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  The Oh-so-different Russian Worlds (1)

Viktor Denisenko
2015 09 28

When talking about Russia, it is important to emphasize not only the changes in the political life of the country, but also to name the main societal-level processes. One of such phenomena is the social disparity and its influence on the consciousness of the people.

Social disparity is a challenge to every country. Life is best and most stable in those countries that have a strong middle class, which is the link between the rich and the poor. A different trend is noticeable in Russia: a huge gap between the very poor and the very rich exists, the middle class is divided and facing various ideological dilemmas. We can talk about the existence of several Russian worlds that have little in common.

The upper class in Russia is basically supporting the current Russian government and political system. Vladimir Putin and his surroundings have clearly shown the oligarchs their new place in the social and political system of Russia. The Yukos case has become exemplary, and the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky shows, what can happen to a rich and influential person with political ambitions not in accord with the Kremlin.

The majority of influential Russians have chosen a safe position. They do not openly oppose the government; sometimes they support it or actively collaborate with it (Roman Abramovich being an example of such a strategy). However, they prefer to keep their assets, live, rest and party in the West that is antagonized by official Russia, for example, in London or in Courchevel, an already Russianized luxurious French ski resort.

Not that long ago Forbes magazine wrote about the Russian London. According to the magazine, such oligarchs as Oleg Deripaska and Roman Abramovich, businessmen Vladislav Doronin and Grigory Guselnikov, as well as high-ranking Russian corporate managers own property in the centre of London. Property in the suburbs of London is owned by Russia’s wealthiest man Alisher Usmanov, ex-banker Aleksandr Lebedev, businessmen Piotr Averin and Yevgeny Chichvarkin, who fled the country when his mobile network company Euroset was expropriated, as well as others. A Russian citizen owns the most expensive house in London, the Witanhurst mansion, which can compete with the Buckingham palace. It is claimed that the house belongs to Andrey Guryev’s family. The aforementioned person is the ex-Governor of Murmansk Oblast and is the 28th richest person in Russia. It should be noted that most rich Russians who buy property abroad don’t like to attract attention and hide such information by any means possible.

A concealed love for the West is typical not only for wealthy Russians, but also for the ruling elite, as many high-ranking Russian officials have their kids studying or living abroad. Amongst them are Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov’s daughter and Chairman of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko’s son; the life of Vladimir Putin’s daughters is kept in secret, but there are reasons to believe that they are living in Germany and/or Italy.

Truth to be told, Russian government officials can be considered to be a part of the wealthy class. There are claims that the total value of Vladimir Putin’s assets is around 40 billion dollars, and British businessman Bill Browder, forced out of the Russian business world several years ago, in his interview with Forbes magazine stated that, according to his estimates, Vladimir Putin could have accumulated (embezzled) around 200 billion dollars during his years in office. In this context the press spokesman for the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov should be mentioned. In the pictures taking during his wedding with famous ice dancer Tatiana Navka, Peskov is wearing an exclusive Richard Mille RM 52-01 watch that costs 620,000 dollars. The price of the watch is four times greater than his declared yearly income. Peskov stated that the watch was a gift from his bride, but someone took the time to examine older pictures of Peskov and found that he has at least four exclusive watches, having a total value of 154,000 dollars.

We could say that this is the portrayal of one – wealthy – Russian world. However, the majority of Russian people can only dream about watches that are worth hundreds of thousands and property in London.

There exists another much more massive Russian world, a portrayal of which was given by lenta.ru. Here it is worthwhile to pay attention to several main figures from public surveys: more than 80 percent of Russians dislike the USA, 59 percent fear US military aggression, 55 percent have a negative view of Ukraine and as many as 64 percent of Russians think that a nuclear war is likely to happen.

The “civil” portrayal of the Russian public is interesting as well: 87 percent give no thought to participating in mass demonstrations, 84 percent have never read the Constitution, 80 percent support the idea of art censorship, 70 percent support Internet censorship, and 72 percent agree that the media can lie to the public if it is in the interest of the state. It is important to note that 71 percent of Russians think that order is more important than democracy, while 51 percent have a positive view of Stalin’s rule.

The provided figures help to understand how such a vision of the Russian society is formed. Lenta.ru tells us that 88 percent of the population learn the news from television, and 79 percent have never been abroad. It is a paradox, why 78 of Russians claim to be happy (content with their current situation), when 59 percent have no savings and 51 percent have to skimp on food.

Other figures also tell us about the worsening of social conditions in Russia, as the number of Russians living below the poverty line rose to 22 million. It is a huge number even for a country as big as Russia. Although the poor Russian world is convinced of its happiness, this illusion might fade with time.

Another Russian world having its own trend must be mentioned. We are talking about the rapidly shrinking middle class, to be more precise – about those members that have not lost their ability to think independently and rely upon not just the news on the television. Those people, witnessing a propaganda-driven hysteria gaining force and a dwindling of tolerance for different opinions, are trying to leave Russia and move to other countries. A significant number, by the way, choose the Baltics. Because of this trend, philosopher Gintautas Maþeikis offered a possibility of the formation of a new (liberal) Russian (Slavic) world outside of Russia. It could counterbalance the ideology-driven Russian world propagated by Russia.

In the situation, when a certain percentage of independently thinking people are trying to leave Russia and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, the threat of social implosion is increasing. It is also being increased by such failed political PR stunts as the conspicuous destruction of “sanctioned” products. Besides, the drop in oil prices also threatens Russian economic stability.

The current Russian government is very much afraid of the so-called colour revolutions, but it seems that it increases the likelihood of a revolution by its own actions. Moscow might end up jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It is uncertain, for how long can the propaganda machine ensure the support of the “general political line” (that all of Russia’s troubles are caused by a conspiracy of the Western world). If the Russian people finally open their eyes, the Kremlin will have no choice but to rely on force and repressive laws. This can only lead to more bloodshed.

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