December 5, 2011

Confidence in Democracy and Capitalism Wanes in Former Soviet Union

Chapter 5. Nationalism in Russia

Nationalist sentiments remain widespread in Russia, in some ways even more so than when the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1991. Half of Russians say it is a great misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists. Moreover, as compared with 1991, a larger percentage now says it is natural for Russia to have an empire and, as a fall 2009 survey shows, more than twice as many believe there are parts of neighboring countries that belong to Russia and that Russia should be for Russians.

When asked their opinions of two key ethnic minorities in their country, however, Russians continue to express positive views of Ukrainians and Lithuanians. Similarly, Ukrainians view Russians, Poles and Lithuanians in their country favorably, and Lithuanians offer positive opinions of Russians, Ukrainians and Poles in their country.

Russian Nostalgia for Soviet Era

Russians remain largely nostalgic for the Soviet era, although this sentiment has abated somewhat over the past two years. Half of Russians now agree that it is a great misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists, while 36% disagree; in 2009, nearly six-in-ten (58%) lamented the disintegration of the Soviet Union, while 38% did not share this view.

The drop in the percentage expressing regret about the demise of the Soviet Union has been especially notable among older Russians, although most in these groups remain nostalgic.

Currently, about six-in-ten of those 65 and older (63%) and those ages 50 to 64 (61%) agree that it is a misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists, compared with 45% of those ages 30 to 49 and even fewer among those younger than 30 (36%).

In 2009, more than eight-in-five (85%) Russians in the oldest age group and 71% of those ages 50 to 64 expressed regret that the Soviet Union no longer exists; 51% of those ages 30 to 49 and 38% of those younger than 30 shared this view.

Nationalism on the Rise

About half of Russians (48%) agree that it is natural for their country to have an empire,
while one third disagree with this notion. Although virtually unchanged from when the question was last asked in 2009, this represents a considerable shift from Russian sentiment as the Soviet Union was collapsing. In 1991, 37% of Russians said it was natural for their country to have an empire, while 43% disagreed.

Similarly, the 2009 survey found that Russians were far more likely than they were two decades ago to agree that “there are parts of neighboring countries that really belong to us;” about six-in-ten (58%) said this was the case two years ago, compared with just 22% in 1991. Moreover, about twice as many Russians agreed that Russia should be for Russians in 2009 as did so in 1991 (54% vs. 26%).

Ukrainians are as likely as Russians to say it is natural for Russia to have an empire; 46% agree with this statement, while 34% disagree. In 1991, only about one-in-five (22%) shared the view that an empire was natural for Russia; a majority of Ukrainians (55%) disagreed with this sentiment.

Views of Ethnic Minorities

As was the case two decades ago, publics in the three former Soviet republics surveyed hold favorable views of some key ethnic minorities in their countries. That is especially the case in Ukraine, where about nine-in-ten express positive opinions of Russians (93%), Poles (88%) and Lithuanians (87%).

At least seven-in-ten Lithuanians have favorable views of Russians (77%) and Ukrainians (73%); a narrower majority (57%) expresses similar views of Poles. And in Russia, 80% give ethnic Ukrainians positive marks, while 62% say the same about Lithuanians in their country.