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Russia has seen nothing of the kind in the last twenty-five years. I am not talking about Putin’s stunning 82 percent approval rating. I mean the incredible optimism of the Russian public. Even those dissatisfied with their lot have suddenly experienced a rush of happiness and optimism. While the country has rolled back all its reforms, 58 percent of the respondents to a Levada Center poll believe that reforms continue (only 27 percent think otherwise). As authoritarianism gains new strength and political life becomes less transparent, 57 percent of those polled say it isn’t so, claiming that Russian political life is open and government policies are widely discussed (only 33 percent express their skepticism). The state infringes on human rights, but only 38 percent see it this way, while 48 percent consider their country democratic.
In short, the worse the situation becomes in Russia, the better it looks in the eye of the people. We are witnessing mass self-deception, people’s desire to believe in a fairy tale and a hoax. The long demoralized and splintered society suddenly consolidated around a belief that it is doing great. It is obvious that society could not resist the potent drug of military patriotism and consolidated around the flag in the face of a threat, which is in fact another imitation. But as military-patriotic mobilizations of the past suggest, this drug wears off pretty fast. When the feeling of euphoria is gone, uneasy return to reality sets in. Russia has already experienced similar mobilizations during the second Chechen War of 1999 and the Russia-Georgia War of 2008, and it took the country half a year or even less to sober up.
Russia’s current military-patriotic high is much stronger and will be harder to overcome. Nevertheless, Russia will have to do it. People will be forced to see how serious the problems the country faces are. This will be the moment of truth, which Russia is fast approaching.
Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.
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