Russian dreams filled with equality

By bne IntelliNews April 8, 2013

bne:Chart -

Explain political models to a child and you might come up with this week's chart. Which of the shapes below best describe what sort of society Russians want? (Clue: rich are at the top, poor are at the bottom, and it is not for nothing that the communist revolution happened in Russia.)

German academics Felix Hett and Reinhard Krumm published a fascinating paper in March called "The Russian Dream: Justice, Liberty, and a Strong State" that polled just under 2,000 Russians about their dreams.

The survey comes on top of a definitive survey called "What Russians want" (the subject of last week's bne chart), which found that only 4% of Russians really care about political freedoms, while 68% are most worried about inflation.

The bottom line in the latest survey is that Russians want a society that looks like model #4 - an equitable world where no one is rich and no one is really poor. Sound familiar?

"Across all social groups, there is widespread appreciation of social justice, even in the more affluent classes," say Hett and Krumm. "Two thirds of respondents wish for social equality, which in turn is understood by 59% as equality of opportunity and a sizeable 41% as equality of income."

In the West, model #2 was the starting point for society in the 19th century, and today it is supposed to resemble model #1. However, reality is probably closer to model #3.

A second point to come out of the survey is that Russians want the state to organise this equitable society. A full 54% reject western-style individualism, while a whopping 91% say, "it is precisely the government that should take on responsibility in protecting the social rights of the population."

Only 25% of those classed as liberals advocate pure capitalism, according to the survey, while 15% of those classed as statist support it. The vast majority supports a socialist economy or are in favour of a "mixed economy" consisting of state direction over a system including free-market elements - which is pretty much what the country has today.

That's not to say that Russians are satisfied with the current setup. All those super-rich oligarchs are a bit too obvious, and 83% of those surveyed say the disparity between rich and poor is too great. Another two-thirds see the distribution of private property as unjust.

Finally, if asked to put today's system into historical perspective, it turns out that most of those surveyed think President Vladimir Putin has gone a lot further towards building the ideal state than any other leader. In answer to the question in which historical epoch Russia was closest to realizing its dream: 32% of respondents named the Putin-era, 14% said the "golden autumn" of the last decades of the Soviet Union, and 11% pre-revolutionary Russia. Putin's strongest competition was from "none of the above", which he beat by a 1% margin.

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