For most Russians economic and social rights definitely prevail over the political ones. Those who give enough credit to political rights mostly favour the so-called ‘passive rights’, i.e., freedom of speech and conscience. Here the focus is on the freedom from direct responsibility for the realization of the right rather than on the freedom of participation. Therefore, the majority perceives political freedom as ‘freedom from political participation rather than freedom of political participation’ .
At the beginning it should be stated that most Russians are not interested in politics. This is especially true of the youth. In 2008 almost two thirds of the population had ‘no idea whatsoever what political regime there is in the country and what regime would be desirable’ . In accordance with 2010 estimates, 40 % of the population are absolutely uninterested in politics or they find it difficult to formulate their preferences . The mistrust in the main branches and institutions of power (the President being the only exception) is based on the objective evaluation of their performance and thus does not inspire any interest in politics either. For many people formally having political preferences the ‘label’ without any explanation of its implications limits them.
Speaking about the attitudes to freedom and democracy, it would be of interest to point out a curious contradiction. The notion of human rights (personal freedoms) ranks higher than ‘collective freedom’, i.e., democracy . At the same time, the majority of Russians (54 %) are convinced that collectivism, the notion of community and tough government regulation are more typical of Russians and better suit the national culture than Western-type individualism and liberalism . It is likely that here we once again face the clash of notions and true preferences: the direct question of what is more valuable to you elicits one answer, while the answer to the question on society in general contains generally accepted attitudes rather than personal opinions.
Disappointment and apathy are the words that describe the majority’s attitude to politics in general and to the existing power institutions’ performance in particular. This civil amorphousness cannot be exclusively attributed to the crisis of today’s political system devoid of any comprehensible value paradigm.
No matter how sad it may sound, so far Russians have proved to be asocial. For the vast majority the circle of contacts, interconnectedness and personal responsibility is limited by the family and closest friends, mostly childhood ones. Only 50 % believe they can anyhow influence the situation even at work . The maximum involvement in social institutions (meagre 2 %) falls on the participation in school parents’ associations, all other forms of association (sports societies, religious communities, associations of fellow-countrymen, etc.) account for 0.5–1.9 %, while 90 % of the population do not belong to any NGO or movement . Besides, Russians do not tend to visit public spaces [4, 10]: on the one hand, this is due to the low level of income that prevents people from spending on leisure; on the other hand, this is due to the limited circle of contacts and reluctance to go beyond it. However, this state of things is an obvious outcome of the social and economic ‘trauma’ of the 1990s: in the Soviet era in the conditions of closed society with limited leisure infrastructure cinemas performed a significant compensatory function. Young people went to the cinema almost weekly and on average, taking into account new born and senile people, a Soviet person went to the cinema 18–20 times a year . Concurrently there was a reaction to the induced involvement in public life over 70 years of the Soviet era (subbotnik,
Footnote 8 participation in demonstrations, public committees, etc.). This kind of asocial tradition is now being translated by senior generations to their children.
The combination of the abovementioned features leads to the fact that Russians tend to be massively inactive in public spaces, they lack environment for discussing their own political requirements and eventually do not articulate any political demand.
There is no community – there is an illusion from Internet forums. In this paper we focus on the most promising option to strengthen an identity and thus – to partially extract bilateral and multilateral relations from quickly evolving political conjuncture keeping some cultural and identity foundation for an on-going dialogue.
If we move a bit above a Leviathan concept of a state we must admit that it is very important role is to create a sphere for human interaction where smaller identities can be formed and to nudge people toward each other in order to make sure those threads start connecting them. It should send signals and provide symbols to society, which would help people come together. It should also seek and develop points where this coming together can occur, above all, in the Russian language and culture. It must refrain completely from sending signals and imposing symbols which would divide various social, ethnic and religious groups.
The role of society and its intellectual elites is to use this sphere and not turn away from it. They should formulate ideas which arise in the course of civic discussion, the best ones of which the state should then implement.
Russian society is deeply divided. Individuals are rooted in their families, friends and the home and nothing and no one else matters. There are very few strong identities. The religious and ethnic identity is static and strictly defined. These identities may be useful as engines of creative activity, but their role will always be limited. At the same time, professional, civic and even hobby-based identities remain very vague.
A project that could take the country out of its depression could be to create as many active identities as possible. This can be achieved if we build platforms for active people to engage in interactions. The most obvious examples of such platforms are local self-government and independent organizations of citizens, or non-government organizations.
Professional identities can be revived by developing professional associations whose purpose is to support professional debates (but not trade unions which in their current form function exclusively as means of distributing social goods). Such platforms should be completely unbureaucratized and must function without the intermediation of any officials, except as individuals.
But the main task remains to promote respect for work. We must pay special attention to occupations that are crucially important for today’s Russia, i.e., teachers and medics. Those two professional fields were severely damaged in the 1990s, even though they are very strongly united by professional ethics, share common values and speak the same language in every corner of the country.
The restoration of university student associations is an important task as well, not as social groups but of students as cultural actors. We must revive the nearly forgotten students’ traditions. Young people are the engine of the country’s development. They should be brought together into a single creative force, which will have a great potential, one that has not been engaged today.
Nor should we neglect the powerful and system-building role of public schools in socializing the population. It remains the only remaining state institution which all Russians attend. Both students and parents are socialized, either voluntarily or forcibly. Parents-teachers committees are today the area where most Russian are socially active, since around 2 % of citizens participate in such committees . Rural schools play a particularly important role. They are often not just a place where kids get their education but the main cultural centre bringing together all generations.
First steps have already been made in developing the schools’ potential for socialization. A recently adopted set of federal educational standards (which in effect reflect society’s demands on the school system) stress that every student must undertake social projects. All we need is to engage this component.
The society has to develop platforms for leisure activities, setting up clubs for people with such hobbies as music, cinema, local history, the environment, etc. and developing amateur athletics – all those activities are not only about particular interest – they are about membership, co-participation – being a part of a group, not of a crowd. It is of great importance to develop urban spaces and to transform cities, which are home for a growing proportion of Russians, into a friendly environment promoting human socialization rather than pushing people away and toward their television screens and computers.
The proposed ideas aim to revive creative collectivism and, especially, solidarity which has always been a special strength of the Russian people and which has all but disappeared. Except now it will be a new kind of collectivism, different from the one that was cultivated in the Soviet Union. That one was artificial and its result was failure. It will not be an imposed collectivism in which the weak keep the strong back. It will be a voluntary and mutually beneficial collectivism, which will allow the strong to join their efforts and thus become, with active support from the state, even stronger, pulling up the weak along the way. It will be a collectivism which will arise due to the need for self-realization of the individual - who is always motivated, be the desire to serve - and therefore represents the highest form of individualism.