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November 8, 2003 by AK

The people are silent

A while ago, Mike Pechar asked me to comment on the mood of common Russians regarding the YUKOS-Khodorkovsky affair. When I do not reply to a request like that, it surely means I cannot do it right away and need some time to think it over.

I am a Muscovite: I was born and have lived most of my life in this city. Russia is a far more centralized country than the US, with a sharp contrast between big cities and rural areas. Therefore, living in Moscow is not simply different from living in a Russian small town or a village (there are plenty of generic big city/small town oppositions), but the difference is enormous and multidimensional: it spans general quality of life, real income, access to information, education, and health care, and economic opportunity. The people I talk to every day are, therefore, not common Russians, but common middle-class Muscovites. Most of them are concerned about the recent YUKOS/Khodorkovsky crisis. I would expect the same mood in other big cities, but outside of them, I suspect, indifference prevails.

A poll conducted in the summer found that more Russians views the oligarchs negatively than positively or indifferently. Small wonder. But a more recent poll showed 34% approving Khodorkovsky’s arrest, with 20% “somewhat approving”, which is disturbing, since, although one may reasonably approve of the magnate’s prosecution, keeping him in prison pending trial, rather than releasing on bail, is clearly an excessive measure. There must be a share of Schadenfreude involved.


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