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“In society there is an understanding that in this way the government protects only itself”

«В обществе есть понимание, что власть тем самым защищает лишь саму себя»

Sociologist Lev Gudkov about the meaning and consequences of the act about people registered as foreign agents

On the website of the movement “For human rights” published a letter from 59 Russian human rights activists, cultural figures, academics and journalists addressed President Putin. It contained a request not to sign the adopted Federal Assembly a bill which allows citizens to recognize foreign agents and loading them next to the obligations resulting from that status. The head of the “Levada Center” Lev Gudkov told why put the signature under this appeal and believes that the recipient of the message will respond to it.

Lev Dmitrievich, why do you personally support this letter?

— First, the law is absolutely illegal and breaking all conceivable rules of article of the Constitution, the rights of citizens. About the motifs to Express its opposition to the legislation passed by the state Duma and the Federation Council more or less clear. But honestly, I have no expectation that Putin is the letter to respond. Think he’ll ignore. But to remain silent about this, I think, is also impossible. Because it’s an absolute outrage wrapped in some kind of legal paper.


— Question to you as a sociologist. Does the company request branding on the principle of “friend or foe”? Or these its initiatives power comes exclusively from their own ideas about the expectations and aspirations of the masses?

— Of course, the mechanism of discernment “friend or foe” in society works. And works quite effectively. Against the government itself, by the way, including. But this does not prevent the authorities to launch this mechanism, when it needed a consensus to society with her solidaritas, for example, in the face of this kind of external threat.

So that now makes the power characteristic of authoritarian regimes — repressive policy of discrediting the opponent, any dissent, any unhappy. That was, as is said in our letter: “fists”, “the kulak agents”, “enemies of the people”, “lishentsy”, “subversive elements” and all that stuff. The “registered as a foreign agent” is in the same row.

Is this a society? In most cases, no. People understand that it is a frightening and damaging policy of the authorities, whose interests here are obvious — to identify a certain group, which should become the object of collective animosity and enmity.

But history shows that the government is doing well…

— Sometimes it works, Yes. We remember the Stalin period, another Soviet times, when writers were branded renegades. But now, in my opinion, it is not very, although part of the population is quite sensitive to such signals. Especially poorly educated residents of the periphery, whose opinion is heavily dependent on televised propaganda. Not having often other sources, such people are forced to swallow everything they are fed through the TV.

But here, the intensity of these impacts is questionable. When in some distant village begin to expose the Bulk, for the residents of this locality it is a very virtual history. In relation to his administration there is much stronger sense, the mechanism of “us and them” works more pronounced.

— While sociology shows that the Russians in recent years have become more loyal to other countries, including the Ukraine, USA…

— Immediately slaughtered. It’s not just “more relaxed attitude”, it’s a very dramatic change in the situation. Our latest data if you view, show that the positive began to prevail, and against Ukraine, and against US, and to all other.

— And the authorities ‘ attempts to impose a fear that foreign agents will be here we have to wield, it turns out, this background is certainly not quite successful? Similar to a “sleeping rate” that is, when the time comes, it will be possible to “Wake up” and use…

You’re right, but there is another important point. I would call it a moment of a guilty conscience. Own passivity, its own non-participation in any protests, even in full sympathy with their agenda, their slogans, needs justification.

And then runs a hidden transfer to these virtual enemies, foreign agents. “They are bastards, adventurers paid!”

And even if internally people do not particularly believe or not believe at all, it becomes a good excuse to stay away. And on such mechanisms of how power works. The principle is the same: divide and conquer.

— And in Russian society now refer to the idea to earn abroad: get out the money directly, or, say, to work here, but a foreign employer? My question is with some trick, because there is unlikely to ignore the topic of the attitude of Russians to the presence of the officials and deputies of foreign ownership, to ensure that their children live there almost constantly.

— The attitude to receiving money from abroad ambivalent. In General, it is quite indifferent. But in some cases when it starts to communicate with an external threat, it is possible to somehow subvert, exaggerate that is the subject of foreign influence, there really swells a clearly negative attitude. And under it fall within non-profit organizations, charitable organizations that receive foreign grants.

And the fact that officials have property in the West or where their children learn, is perceived as a normal manifestation of double standards. This is deprecated, but is perceived as a thing that cannot be changed. “What is there in Russia? Steal…” — that’s about from this series.

— My next question will sound very abstract, but can you as a student of the public mood, and laws by which societies develop, to assume the consequences of the implementation of this law? Let’s start so he even realize?

Also, to the extent in which it can serve as a basis for the expansion of administrative arbitrariness, the expansion of repression. This is not a new kind of phase, and the continuation of what is, at least in 2012. Actually it began before that, in 2003, but then touched on some big business. And now it has spread to any group of malcontents.

It is quite natural process: expanding repression, the politics of fear — is needed for this justification in the legislative framework.

What the consequences will be? The most unfavorable for the authorities is the loss of support from the most active part of society. Such actions of the government will be discredited, and finally pupate to the position in which it was during the late Brezhnev. In society there is an understanding that the power thereby protects it [the society], not the country, and only itself, and no sympathy, this position is. But increasing a sense of mafia power, its criminal nature.

— “Levada-Center” could not challenge the decision on inclusion in the register of organisations registered as foreign agents. It prevented its activities? And are you afraid to get personal in a new list?

— Yes, in 2016 we got to the register for the same study that in 2013, any issues have arisen. For 2017, we tried to challenge it, lost all the courts, and there was only the ECHR. He the complaint was accepted for consideration, but not a quick process.

By the way, the question of how population refers to registered as foreign agents and their status. I was afraid that it would not be just to interfere with us, and paralyze all our activities. Well, imagine: the interviewer comes in and says “Hello, I’m a foreign agent…” We made the appropriate questions in the questionnaire to understand how the Russians react to such a stigma. And it turned out that I react from 1 to 4%, the rest is all the same. And those who do not care, is not so clear, not to say that we are faced with a completely negative attitude.

As for me personally, I constantly have to interact with foreign journalists. They, like our, Patriotic, every day I get a call and asked to comment on something or other our research. If eventually I get to the registry, you will have to fulfill some requirements, otherwise fine, second, third… of Course, the law will affect me too.

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