‘Russia for the Russians’ Polarizes Population

"Immigrants, time to go home!" at a march in Moscow, November 2009. Source: Kasparov.ru/Anastasia PetrovaThe slogan “Russia for the Russians” has split Russian society, according to a new poll by sociologists at the Levada Center. The poll indicated that a growing number Russians consider the idea to be fascist, but the number of people who support the idea is growing as well. These figures, along with other factors indicated by the poll, have led experts to fear that growing polarization will lead to a surge of violence in the country.

According to the November study, Russian attitudes towards immigrants became more negative on the whole. 61 percent of Russians feel that the government “should try to limit the stream of migrants,” a 9 percent increase from a year ago. Another 30 percent feel that the authorities “do not need to put administrative barriers in the way of the influx of migrants and try to use them for the good of Russia,” down from 35 percent in 2008 and 44 percent in 2002.

Attitudes towards labor immigration also followed a negative trend. Only 19 percent of Russians held a “definitely” or “probably” positive attitude towards the idea that “one meets workers from Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and other nearby foreign countries on construction sites in Russia more often.” This figure was at 30 percent in 2002. Those who held neutral attitudes towards labor immigration fell to 44 percent, down 5 percent from a year ago, and those with a negative attitude rose to 35 percent, up 4 percent from a year ago.

The percentage of Russians who felt negatively towards labor immigrants has fluctuated back and forth over the past decade. In 2000 and 2004, 38 percent of Russians held negative attitudes in this regard, but only 27 percent did so in 2002. Aleksei Grazhdankin, vice director of the Levada Center, told Gazeta.ru that the fluctuations “are connected with the economic crisis and an intensification of competition in the labor market.” Therefore, Grazhdankin continued, “attitudes towards migrants remain in a completely civilized framework, and the level of xenophobia and nationalist enmity is not increasing. People are simply striving to protect their interests in the labor market.”

Attitudes toward the idea of a Russia in which only ethnic Russians resided did not change significantly in the past year.

The number of Russians, however, who support the infamous slogan “Russia for the Russians” and feel that it “has long been time to implement” such an idea has risen to 18 percent from 15 percent a year ago.

At the same time, 36 percent believe that “it would not be bad to implement this idea, but within reasonable limits,” down from 42 percent last year. Additionally, a growing number of Russians believe that “Russia for the Russians” is “genuine fascism,” up to 32 percent from 25 percent last year.

“Such growth is very good,” said Pavel Chikov, representative of the human rights organization Agora. “In the first years of the Putin administration, there was a surge of patriotism that brought with it a growth in neo-Nazi groups.” Chikov explained the change in poll numbers as the result of more frequent public debate on immigration issues in Russia, causing more people to form opinions on the matter. “However,” he continued, “the ratio of the positions remains approximately the same for now.”

“The country is beginning to wake up and develop individual attitudes to various social phenomena, and on the whole this is, unconditionally, positive,” the human rights representative said. At the same time, he noted that the polarization of society indicates increasing degrees of opposition. “It’s good to start public debates, but I fear that it’s also starting knife fights and violence, and the government likewise answers with violence,” Chikov concluded.