Patriotism has been officially named as one of the uniting foundations of the Russian state. However, it seems that Russian authorities are trying to monopolize the notion of patriotism in order to advance their own agenda. What remains excluded from the official discourse is how the Russian public understands patriotism. IMR Advisor Boris Bruk delves into this complicated issue and concludes that, in the current political environment, the concept of Russian patriotism has developed negative features of nationalism, xenophobia, and intolerance toward others.

 

 

NOTE: This article summarizes the research paper that was developed as part of IMR’s “Faces of Russian Patriotism” project, which is dedicated to exploring the notion of patriotism in today’s Russia. IMR partnered with the Levada Center, an independent polling center in Russia, to develop and conduct a nationwide public opinion survey on patriotism. The results of this survey were presented in the original paper and are included in this article.

 

The Concept

The words “patriot” and “patriotism,” borrowed from the French term patriote (“fellow countryman”), came into the Russian language during the time of Peter the Great. Throughout history, “patriotism” typically has had a positive connotation in the Russian language. The core definition of the word “patriotism” is “love for one’s country,” though the concept is much more complex than that. The actions of an individual (or readiness for action) for the sake of one’s country are often said to be one of the most significant aspects of patriotism. Patriotism “assesses the degree of love for and pride in one’s nation” and involves a feeling of “organic belongingness” to the fatherland and the people [1, 2]. Importantly, “true patriotism, being a particular expression of love for mankind, may not co-exist with unfriendliness toward other nationalities” [3].

Patriotism can become a force “for good and for evil” [4]. For instance, the concept of patriotism can be monopolized by a certain group in order to advance a particular agenda, which may lead to the “elimination of complexity and ambiguity” from the discourse [5]. Another potential danger associated with patriotism is that it may degenerate into the “negative features of nationalism,” such as intolerance and xenophobia [6].

In 2012, the issue of patriotism reemerged in Russia with renewed force during Vladimir Putin’s first year back in office as president. In his 2012 Address to the Federal Assembly, Putin stated the following: “In patriotism, I see a consolidating basis for our politics.” The idea was enthusiastically supported by “Putin’s majority.” For example, Irina Yarovaya, head of the State Duma Committee on Security and coordinator of United Russia's “patriotic platform,” suggested that “the national idea of patriotism” ran like a red thread through the president’s address; “Patriotism of action is our common national idea,” said Yarovaya.

Different options have been offered to help stimulate patriotic feelings. For instance, Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma Energy Committee, Oleg Mikheev suggested to “legislatively protect the patriotic feelings of Russians from provocations and insults” aimed at the country. In Mikheev’s view, the abuse of patriotic feelings should be considered an act of extremism punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. According to the deputy, one example of “an insult to patriotic feelings” may be so-called “alternative views” on history, in which some authors “reach a point of saying, oh, what a pity that civilized Germans did not take over the wild Soviet Union!”

Russian patriotism is significantly tied to the lessons of World War II, which, in the Russian discourse, is mostly referred to as the Great Patriotic War. For the majority of Russians, the Great Patriotic War is a memory of substantial sacrifice and heroism. In political discourse, however, it sometimes becomes a contentious issue when it comes to discussions on particular events or decisions made by the Soviet leadership. There has been an increasing number of cases where the authorities took a harsh position against those expressing opinions that they considered to be “unpatriotic.” This group of “non-patriots” includes not only those who attempt to “rehabilitate Nazism,” but also opponents to the current regime as well as critics of the patriotic ideals that are, in many cases, established by the authorities. Among “non-patriots” are many human rights advocates labeled as “foreign agents.”

The list of “others,” or internal and external enemies, has been expanding on a regular basis. For example, according to Kommersant, data from the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) demonstrate that 63 percent of Russians support the initiative to register NGOs that are involved in “political activity” and receive funding from abroad as “foreign agents.”

According to the Levada Center, 50 percent of Russian citizens support the idea of holding lawmakers who fail to disclose information about their ownership of real estate in Russia or abroad criminally responsible. According to Emil Pain, professor in the Department of Public and Municipal Services at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, traditional enemies include “the unorthodox, Yankees, homosexuals, and feminists.”

The consolidation of Russian society is largely based on negative factors, including xenophobia. There is practically no unification around shared patriotic values.

Migrants, both legal and illegal, hold a special place on this list of “others.” According to the Rating of National Threats developed by VTsIOM, “the biggest threat that Russians are worried about is that Russia is being occupied by the representatives of other nationalities (35 percent).” Another study conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation showed that two-thirds of Russians are cautious of migrants. In areas other than Moscow and St. Petersburg, approximately 65 percent of respondents expressed their support for strict limitations to migration.

A number of previous studies showed that currently, the consolidation of Russian society is largely based on negative factors, including xenophobia. There is practically no unification around shared patriotic values. Moreover, according to the Levada Center’s data, the number of individuals who consider themselves patriots has been decreasing.

