Russians hanker for Soviet system

By bne IntelliNews February 11, 2013

bne -

Back to the future - that is the sentiment among many Russians who say they want to go back to the Soviet system. According to a recent poll, the number that support the Soviet political system has grown to 36% of Russians, who say the Soviet system is the best one for the country, compared with 29% in 2012.

This is more than the number of Russians that support a western-style democracy, which is down from 29% to 22%, according to a survey published by the Russian independent pollster Levada Center. Russian President Vladimir Putin's current system is the least popular with only 17% saying they remain loyal to the existing political system, a 3-percentage-point drop from last year.

The Soviet system has an enduring appeal. It is widely forgotten that in March 1991 Mikhail Gorbachev ordered a Soviet Union-wide poll that covered some 90% of the population. It found that 76% wanted to retain the Soviet Union - and this less than six months before Yeltsin ended it by fiat, according to a recent book by Professor Stephen Cohen.

At the time, Gorby was negotiating with seven of the 15 republics on a new Soviet Union treaty that would have given greater autonomy to the members. It was a given that the Baltic states were going to leave the union - and Gorby didn't have a problem with that. Georgia too was likely to leave and none of these new republics retain much love for Russia today. However, most of the other states - including Ukraine, Belarus and especially the five republics of Central Asia - were very keen to stay in the union. One of the quirks of the Soviet "empire" was that unlike other empires, the centre didn't exploit the periphery; quite the opposite: especially in the case of the 'Stans, the centre invested heavily in the republics and lifted their quality of life at the cost of the more developed Russians.

Had Gorby managed to complete his new union treaty, then it seems likely that Russia would have followed a path much more closely resembling China's today. In the event, Russians miss the security of cradle-to-coffin social support that was one of the major appeals of the socialist system. While few would like to return entire to the old model, most want some sort of compromise.

The survey also posed a question about the economic system. Poll results show that more than half of Russians (51%) support an economic model based on state planning (49% in 2012). Only 29% spoke in favour of private ownership and a free market system (36% in 2012).

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