Paul Goble reports that, in contrast to the poll data we discuss in our led editorial, the Kremlin’s own polls show nobody wants to leave Russia. But Goble thinks he knows one reason why at least some Russians want to stay: They know they’d be required to obey the law if they lived in a civilized country.
In addition to all the normal constraints – inertia, language knowledge, and uncertainty about other places – Russians today choose not to leave their country for work abroad because they consider it “abnormal to live according to the letter and spirit of the law” as Western countries require, according to VTsIOM director Valery Fedorov.
Speaking to a Novosibirsk forum “Strategy 2020″, Fedorov, the general director of the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, said that Russians at the present time “rarely consider emigration abroad as a key to the resolution of their personal problems.”
According to his organization’s data, the VTsIOM pollster said, far fewer Russians are interested in moving abroad than “20, 15 or even 10 years ago.” Even those who are having problems “where they were born and grew up,” he continued, have many reasons for deciding against such a step.
During the worst year of the current economic crisis – 2009 – he continued, when one might have expected this trend to change, “there was no growth [in the number] of those who wanted to leave the country.” Of those who had lost their jobs and were given a list of possible actions, “not once were more than 7-8 percent” interested in emigration.
While Russians are increasingly willing to move within their country, to seek additional training or even shift careers, “they do not see a departure for abroad as a panacea.” Instead, “the realistic approach for the majority of Russians is to remain in Russia and search for possibilities of self-realization here.”
The pollster, whose center is widely thought to have close ties with the Kremlin, added that “Russians today find it quite complicated to begin life in another country because of language, the special characteristics of education and a completely different system of relations between the powers that be and society.”
“For us,” Fedorov said, “law is something very important but little understood, and we rarely live according to it. We always search for opportunities for ourselves not in law but more in informal practices. These are called ‘connections,’ ‘pull,’ ‘by acquaintances’ and so on. For us, this is normal and to live according to the letter and spirit of the law is abnormal.”
Russians, he continued, “at the present time consider someone who lives according to the letter of the law a formalist, a stickler and ‘precisely not the kind of person with whom it is good and comfortable to be friends with,’” an attitude that certainly does not reflect a belief in the rule of law.
In contrast, Fedorov suggested, “Western society is constructed entirely differently. There the law is not a dead letter but a real regulator of daily life. To set oneself up in such a society is not simple for our people. Therefore any wave of emigration usually after a certain life gives birth to a reverse wave, a wave of return.”
In recent months, Russian officials have been concerned about the brain drain from their country over recent years, with large numbers of scholars and scientists now choosing to work abroad, and these same officials have been discussing what Moscow might do to attract them back.
Fedorov’s comments should probably be considered in that context, but his remarks about Russian attitudes toward law and the difficulties Russians have in coping with Western views on law are intriguing because they are exactly the kind of argument that would be dismissed by Moscow commentators as Russophobia if it was offered by anyone else.
But more than that, they underscore just how far Russians are today from a rule of law state despite the claims of their leaders and the deferential support they receive from most foreign officials and academics. And at the same time, they highlight the deep chasm between two inherently contradictory claims that Russian officials continue to make.
Russia, these officials say, is very much part of Europe and accepts European values, but they also insist that Russia is a separate civilization with its own way of doing things. Fedorov’s comments suggest that the latter is certainly true but that the former, however much many would like, is completely false.