A poll take by the Russian affiliate of a leading international polling organization has found that Russians believe in democracy but are less certain that it exists at home. The poll, taken by Romir, the Gallup International Association’s exclusive representative in Russia, was conducted June 15-21 as part of Gallup International’s annual Voice of the People Survey, for which more than 60,000 people in 57 countries were surveyed.
According to Gazeta.ru, 64% of the Russians polled by Romir answered in the affirmative when asked if democracy is the best political system. Among respondents aged 30 or younger, 71% answered this question affirmatively, while only 50% of those older than 65 answered in the affirmative. In addition, those with higher incomes tended to be more sympathetic toward democracy. Gazeta.ru quoted Romir consultant Igor Berezin as saying the age-determined differences were not surprising, given that the older respondents grew up under “different political conditions” – meaning under the Soviet system – and that they associate democracy with the 1990s (when economic dislocation and chaos hit older Russian particularly hard). The results of the polling in Russia were similar to those found in Central and Eastern Europe, where 68% of those polled said democracy is the best political system. Worldwide, 79% of those polled said democracy is the best political system (85% in North America, 84% in Western Europe, 84% in Africa, 80% in Latin America, and 78% in the Asia-Pacific region).
Russians, however, are much less happy about democracy à la Russe: Only 57% of those polled by Romir said they were satisfied with democracy in Russia. That result was similar to those in the other countries of the former Soviet Union, where 56% of the respondents said they were satisfied with democracy in their countries. Worldwide, 69% of those polled said they were happy with democracy in their countries. In addition, 80% of the Russians polled by Romir said they doubted that Russia is governed by the will of its people – compared with 70% of the respondents in the other former Soviet republics and 63% worldwide. What is more, only 26% of the respondents in the Romir poll said they thought elections in Russia are free and fair. In the other countries of the former Soviet Union, 31% of those polled by Gallup International said they thought elections in their countries are free and fair, while worldwide 47% said they thought election in their countries are free and fair.
Commenting on the results of the Romir poll, Dmitry Badovsky, director of the Institute of Social Systems, told Gazeta.ru: “In Russia there is not a political culture that idealizes democracy as in the West. And, what is more, far from everything is all right with democratic development here. Many respondents, in pointing to democracy as the best form of government, have in mind not Russian democracy specifically, but democracy in general” (Gazeta.ru, January 14).
A poll conducted by the independent Levada Center last December found that 67% of Russians believe that Russia should develop along the path of democracy, but 47% believe Russia needs a special kind of democracy that corresponds to its national traditions and specific character. According to the Levada Center, 22% of the respondents said democracy in Russia should develop along the lines of democracy in Europe and the United States, 17% of those polled said they were against Russia having a democratic form of government (actually, 10% said “democracy” in Russia should be as it was under the Soviet Union while 7% said Russia should not have a democracy at all), and another 17% said they found it difficult to say whether or not Russia should have a democracy (Gazeta.ru, December 18, 2007).
Meanwhile, in its latest Freedom in the World report, Freedom House cites Russia’s parliamentary elections last December as one of several reminders that freedom is under threat in a number of countries (the group also cited the Georgian government’s imposition of a state of emergency and crackdown on opposition demonstrators, Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and an increase in terrorism by Islamic extremists in Pakistan and the post-election violence in Kenya that has killed hundreds). According to the Associated Press, the Freedom House report states that the State Duma elections that took place in Russia last December 2 were carried out under patently unfair conditions, with political parties and candidates who challenged President Vladimir Putin sidelined and the news media, largely controlled by the state and Putin’s supporters, giving overwhelming coverage to Putin and his allies (Associated Press, January 15).