Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 58

This week saw the publication of polling data indicating that public support for restrictions on the media is growing while support for the military operation in Chechnya has dropped off significantly. According to a poll carried out by the Public Opinion Foundation, 57 percent of those surveyed said censorship of the Russian mass media was needed, while 33 percent said it was not. When the same question was asked last November, the respective answers were 49 and 38 percent. The latest poll found that supporters of censorship were most numerous among supporters of Gennady Zyuganov: 69 percent of those calling themselves supporters of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) leader said they supported censorship. More women supported it (60 percent) than men (53 percent). Respondents aged 18 to 35 and those with higher education were more opposed.

In the same poll, 71 percent of the respondents said that there were socially important problems about which the media should remain silent. Eighteen percent of those polled disagreed. As for the types of information about which the press should remain silent, 38 percent picked “new military technology” and “the location of military units and strategic weapons,” 12 percent said “the activities of domestic intelligence” and “state secrets,” 5 percent named “major catastrophes,” 4 percent said “high technology secrets,” another 4 percent said “certain aspects of foreign policy” and 2 percent said “economic secrets.” At the same time, 45 percent of those surveyed believed that “distorting” information about socially important issues was unacceptable. However, only 20 percent of the respondents could name the issues about which it was acceptable to distort information. Three percent said it was acceptable regarding military actions carried out in Chechnya and troop losses in those operations.

This latest Public Opinion Foundation censorship poll was carried out on March 17 among 1,500 respondents across Russia (, March 22).

Meanwhile, a poll taken by the All Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) at the end of February found 27 percent of the respondents saying that the best party system for Russia was one in which a single national party is constantly in power. When VTsIOM asked the same question in February 1999, 18 percent of those polled said that they supported this kind of one-party system; in February 1994, 16 percent supported it. In the latest poll, 27 percent said they supported a system characterized by “two or three large, well-organized mass parties” (up from 26 percent in February 1999 and 23 percent in February 1994), 15 percent said they supported several parties that would perhaps be small but be “real parties” made up of “convinced and active people” (down from 16 percent in February 1999 and 17 percent in February 1994). At the same time, 18 percent said that today Russia needs “real leaders” rather than parties (down from 28 percent in February 1999 and 30 percent in February 1994). The Kremlin, of course, is pushing a new law on political parties which would exclude small groups from participating in the country’s elections, and the 27 percent which said they supported “two or three large, well-organized mass parties” would appear to back the Kremlin initiative.

VTsIOM also asked a question timed to the tenth anniversary of the March 1991 referendum in which a majority of the Soviet population called for keeping the USSR intact (several Soviet republics, it should be noted, did not participate in that referendum). Thirty percent of VTsIOM’s respondents said they supported reestablishing the Soviet Union (28 percent answered the same way in 1993), 14 percent said they were for maintaining the Commonwealth of Independent States in its current form (up from 4 percent in 1993), 40 percent said they backed uniting several former Soviet republics which desired a closer union (up from 33 percent in 1993), while 9 percent said all the former Soviet republics should exist independently (down from 18 percent in 1993). More generally, the number of poll respondents expressing regret over the break up of the Soviet Union, while always a majority, has grown over the last decade–from 66 percent in 1992 to 75 percent in 2000.

In the same late February poll, VTsIOM found that 38 percent of the respondents supported continuing the military operation in Chechnya (in January of this year, the same number said they supported the operation) while 59 percent said it was time to begin peace talks with the Chechen rebels (up from 57 percent in January). This shows a sharp drop in public support for the Chechen military operation from February 2000, when 70 percent of VTsIOM’s respondents said they supported continuing the military operation and 30 percent said they backed peace talks. In the latest poll, 45 percent said it would take many years for the Russian authorities to bring about peace and order in Chechnya; 26 percent said the Russian authorities would not be able to do so, and that the republic would remain the source of tension and conflict in Russia for decades; 15 percent said that the Russian authorities would manage to secure peace and order there in a few years; 8 percent said the Russian government would never be able to achieve it and would have to recognize the republic’s independence.

VTsIOM carried out its poll at the end of February among 1,600 Russians in eighty-three towns and villages in thirty-three of the country’s eighty-nine regions (, March 21).