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25.06.2022, Saturday. Moscow time: 23:16

Future of Democracy in Russia in the Hands of Silent Majority

Updated: 31.10.2003
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Institute for Election Systems Development
Moscow, 121099
M. Kakovinsky per., 2/6, f.11
tel. (095)725-36-53, 232-38-29,
fax (095)232-38-20
Institute for Comparative Social Research
Moscow, 107031
B. Dmitrovka, 20/5,
tel. (095) 209-68-92;
fax (095) 209-55-71;


Research of popular political participation 1 shows that civil society in Russia is not formed yet and citizen's social activities are too low. Two thirds of the country population belong to the silent majority that's the people who never are involved in any form of collective political participation.

The highest level of activities is found in the pre-reform period. The pique of social activities falls on the first half of the 90-s, i.e. on the beginning of social economic changes in Russia; then the activity reduced considerably. In the last year, only 9% of the polled Russians took part in some forms of collective publicly useful activity (27% in all the years of reforms).

The most widespread form of political participation is participation in voting. In terms of involvement in this form, our country does not differ much compared to Western democracies. In average, Russian people - both the activists and the population - participate in voting just as actively as in the majority of Western democratic societies.

But the population considers participation in elections not so much as a channel of involvement in public policy or as an instrument of dialog with authorities and agreement of interests and course of local, regional, and national politics, but rather as the way to express their support or protest to authorities and politicians. This explains a high potential of the protest voting of the population, which expresses in such forms as absenteeism, voting against all candidates and casting votes in favor of parties opposing authorities and candidates.

The other widespread form of political participation is participation is participation in election campaign (11% of respondents for the last 10 years); those who signed collective letters, appeals to the mass media and authorities account for 8%, those who donated money for the benefit of some project or organization of public importance make up 7%.

One of the indicators of the maturity of civil society and of the quality of political participation is the involvement of people in the activity of nongovernmental public organizations. Although an enormous number of nongovernmental public organizations and political parties work in today's Russia, the participation of the population in their work is rather limited. In the last year, only 1 out of 9 Russians took some part (whether formal or informal) in the activity of public organizations.

For the last 10 years, conventional forms of participation are the most widespread ones in Russia. For the last 10 years, only 6% of respondents resorted to protest forms of participation (rallies, demonstrations, strikes and individual forms of protest). This may be illustrated by using the example of the dynamics of protest participation in the forms specified in the following table.

Table 1. Participation in strikes, pickets, sit-in protests, traffic obstruction

PeriodsThe activistsPopulation
Last year42%7%
Before 19936%3%

An upsurge of participation in these forms of protest with the population is found at the peak of nonpayment of salaries, and then drops sharply, while with the activists a stable increase in such participation is seen, which shows an increase in citizenship with this segment of society.

As follows from in-depth interviews with heads of public organizations and from interviews of population and activists currently acting in Russian civil organizations, political parties are self-sufficient and have a little incentive to attract large groups of population to their activities.

The activity of these organizations to involve people in their activities is very low now. Only one-fifth of respondents (20%) and each second of activists said that in the last year they were approached by some public organizations or authorities. Neither authorities, nor public organizations act as organizers, leaders of public actions. Most frequently, all these organizations choose a mass impersonal form of address in the form of letters in the mailboxes, posters in the streets and entrances, announcements.

The most active are Veteran Unions, trade unions, ecological organizations and animal protecting groups. Civil right protecting organizations and associations, sport committees, anti-drug committees, youth organizations, cultural and various charity organizations are rather passive in working with the population.

Human rights and sport organizations, committees against narcotics, youth, cultural and charity organizations are also passive in their relationship with population.

85% of the activists replied to our appeal, there are a bit more than half of these among the population - 54%.

Appeals of public organizations were most often in the form of letters in the mailbox (10 cases out of 28), a representative of the organizations came personally (7 cases out of 28), a slogan was put up with an appeal or information (6 cases out of 28). There were rare cases of appeals through electronic.

If one looks at the potential of conventional forms of political participation, in this case it is quite high - 64 percent of respondents are ready to participate in any collective forms of political activities. At the same time the confidence in the efficiency of various forms of public participation is rather low among Russians. Only a small share of respondents (from 3% to 9%) is quite sure that any of the forms of public and political participation may be efficient in the solution of problems.

The major reasons for impossibility to participate in various forms of collective action are the absence of leaders, organizers of collective action; people's perceptions that they have no other people sharing their views and they do now know where to appeal to.

At present there is less than 1% of those who act as organizers of collective action or participates actively. Ordinary citizens are ready to take part in different forms of political activities whilst activists are ready to organize civic organizations and to run for representative institutions of different levels. The leadership characteristics differentiate them from ordinary citizens. Most of them are expecting that somebody will organize them (56 percent) or believe that public problems that affect them do not exist (35 percent).

Table 18. Participation in the work of public organizations (% ofthose participating)

Public organizationsActivistsPopulation
Ecological14%2% (7 times less)
Youth38%14% (2.5 times less)
Veteran Unions17%2% (8 times less)
Local self-governing bodies26%5% (5 times less)
Charity organizations34%2% (14 times less)
Other public organizations32%3% (11 times less)
Religious organizations14%3% (5 times less)
Clubs by interest18%7% (2.5 times less)

This research confirms the hypothesis that one of the main differences of the most active part of society from the remaining population is, first of all, the sense of high responsibility among activists. When the responsibility of parents for their children is concerned, both segments of society as a whole show a high and similar level of responsibility. As the object of responsibility become more distant from the circle of relatives, the differences between the two segments of society become greater.

The future of civil society and democracy will depend to substantial degree of activists' abilities to draw into their actions a significant part of politically alienated population.

1 Research Development of Forms and Methods of the Political Participation and Social Self-Organization of the Population of Russia was conducted in July-August 2003 by the Institute for Comparative Social Research (CESSI) in collaboration with the Institute of State and Law of the Russian academy of Sciences and with the foundation Information for Democracy. This research has been conducted under order of the Institute for Election Systems Development (IESD) and is a part of the IESD project on the strengthening the foundations of democracy in Russia by increasing public awareness. This project was accomplished with financial support from United States Agency for International Development USA.
Survey was conducted as face-to-face interviews with a questionnaire that was designed for the population at large and a special module for the so-called the activists. The entire sample was divided into two parts: two-thirds of the sample (945 people) represented the entire population of Russia ranging from 18 years of age and older, and one-third of the sample (450 people) comprised the activists.

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