However, starting this year, the situation has changed. A surge of patriotism is being observed among Russian people, caused by a number of external factors. The Levada Center reports that 81 percent of Russians indicated an increase in their patriotic spirit during 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The second surge of patriotism followed the annexation of Crimea. This trend demonstrated the “revival of imperial feelings” in Russian society. 88 percent of respondents reported positive emotions about the annexation: happiness, approval, pride for the country, feeling victorious and triumphant of what they see as restoration of justice. However, many analysts argue that this “emotional patriotic surge” is unlikely to last. To maintain high level of patriotism in one’s country, domestic policy achievements, especially in the social and economic sectors, should be expected in the long term, and none of those conditions apply to today’s Russia.

 

The Survey

On February 21-25, 2014, upon the request of the Institute of Modern Russia, the Levada Center included six questions on the topic of patriotism in Russia in their monthly omnibus survey. The survey reported data on a representative sample of 1603 Russian citizens from 130 settlements in 45 regions of the country, 18 years of age and over. The questions were developed by IMR analysts in collaboration with sociologists from the Levada Center.

 

 

According to the survey data, Russians generally consider the essence of patriotism to be “love for one’s country.” This perception is at the core of the notion of patriotism for over 68 percent of respondents. Approximately 27 percent of Russians believe that being a patriot involves work for the benefit of the country. Twenty-two percent of respondents reported that a patriot should make efforts to change things for the better in order to ensure a positive future for the country (Table 1). Individuals with higher education emphasized the importance of these two aspects slightly more frequently than other respondents. Young people aged 18-24 years were less likely to link patriotism with dimensions of active behavior (19 percent and 18 percent, respectively).

Compared to the early 2000s, there has been limited change in Russians’ perception of the meaning of patriotism (Table 1). Importantly, however, the number of Russians who consider patriotism through the lens of active behavior decreased by 8 percent. Over the same period of time, the number of respondents who argue that patriotism involves defending one’s country against any accusations and criticism decreased by 6 percent.

 

Table 1 What Does “Being a Patriot” Mean to You?

   

2000

2007

2014

1.

Love your country

58

66

68

2.

Work/act for the benefit and prosperity of your country

35

27

27

3.

Strive to change the current situation in your country to ensure a decent future for the nation

23

21

22

4.

Defend your country against any accusations and criticism

24

21

18

5.

Believe that your country is better than any other

17

18

16

6.

Tell the truth about your country regardless of how bitter it could be

12

10

11

7.

Believe that your country does not have shortcomings

4

4

5

8.

No answer/difficult to answer

10

6

4

 

Almost 84 percent of Russians believe that patriotism is “a deeply personal feeling; a person decides for him/herself what is patriotic and what is not” (Table 2). Recent events in the country show that, in an increasing number of cases, the authorities sought to monopolize the notion of patriotism and, consequently, determine what constitutes “true patriotism.” Today, however, the state’s authoritative role is clearly questioned: only 9 percent of respondents believe that the power to define the concept lies in the hands of the state. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey data show that respondents aged 55 years and over as well as retired individuals prefer top-down directives slightly more often than other respondents.

 

Table 2 Which Point of View Do You Prefer?

     

Age

Selected Occupations

   

Total

18-24

25-39

40-54

55 and over

Entrepreneur

Specialist

Student

Retired

Unemployed

1.

Patriotism is a deeply personal feeling; a person decides for him/herself what is patriotic and what is not

83.8

86.2

82.4

87.5

80.8

88

86.8

83.6

76.5

81.3

2.

The state has to define what is patriotic and what is not

8.9

7.4

8.1

6.9

12

1.5

8.4

11.9

14.2

1.4

3.

Difficult to answer

7.3

6.5

9.4

5.6

7.2

10.5

4.8

4.5

9.3

17.3

 

In the view of most Russians, patriotism does not necessarily mean support for the authorities; only around 23 percent of Russians either fully or mostly agreed with the statement that a patriot must support the authorities in power (Table 3A). Furthermore, despite the existing myth that critics of those in power are “unpatriotic,” almost 82 percent of Russians perceive this issue from quite an opposite view (Table 3B).

 

Table 3A Do You Agree with the Opinion: “A Patriot Must Support the Authorities in Power under Any Circumstances?”

1.

Fully agree

4

2.

Mostly agree

19.3

3.

Mostly disagree

41

4.

Fully disagree

24.3

5.

Difficult to answer

11.5

 

Table 3B Which Point of View Do You Prefer?

1.

One who criticizes the authorities cannot be considered a patriot

10.5

2.

One can criticize the authorities and, at the same time, be a patriot

81.6

3.

Difficult to answer

7.9

 

Patriotism is often understood through the lens of pride for one’s country. The survey found that Russians are mostly proud of Russia’s rich natural resources (38.5 percent), history (37.8 percent), sports achievements (28.9 percent), culture (28.5 percent), and size of the country (28 percent) (Table 4). As the survey showed, a very small percentage of Russians are proud of the country’s social and economic accomplishments; only 2 percent of respondents said that they were proud of the Russian healthcare system, 5.2 percent indicated that they were proud of the education system, while 5.4 percent of Russians are proud of the nation’s economic achievements.

