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Life According to Surveys

Many Russians value free education and healthcare but do not necessarily care about the freedom of assembly and expression or the freedom to travel domestically or internationally — these and eight more facts about Russians according to opinion polls

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Free education and social security appear to be more important for Russians than the freedom of expression or the freedom of movement. The majority of Russians, especially younger people, look to the state for assistance and choose responsible consumption merely as a way to save money. Many Russians who altruistically help others do not think of themselves as volunteers. IQ.HSE selected nine facts about various aspects of people's lives based on findings from a nationwide representative survey conducted by the HSE Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Nonprofit Sector as part of the Monitoring of the Status of Civil Society project. Each year, the researchers conduct face-to-face interviews with more than 2,000 Russians aged 18 and above.

Role of Civil Society in Solving Social Problems

While some respondents believe it’s up to the state to deal with social problems, this attitude is by no means predominant: most Russians (80%) believe that nongovernmental nonprofit organisations should also be involved.

Half of the respondents who agree with this role for NGOs are not absolutely sure, choosing 'they probably should'. In fact, between 2019 and 2020, the share of those who gave this less certain response increased by seven percentage points, while the share of those who responded 'they definitely should' dropped by 1.3 times (30% versus 40%) over the same period.

'Do you believe that nongovernmental nonprofit organisations and initiatives should or should not be involved, alongside government institutions, in solving social problems in areas such as education, healthcare, culture and others?' (% of respondents countrywide, 2020)
 

Freedom of Expression Can Wait

Of all rights and liberties, Russians appear to value the right to free education more than any other, with 60% of all respondents indicating this as the most important right. The right to establish independent organisations, societies and unions, and freedom of assembly and manifestation both come last, with just 15% of respondents placing either at the top of the list.

In addition to free education, the five most important rights according to the respondents are the right to free healthcare (58%), the right to life (51%), the right to work (50%) and the right to social security in old age (49%). Russians appear to be far less concerned about freedom of expression (38%), freedom of movement within the country (31%) and freedom of religion (24%), nor are they particularly keen to participate in governance over the state and society (19%).

'Which of the rights and freedoms listed below do you find to be the most important for you personally?' (% of respondents, 2020)

NGOs: Relevant but Unnoticed

According to 89% of respondents, nongovernmental, nonprofit organisations are necessary in Russia, especially those working in areas such as healthcare (63%), providing assistance to low-income people (49%) and services for parents and children (44%).

But relatively few respondents notice the actual work of NGOs in these areas: only 13% know about groups assisting parents and children, and just 11% are aware of those helping the poor. The most noticed types of the nongovernmental sector’s contribution include volunteer work (23%) and healthcare-related services (16%). However, one in four (26%) respondents believe that nonprofit organisations do not contribute to any area whatsoever in Russia.

'In what areas do you find the contribution of nongovernmental, nonprofit and community organisations necessary in Russia?' (% of respondents, 2020)

Low Trust

Only 13% of Russians trust consumer societies, and while this figure may seem unimpressive, these organisations, alongside labour unions and gardening associations, are in the top five most visible and trusted types of NGOs in Russia.

Among all respondents, 28% — primarily those with higher education and residents of cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants — are aware of consumer societies operating in their community. The share of respondents who actively distrust consumer societies was at its lowest (2%) in 2014 but increased to 7% in 2020. Over the entire period of the HSE monitoring project (2006–2020), public trust in consumer societies has varied between 12% and 17%.

Top-10 most trusted types of NGOs (% of respondents, 2020)

Citizenship: Emotional Aspects

Nearly half (49%) of the respondents experience positive emotions, such as pride and a calm confidence, in being Russian citizens. Negative emotions — such as a sense of disadvantage or inferiority, or feeling hurt on behalf of their country — are shared by 24% of respondents, and about the same number, almost one in four, report having no feelings whatsoever about being Russian citizens.

The number of respondents who feel hurt on behalf of their country increased after 2017 and stood at 20% in 2020, whereas 29% of respondents, most of them aged 60 and older, are proud of being Russian. Younger people aged 18 to 34 are more likely to be indifferent in this respect: 33% of respondents in this age group, versus 20% in the entire sample, report having no feelings at all about being citizens of Russia.

'What feelings do you have about being a Russian citizen?' (% of respondents, 2020)

Put Your Trust in the State...

According to 65% of all respondents, including 73% each in the 18 to 24 and 25- to 35-year-old age groups, government agencies and social services had a duty to assist people during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. 

Younger respondents are also more likely to expect government support for the nonprofit sector and less likely to distrust institutions such as the Civic Chamber (12% of 18- to 24-year-olds versus 19% in the entire sample) and the Ombudsman (11% versus 17%). Undergraduates, as well as pensioners and rural residents, tend to have a higher trust in the Russian Human Rights Council.

'At the height of the coronavirus epidemic, the regimes of isolation and self-isolation were introduced in Russia. Who, in your opinion, should have assisted people while they were in self-isolation?' (% of respondents, 2020)

Charity: a Private Matter

Most people who altruistically help strangers prefer to do so privately as individuals rather than as part of an organisation: 58% of respondents who practice charitable giving do so on their own, and only 8% to 11% of volunteers operate on behalf of organised groups.

Volunteering for state and municipal institutions is popular among residents of smaller towns with up to 100,000 residents; more affluent people tend to volunteer with commercial companies, while volunteers with higher levels of education prefer to give their time to nongovernmental organisations or religious communities.

'What was the type of organisation through which you volunteered?' (% of all 'formal volunteers', 2020)

Conscious Volunteering

Donating one’s time and effort and thinking of oneself as a volunteer are not always the same thing. While 23% of Russians practice some form of voluntary work, most of them (80%) do not think of themselves as volunteers and only one in ten (9%) consciously engage in what they define as volunteering.

'Do you consider yourself to be a volunteer?' (% of respondents, 2020)

Responsible Waste Management

Only 13% of Russians refuse to consider adopting environmentally responsible waste management practices, while nearly half (47%) intend to sort household waste into separate containers (27% do so now), 26% to 28% plan to take spent batteries to collection points and to donate unwanted clothes, furniture and household appliances to friends, acquaintances and neighbours. One in five (20%) respondents would like to see certain types of waste (such as paper, plastic and some others) accepted for recycling.

Cities with a population of between 100,000 to 250,000 people tend to have the highest share of residents involved in responsible waste disposal, and this trend is likely to continue in the coming years.

Which of the following are you already doing and which are you likely to start (or continue) doing in the next year or two? (% of respondents, 2020)

IQ

Author: Svetlana Saltanova, September 16