‘Geopolitical Conquests will Not Save National Pride’ of Russians, Moscow Scholars Say

May 15, 2015
Yermak's Conquest of Siberia by Vasily Surikov

Staunton, May 15 The pride the people feel in their country consists of two elements: a cognitively processed one in which individuals assess the actual past and present of their nation and a normative one which is imposed from above by governments and others to support their policies, according to two Moscow scholars.

The first, Margarita Fabrikant and Vladimir Magun of the Higher School of Economics say, tends to be stable over time while the latter fluctuates widely and can be maintained at a high level only by constant effort.

On the basis of a multi-national survey, they note that “Russia has a lower level of rational pride than one would expect from a country with a similar level of economic development,” a reflection they suggest of its “historical experience of competition with more developed countries.”

And as a result, “’special’ measures such as for example the activation of geopolitical agendas in order to strengthen the pride of the population in their country” are often used but may prove “counterproductive,” undermining the very possibility of the development of cognitively processed national pride.

Fabrikant and Magun present their finds in a report entitled “Grounded and Normative Dimensions of National Pride in Comparative Perspective,” a paper based on a survey carried out a decade ago of 45,993 people in 36 countries and regions, including 2,383 from Russia, the largest national sub-sample.

The two scholars explain their methodology in the following way: “The survey participants estimated their overall level of national pride by responding to the direct one-item question and, separately, they estimated pride of each of ten specific achievements of their countries in various domains.

“Factor analysis of these ten items,” they say, “yielded two dimensions of domain-based national pride, one of them being the factor of general pride of various country achievements and the other reflects the inverse relations between the prides of elitist and mass achievements of the nation.

“Cognitively processed national pride measured by the domain-based estimates have been affected by objective country achievements and by the level of standards which the achievements are compared against. The normatively imposed national pride measured by direct one-item question has been influenced by the country level of religiosity that indicates the individual willingness to accept normative messages from the state uncritically.”

And they conclude, “rational national pride requires some objective grounds to believe in a nation’s perfection [while] normative national pride is not so strongly related to objective achievements and therefore can be more easily manipulated. The practical implication of this difference stems from the fact that in their search for objectively grounded national pride people would be eager to foster country achievements and their maintenance of normatively-imposed pride requires in many cases just reliably protected wishful thinking.”

According to Fabrikant and Magun, “the more successful economically a country is, the greater degree is expressed among its population rational pride; and as a rule, rational pride in such countries dominates” normatively-imposed pride. With regard to the latter kind of pride, they note, the actual achievements of the country “do not play a similar role.”

The cognitive national pride of Russians is lower than one would expect, while “the level of normative national pride is higher,” and was so even before the massive propaganda effort of the last several years. Such pride, they say, “correlates not only with religiosity but also with a low level of education.”

As a result, “normative pride to a great degree is subject to manipulation” given that people are prepared to “accept any positive information about the achievements of their country” as laid out by the authorities without reflecting upon what the real achievements and shortcomings of their country are.

In presenting this report now, Fabrikant offered some data about trends in Russian national pride over more recently. Russians remain proud of their history, sport, literature and art, she said, but now, they much more often cite such normative sources as pride in their country’s armed forces and its political influence in the world.

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 15 – When Russians complain that their health care has deteriorated in recent years, the defenders of Vladimir Putin east and west typically dismiss such cries of despair as “anecdotal.” But they won’t be able to adopt the same strategy with new data published by the Russian State Statistical Committee (Rosstat).

Those data show, as Olga Solovyeva reports in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” that over the past three years, the share of Russians who are not satisfied with the quality of Russian medical institutions has increased by 30 percent and the fraction who do not consider that they can get effective care in them by 22 percent (ng.ru/economics/2015-05-15/4_rosstat.html).

Rosstat reports that the length of time Russians have to wait for necessary hospitalization has doubled, that the share of those who cannot get treatment had all has increased, and that public trust in the country’s medical facilities has declined significantly. These trends, Solovyeva says, “confirm” what others have said about Putin’s “optimization” efforts.

And over the same period, Rosstat reports, the number of Russians who think that the only way to get necessary treatment now is to pay for it has doubled, a trend that hits Russians who are already suffering from their country’s economic problems and that represents one of the most serious costs of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

As Yana Vlasova, the vice president of the All-Russian Union of Patients Groups, points out, “not optimization,” not even when it is the result of efforts to balance the budget while paying for a war, “can be justified if as a result, it lowers the quality and accessibility of medical help” to the population, exactly what has happened since Putin invaded Ukraine.

Tragically, these reductions have led to an increase in the death rate among Russians. But instead of changing course, Russian officials up to and including Putin have adopted a fallback position, one that suggests the increasing number of deaths among Russians is in fact an indication of the success of Kremlin policies to increase life expectancy.

Yesterday, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist reports, Tatyana Yakovleva, a deputy health minister, made exactly that argument in her efforts to put the best face on the new figures, suggesting that because Moscow has succeeded in increasing life expectancies, there are now more people over 70 and thus more deaths.

Unfortunately, her conclusions are shared by Vladimir Putin, Solovyeva reports. Recently, the Kremlin leader said that “the increase in life expectancy has changed the structure of the population. The fraction of citizens of advanced age has increased. It is natural that elderly people will depart from life much more often than younger ones do.”

That is not a conclusion those whose friends and relatives have died because they could no longer gain access to necessary medical treatment are likely to find entirely reassuring or comforting.