Lev Gudkov remembers sitting in his Moscow office as a young sociologist, surrounded by stacks of letters.
It was 1989, and for the first time after decades of hushed conversation around kitchen tables, Russians had been asked for their opinions on a range of economic and social issues.
The response was so overwhelming that the nearby post office was instructed to stop deliveries so that the team would not be barricaded in, says Gudkov, head of the independent Levada Center polling agency.
After almost 30 years of sociological research, The Moscow Times asked Gudkov to describe Russians’ changing attitudes and beliefs from perestroika up to today.
Sovyetsky chelovek (Soviet man) is the archetype of a person born in and shaped by a totalitarian regime. Life in repressive conditions has made him crafty and skilled at doublethink. He knows how to bypass the authorities’ demands while simultaneously maintaining informal and corrupt relations with them.
They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work. They pretend to care for us, we pretend to respect them.
Soviet man demonstrates his loyalty to the authorities through collective symbolism and performance. But his real values and interests are in the private sphere — his home and family.
He has few demands: he knows he has little to no power and deeply mistrusts everyone but those closest to him, expecting nothing good from anyone else.
After living through countless restrictions — the traumas of war, collectivization, modernization, miniscule salaries, residence permits — he just wants one thing: to survive.