January 2, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7258

2018: Russians Look Forward With Apprehension

January 2, 2018
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 7258

In his article, titled "Looking Apprehensively At 2018", Russian commentator Sergey Shelin analyzes the sociological implications of the report " Expectations for 2018" published by the Levada Center, Russia's leading independent polling agency.[1] The report shows that Russian anxieties for the future have grown considerably over the past year. A war with the U.S./NATO, an economic crisis, and a coup d'état are some of the gloomy expectations that Russians believe can materialize in 2018.

Shelin stresses that the poll figures "do not refer to the respondents' specific intentions", but to an overall increase in dissatisfaction. "Practically everyone will agree: the year 2017 has not brought us any feeling that after a few years of perturbations life is returning back to normal. The country is entering 2018 with all its accumulated worries [intact] and in apprehension of new ones," concludes Shelin.

Below are excerpts from Shelin's article, published by the Russian media outlet[2]

Sergey Shelin (Source:

'All These Figures Do Not Refer To The Specific Intentions Of The Respondents… They Refer To The Overall Increase In Dissatisfaction With One's Life'

"Russian people, more acutely than before, are afraid of various misfortunes and troubles in the incoming year — from crises and wars to riots and even a coup d'état.

"One should not, of course, be overly horrified and take the grim report by Levada Center, called Expectations for 2018, too literally. Our countrymen are not given to baring their souls to interviewers from polling services. And they are used to demonstrating their pessimism at every given opportunity — after all, an optimist looks rather silly in our climate.

"At the same time, since the Russians have been asked for many years in a row what it is they fear in the incoming year, one can understand some things by keeping track of how their answers have changed.

But first, let's see what the actual circumstances of those people, answering the pollsters' questions, are.

"For most of them, their quality of life has been steadily on the decline for several years. And no end appears in sight. The reported unemployment figures (5%) and the officially recognized percentage of those whose income is below the poverty line (13-14%) are generally regarded by the population as sheer mockery. But the authorities persist in their fictions.

"A fresh example is the scandalized reaction of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection to a report by VTsIOM [The Russian Public Opinion Research Center]– a most loyal polling institution – which determined that the unemployment rate is 11%. It may well be even higher, but one cannot acknowledge it. Nor can one admit the fact that there are twice as many poor people in the country than the welfare services claim.

"Compound this by the fact that most ordinary Russians still get their information about the world from the TV, from the loony or at least the paranoia-simulating propagandists.

"And now let's analyze the answers of our countrymen. So, what events do they consider likely to happen in the next year? One could select as many as one wanted from the options offered by the Levada Center.

"First, let's talk about two things, whose probability has not changed much in people's eyes over the past year or two.

"The most prominent is 'high-profile corruption scandals and resignations of ministers'. About 63% of respondents regard something of the kind in 2018 as certain or most probable. A year ago, 60% had such expectations. And a long time ago, on the eve of 2007 — it was 60% as well. A drop (51%) was registered only at the end of 2014, in the midst of currency panic. The horrors of the economic storm had apparently dampened interest in corruption at the top echelons, although exactly then some of its most remarkable manifestations could be observed.

"The other fear, which is felt as strongly as before, at least compared to last year, is 'a military conflict with a neighboring country'. Levada does not decipher which one, but its interviewees must have easily guessed it is Ukraine. About 23% of the surveyed think it is possible now, 21% thought so a year ago.

"And now, let's move from the few relatively stable expectations to the fears that have considerably grown over the past year. There are almost ten of those.

"For instance, a war 'with the U.S./NATO' was considered possible by 10% of respondents on the eve of 2017 and by 23% on the eve of 2018. One can't say this fear (or proud desire, if you will) has completely possessed the masses, but it has visibly contributed to today's overall tense atmosphere.

"That tension is growing follows from the fact that an 'economic crisis' in 2018 is considered possible by 50% of respondents (as opposed to 47% a year ago), and 'mass unrest and popular protests' — by 35% (as opposed to 21%).

"I do not recommend viewing these [results] as a political-economic forecast. It is something more prosaic, although no less sad: people do not believe official reports about economic revival and improved living standards. Three years ago, when the crisis was only starting, 60% of our countrymen expected it to continue and develop. Then they thought that the worst was behind them, but lately it looks like they have begun to doubt it.

"The expected rise in protests testifies approximately to the same thing. With all adjustments for the conventional and partially serious forecasts supplied by people, one may remember that during the entire period of observation, these expectations were at their maximum level (about 56%) at the end of 2011, which was indeed the eve of very impressive street protests.

"One more supplement — quite educational, for all its exoticness. One of the questions was whether the respondents expected a 'coup d'état' in 2018. I am not certain that Levada Center's interviewees could clearly formulate what they meant by this term. Still, 15% of respondents said they thought a coup was possible. Last year, only 9% gave this answer. But these conjectures were at their previous peak (20%) at the end of 2011, in the midst of all that turmoil.

"I repeat: all these figures do not refer to the specific intentions of the respondents, we don't need to develop fantasies here; they refer to the overall increase in dissatisfaction with one's life. Permanent belt-tightening, fist clenching, and the compulsion to fear everything –near and far– sow despondency in the masses followed by animosity.

"This despondency automatically makes itself apparent in answers to other questions, including those that are far from the routine existence of most.

"In comparison with the fears of a year ago, there is an abrupt increase in apprehensions about a possible occurrence in 2018 of: 'mass inter-ethnic clashes' (an increase from 17% to 29%), a deterioration of the situation in North Caucasus' (from 22% to 29%), 'large-scale technical disasters' (from 27% to 36%) and even 'mass epidemics' (from 26% to 30%).

"Of course, it is only a survey. Please cast away all 'mass epidemics' and 'disasters' from your mind when you sit down to the New Year's table. But practically everyone will agree: the year 2017 has not brought us any sense that following a few years of turmoil life is returning back to normal. The country is entering 2018 with all its accumulated worries [intact] and in apprehension of new ones."




[2], December 22, 2017.

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