but at that moment people simply had nothing to eat… And then there was a crisis in 1998. There was to be a transition to post-materialistic values in the 2000s, but this didn’t happen again.

There are several versions in this respect. One suggests that actually people’s well-being didn’t worsen much in the noughties and in the 2010s. While Canadian sociologist Robert Brym, for instance, thinks that this case challenges the whole theory of post-materialism in general.

It is said in your research that residents of Russia and Eastern Europe are less engaged in politics than residents of Western Europe. Why? Did the Soviet period destroy people’s belief in the institution of election, the fact that they could influence the course of events in the country?

Yes, several generations didn’t participate in real politics of the USSR at all. Here there is nothing to talk about.

But it is a good question why Russians’ engagement in politics hasn’t formed in the last 30 years. Probably because crises and big fears regarding well-being and safety kept the value of stability up. People are tuned up to save what they have and they are afraid to change something globally. One big change — the transition from communism to democracy — led to nothing good from the perspective of the masses.

It is clear what the 2000s are marked for. There was no reason to participate in politics then because there was (and still there is) such a strong guarantor of safety as the president of Russia. Moreover, those who wanted to come to power started to have safety problems. People understood that they could be seriously punished for their participation in politics. Everything was against the activity of people who had a humble background in this sphere.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
Director of Levada-Center Lev Gudkov has an idea — children are good, fair, altruistic and active until they face the Russian reality

The word ‘democracy’ makes people in Russia shrug their shoulders”

What can you say about the youth?

The youth are gradually engaged in politics. According to Inglehart’s theory, which is mainly shared in the scientific world, a person’s values don’t change a lot throughout his or her life. People become more conservative and less egoistic when they get old. This probably happens due to biological changes in the human organism and the social status in society. Young people become parents, then grandparents and retire. All this influences human values. But the big picture of values, their general hierarchy remains stable from the period of early adulthood. The idea is that values are formed in childhood and don’t change throughout life if there aren’t big upheavals. The way values change in society is linked with this postulate — through a natural change of generations. If a person has values, this is for life. While children’s set of values can differ from that of their parents. As values are formed in childhood, they are linked with the conditions a child grows in, what a country and an environment he or she grew up in.

There was a wave of protests in Russia once, and the authorities’ ratings fell. I consider that this happened because a new generation grew up that did this in a relatively favourable time from a material perspective. And their parents grew up not at the most favourable time in the 90s or earlier, this is why their preferences shifted towards the maintenance of the status quo.

We don’t so far know the generation born in the noughties. One day they might behave the way their parents did. Director of Levada-Center Lev Gudkov has an idea — children are good, fair, altruistic and active until they face the Russian reality. When they graduate from institutes and colleges and start to solve problems of life, they can dramatically change — they can start to justify corruption, participate in it, support the power and so on.

What is the value of democracy for the Russians?

I think such measures will say little. What can people be asked? Does democracy matter? The word “democracy” in itself has depreciated a bit, whatever is named this way. Now Russia is said to be a democratic country, Russian politicians talk about democracy. I think that people’s idea of the concept of “democracy” is blurring more and more.

This situation is like what happens to the famous political scale: the left and right. It is applied everywhere. If everybody in America and Europe understands what it is when it is meant, people in Eastern Europe and Russia don’t understand at all who is left and who is right. Are Communists left or right? People don’t know. A similar thing happens to democracy. If everybody in America has an opinion of democracy and the way it must function, the word “democracy” makes people in Russia shrug their shoulders.

Photo: Dmitry Reznov
What can people be asked? Does democracy matter? The word “democracy” in itself has depreciated a bit, whatever is named this way

Could you share the results of your recent research with our readers?

Now we are dealing with the dynamics of change of values in European countries. The importance of the value of hedonism, novelty risk and universality is going up across the countries on average, while the importance of conservatism, accomplishments and power and wealth is decreasing.

But if we divide the countries examined into countries with a higher quality of life and poorer countries, which are often post-communist, the dynamics will turn out different. Conservatism hasn’t changed in Western Europe since 2002, while conservatism in, for instance, Hungary is reducing. Altruistic values are slowly growing in all European countries except for Eastern European countries. Values in Poland haven’t changed for 20 years already, probably because conservatives and liberals constantly clash, and one and the other win the election in the end, and there is some balance.

The value of care about people and nature is gradually falling in the Czech Republic and Hungary. We don’t understand so far why this is happening. Migration perhaps played a role in the Czech Republic because many are moving to Western Europe, while the population is replenished thanks to Eastern Europe. People who are focused on conditional post-materialism are leaving the country, while mainly materialists are arriving in.

By Matvey Antropov