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Regular version of the site

101000, Moscow, Myasnitskaya str., 20, room 524; 525; 526

Phone: +7 (495) 772 9590 *12238

E-mail: nbelyaeva@hse.ru

Nina Y. Belyaeva
The Department's Head Nina Y. Belyaeva
The Ideals of Global Sport: From Peace to Human Rights

Boykoff J., Brownell S., Burke R. et al.

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019.

Book chapter
Revisiting Wittfogel: “Hydraulic society” in colonial India and its post-colonial legacies in hydropower management

Roy Chowdhury A., Rajhans S. K.

In bk.: Theory, Policy, Practice: Development and Discontents in India. L.: Routledge, 2021. Ch. 6. P. 123-140.

Working paper
Covid-19 vaccine efficacy and Russian public support for anti-pandemic measures

Borisova E., Ivanov D.

BOFIT Discussion Papers. DP. Bank of Finland Institute for Economies in Transition, 2021. No. 9.

Prof. Belyaeva gave a public lecture at CEU: "Do the Vast Majority of Russians fully Support Putin? The secret of the 84%"

In a March 9 CEU Frontiers of Democracy lecture, Professor Nina Y. Belyaeva of National Research University, Higher School of Economics in Moscow delved into the numbers and who really supports Putin.
It is widely reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin enjoys an 84 percent approval rating among Russians. The number has been used repeatedly to justify the Kremlin's actions despite outcry from the international community. In a March 9 CEU Frontiers of Democracy lecture, Professor Nina Y. Belyaeva of National Research University, Higher School of Economics in Moscow delved into the numbers and who really supports Putin.

"Dictators all over the world say that they have the support of their people," Belyaeva opened. "This is not unique to Putin." She noted how "popular" both Hitler and Mussolini were before drawing their countries further and further into an unwinnable war. In all three cases, the role of the cult of personality is key. The propaganda machine is hard at work, Belyaeva noted, with opposition figures not only vilified but virutally made targets with smear campaigns pitting Russian values against Western, liberal, immoral ways. All of this came to a head with the recent murder of oppositon leader Boris Nemtsov on Feb. 27. "He was named as the main traitor and he was killed," Belyaeva said. "[This was] a continuation of what the official propaganda called for." The memory march in his honor drew a crowd of nearly 150,000 people.

So do 84 percent of Russians truly approve of Putin? The question itself, in Belyaeva's estimation, was distorted. The figure came from a survey completed as Crimea was being annexed by Russia. The survey question read: "Do you support accession of Crimea to Russia?" The word "accession" was used, not "annexation." The issue was not presented as an act of aggression on Russia's part, Belyaeva noted. "Accession is a positive word. It was portrayed as, 'The people of Crimean asked to join, how could we say no?'" The survey data were then spread everywhere and used to create a black-and-white scenario: If you question Putin, you are a traitor. In the same vein, NGOs are being targeted as "foreign agents" if they accept foreign money. Belyaeva's research traces Russian attitudes in connection with distributed propaganda. She noted that extreme swings in attitudes toward the West (and especially the U.S.) are dependant on what the Russia media dictate. As recently as 2013, Russia was looking West and partnering with Europe and even working with NATO – an organization that is now portrayed as creeping, uninvited, into Russian territory. The first wave of Russian oligarchs were responsible for the favorable relations with Europe, Belyaeva noted. Their children attended European schools, they kept their money in Swiss banks but, "Putin could not go with the rules as they stood in the EU." Cooler relations with the West were already evident, Belyaeva said, in 2007 when Putin spoke in Munich, criticizing the idea of a unipolar world and berating the U.S. for its use of force in international relations. Furthering the cleavage with the West, in his annual Address to the Federal Assembly in Dec. 2013, Putin firmly stated, "No one should entertain any illusions about achieving military superiority over Russia; we will never allow it. Russia will respond to all these challenges, both political and technological. We have all we need in order to do so."

Russia's insular trend seems to be intensified by the "clericalization of Russian society" and the rise of rampant nationalism. The Russian Orthodox church – which Belyaeva calls "one of the biggest oligarchs" – has huge investments, is tax exempt and runs semi-legal businesses selling alcohol, cigarettes and other goods. So-called Russian "patriots" glorify the past – the expansion of the "Russian World" and this is becoming more and more aggressive, Belyaeva noted. The rhetoric includes the expansion of what they deem "traditional Russian values" that are counter to the West's liberalism, including the protection of human rights. In fact, the term "Gayropa" has been adopted by Russian nationalists to deride Europe as deviant and immoral and to strongly differentiate themselves from this. The anti-EU sentiment eventually grew into the anti-Maidan/pro-Putin march that took place in late February. Nationalists were saying, "Europe is dying, falling apart and they've lost their morals. Who has them? We, the Russians!" said Belyaeva.

In order to reinforce the idea that Putin is well supported, all pro-government rallies and assemblies take place in the center of Moscow and are televised, she said. Belyaeva's own students have surveyed attendees who freely admit that they do not know exactly why they are there, brandishing pro-Putin slogans. "There is more and more evidence that people are paid to go and are threatened if they don't go."

There are Russians – among them longtime human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva – who are willing to speak out even under the threat of violence and death. Belyaeva believes that Nemtsov's murder will further radicalize the opposition. As evidenced by the sheer number of people who attended his memory march, Belyaeva believes, "people don't agree with and won't shy away from fear; it's civilization versus barbarianism. [They were saying] We are for democracy and Nemtsov. He was working tirelessly for democracy and supporting him is more than supporting one person."

Belyaeva's hope is that fear will abate and that a space will be created where leaders can grow and develop their skills. The power of the Russian propaganda machine and the increasing furvor of nationalism have kept the opportunity for opposition of any kind at bay, she said.

"There's a big gap between people who just eat what they're given by TV and those who search for their own answers and find them and make up their own mind," Belyaeva closed. "Popularity is something that you create. What matters very much is what kind of public you're dealing with and how much this public is free, independent to make choices and not being punished for not choosing you."
The report was prepared by Central European University