In the opinion of one-third of the respondents, persons of “non-Russian nationalities” are guilty of causing many of the misfortunes of Russia. 73 percent of the respondents suggested that the government “should try to restrict the influx of migrants.”

Another indicator that sheds light on a disturbing trend in Russian society is that only 7.9 percent of Russians are proud of their fellow citizens. As previous research shows, feelings of national pride are “fundamentally tied to one’s views toward those around …” [7]. In present-day Russia, the situation is quite different; the findings from this survey are in line with those that surfaced in a number of other studies, which have shown a low level of trust in fellow citizens in Russia. For example, according to estimates by the Center for Extremism and Xenophobia of the Institute of Sociology at the Russian Academy of Sciences estimates, Russians’ level of trust for the people closest to them is one of the lowest in Europe. Research shows that, “[i]f an individual does not trust those around … it is less likely that she will express positive feelings toward the country as a whole” [8].

 

Table 4 What Makes You Proud of Your Country?

1.

Rich natural resources

38.5

2.

Russian history

37.8

3.

Sports achievements

28.9

4.

Russian culture

28.5

5.

Size of the country

28

6.

Russia’s position in the international arena

23.6

7.

Military forces

14.3

8.

Modern achievements in science

13.6

9.

Fellow citizens

7.9

10.

Economic achievements

5.4

11.

Russian education system

5.2

12.

Healthcare system

2

13.

None of the above

6.5

14.

Difficult to answer

5.7

 

The survey also showed a high level of intolerance to “others,” including representatives of other nationalities. In the opinion of one-third of the respondents, persons of “non-Russian nationalities” are guilty of causing many of the misfortunes of Russia (Table 5). Similarly, when asked about a more appropriate state policy toward migrants, 73 percent of the respondents suggested that the government “should try to restrict the influx of migrants.”* Compared with the early 2000s, these data show a very sharp increase of 28 percent (Table 6).

 

Table 5 To What Extent Do You Agree or Disagree with the Following Statement: "Persons of 'Non-Russian' Nationalities Are Guilty of Causing Many of the Misfortunes of Russia"?

1.

Fully agree

8.3

2.

Mostly agree

25.7

3.

Mostly disagree

35.9

4.

Fully disagree

17.7

5.

Difficult to answer

12.4

 

Table 6 What Should the Russian Government’s Policy toward Migrants Be?

   

2002

2005

2008

2011

2014

1.

Should try to restrict the influx of migrants

45

59

52

64

73

2.

Should not have any administrative barriers against the influx, but rather try to use it for the benefit of the country

44

36

35

28

19

3.

Difficult to answer

11

6

13

8

8

 

Overall, this study demonstrated that the concept of patriotism has acquired various meanings in the Russian context. Two different views of patriotism have been constructed: patriotism as an ideology and patriotism as a personal feeling. The differences in understanding are manifested in the ways that Russian authorities and citizens answer the question of who determines what is patriotic and what is not. While the state introduces and pushes forward one view with top-down patriotic initiatives in an effort to achieve its goals, the majority of Russian people believe that the state does not have to decide what is patriotic and what is not. Patriotism is a deep and intimate feeling that cannot be commanded or directed from above.

The majority of Russians associate patriotism with a love for their country. However, this positive feeling has acquired the “negative features of nationalism.” The figures from this survey, which reinforce previous findings, are troubling and, like a number of other studies, highlight the problems of intolerance and xenophobia in Russia. In this context, the question that becomes central is one concerning the essence of Russian patriotism. As indicated above, true patriotism rejects national hostility and intolerance.

 

References

1. Bar-Tal, D. (1993). Patriotism as fundamental beliefs of group members. Politics and the Individual, 3(2), 45-61.

2. Shapovalov, V. F. (2008). Rossiiskiy patriotizm i rossiiskiy antipatriotizm [Russian patriotism and Russian anti-patriotism]. Obschestvennye nauki i sovremennost’, 1, 124-132.

3. Dobrolyubov, N. A. (1948). Izbrannye filosofskie poizvedeniya [Selected philosophical works]. Volume 2. Moscow.

4. Bader, M. J. (2006). The psychology of patriotism. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(8), 582–584.

5. Johnston, S. (2007). The truth about patriotism. Duke University Press.

6. Taras, R. (2008). Nationalism and conflict. In H. Herb and D. H. Kaplan (Eds.), Nations and nationalism: A global historical overview (1: 14-28). Santa Barbara, CA.

7. Amoedo, P. (2013). AmericasBarometer Insights 2013: National pride in the Americas. Retrieved from http://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/insights/IO899en.pdf.

8. Ibid.

 


* The situation has slightly improved if compared with last year’s record of 78 percent of Russians supporting restrictive measures against migrants. It should be noted, however, that the 2013 data was collected by the Levada Center after a series of anti-migrant riots.

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