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Muscovites Involved as Active Citizens

Far from being passive, Muscovites – at least more than half of them – are more likely than residents of other Russian cities to join together with others in pursuit of a common cause, engage in civic campaigns online, and trust other people and non-profit organizations (NGOs). While in terms of offline civic engagement Muscovites do not differ much from the rest of the country, their activity can be encouraged by creating an appropriate infrastructure, according to Irina Mersiyanova, Director of the HSE Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Non-Profit Sector, and Irina Korneeva, Research Fellow of the same Centre.

A phenomenon described by the authors as 'urban silence', i.e. social inertia and a reluctance to join others for community action, is not characteristic of Muscovites; in fact, 57% of the Russian capital's residents would join others for a common cause. According to Mersiyanova and Korneeva's paper 'Urban Silence' in Moscow: Prerequisites for Involvement in Civil Society Practices, Muscovites in general have greater trust in other people and NGOs – the institutional framework of civil society.

While this means that the capital's residents have a tendency towards civic engagement, they are more likely to engage online than offline, the latter type of involvement being about the same as elsewhere in Russia. That said, Muscovites are still more likely to donate, volunteer and otherwise support NGOs.

According to the authors, providing an infrastructure for civic participation could encourage grassroots activity and ultimately contribute to wider urban development.

The paper is based on data from two nationwide surveys using a sample of 1,500 people in 43 Russian regions, including 131 respondents in Moscow, in 2014, and 33,200 respondents in 83 regions in 2011, and published by the HSE Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Non-Profit Sector as part of the 2015 Monitoring of the State of Civil Society

Grassroots Activity Manifested in Everyday Life

Attitudes such as trust in other people and being prepared to join in for a common cause, a sense of responsibility and confidence in one’s power to influence things in the immediate vicinity such as one’s residential building, as well as the city and entire country, trust in NGOs and civil society initiatives, and a certain level of subjective well-being all contribute to social engagement.

Thus, trust in other people promotes mutual assistance, social integration and collaboration. According to the study's authors, Muscovites are more likely than people in other parts of Russia to trust both their closer circle and a wider range of people.

Even though the overall level of social trust is somewhat low – only 28% of Moscow residents (compared to the national average of 22%) believe that most people can be trusted, while 66% of Muscovites (vs. 75% of respondents nationwide) prefer to be cautious around other people, the level of trust in people from one's inner circle tends to be higher at 75% for Muscovites compared to the national average of 64%.

More than half (57%) of Muscovites, compared with one-third of respondents nationwide, would be willing to join in with others to address shared concerns, particularly in the spheres of housing, public utilities and consumer services (21%), leisure activities, sports and tourism (14%), philanthropy (12%), and public governance (12%).

Responsibility in Inverse Proportion to Distance

Muscovites tend to feel personal responsibility for things in their immediate vicinity, but less so for things perceived as remote; thus, 84% feel responsible for their neighbourhood, 73% for things happening in the wider city, and just 57% for developments in the country overall, similar to people in the rest of Russia.

In terms of influence over their immediate neighbourhood, Muscovites appear less empowered at 70% compared to the national average of 81% – perhaps due to a low proportion (12%) of Muscovites who feel they can ‘fully influence’ things in their immediate vicinity, compared to the national average of 30%. The respondents' assessment of their ability to influence developments in their city and wider country stands at 53% and 36% respectively for Muscovites, and 55% and 39% for Russians nationwide. The most likely spheres of influence mentioned by Muscovites included leisure and tourism (19% of responses), housing and utilities (15%), philanthropy (14%), and science and education (14%) – compared to the rest of the country, Muscovites feel more able to influence these spheres.

Three quarters of those who believe that they can make a difference also believe that the best way to change things and influence others is to lead by example, followed by convincing one's friends (37%) and voting in the election (31%); nationwide responses stand at 64%, 36% and 34% respectively. A quarter of Muscovites favour methods such as sharing information online and participating in NGO activities, while street protests and mass media statements are less popular.

It turns out that Muscovites have more trust in others but less confidence in their own ability to make a difference than people elsewhere in Russia. Meanwhile, according to the study's authors, creating a reliable feedback system between society and government could help build Muscovites' confidence in being part of the city's governance.

Trust in NGOs

In terms of involvement in civil society groups, Muscovites are most likely to participate in residents' committees and similar homeowners' bodies and in interest-based groups such as sports, tourism and automobile associations (4% vs. 1% nationwide for both types of organizations), followed by labour unions, charities and local initiatives for protecting consumer, property and other rights (3% each type). Overall, 18% of Muscovites and 17% of respondents countrywide have participated in civil society organizations, yet Moscow residents' involvement in certain types of NGOs exceeds the national averages.

Most Russians – 81% of Muscovites and 79% nationwide – are aware of the existence of NGO and their activities and often mention veteran organisations, labour unions, political parties, gardening associations and charities (more than 50% of respondents in each case); of those who are aware of NGO activities, 67% of Muscovites (vs. 54% of respondents nationwide) trust at least one NGO.

According to the study's authors, this trust is self-perpetuating: Muscovites get involved in NGOs because they trust them, and by being involved develop even more trust in these organizations.

More Involvement Is Possible

Compared to the national average, Muscovites tend to participate more often in public benefit and civic activities – 62%, including 59% who have been involved offline and 28% online, compared to the national averages of 59%, 55% and 18%, respectively. Volunteer work for the community, such as subbotniks (voluntary collective efforts to remove garbage, plant trees, etc. in the neighbourhood), alongside residents' meetings and rescue and relief initiatives are among the most popular, while letter-writing campaigns, speaking at meetings and participating in public protests are less popular.

In terms of online activities, Muscovites are more likely to interact with government websites (23% vs. 13% nationwide), comment on social media and news sites (11% vs. 7% nationwide), and write blogs (9% vs. 4%).

According to the study's authors, there is a potential for Muscovites to become even more active as citizens; in fact, 44% of Muscovites vs. 37% respondents nationwide expect that by 2020, most Russians will be participating in NGOs, and 39% of Muscovites would like to donate to charitable causes.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, February 10, 2016