The original text in Russian appeared in Gorby
and is being republished here with the author’s permission.
For 25-30 years, the Levada Center has been asking Russians at least twice a year what they consider to be the most pressing and worrying problems in the country.
Each time, the list turned out rather long – with 30 or more items, including:
- the inability to obtain justice in Russian courts;
- rising tuition for education and hurdles to obtaining a decent education;
- the influx of migrants;
- the abuse of power by officials;
- the harshness and brutality of police;
- culture in decline;
- bad roads.
Unlike experts, politicians and technocrats – who all understand the word “problem” to mean something that should be resolved – the masses see a “problem” as the dismal state of a certain sphere of public life.
The average person considers certain circumstances a “problem” when he or she looks at them from the standpoint of a desired, but practically unattainable state. The tension lies in the fact that the “desired” is not something fanciful, but rather something that corresponds to his or her ideas about “normal life,” about what is proper and just.
The understanding that attaining this “normal life” is impossible paralyzes his or her willingness to do something to change the current situation. One can blame the people themselves for this, attributing it to “learned helplessness;” however, a more serious explanation is that most of the “problems” reported in sociological surveys cannot be resolved with the tools available to the population.
The state has a monopoly on the technical capabilities and the resources for resolving them. Thus, each of the problems noted by respondents contains a hidden appeal to the authorities as the only force capable of improving the situation, on the one hand, as well as a reproach aimed at them (“look how poorly you govern us”), on the other.
At the same time, it is taken for granted that people themselves – by organizing, by creating political pressure on the authorities in elections, by taking part in the activities of parties and public organizations – cannot drive change for the better. Indeed, one can only hope for the best, appealing to the good will of the state’s rulers.
The table below shows the results of sociological surveys taken in 2023 in which Russians were asked about the most pressing problems in the country.