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Liberalism in Russia?


Thus, Russian current public attitudes reflect not so much a resurgence of Soviet values but the return to the Russian traditional mold of the mass consciousness. The liberal reforms in Russia face not simply the inheritance of 70-year long Communist rule. Their adherents have to engage in an uphill struggle against the resistance of the legacy of over one thousand-year long Russian history. 


Estimates of Benefits for Russia of the Changes

over the Recent Decade, (%) (VTsIOM, 1999)





Freedom of speech and the press



Multiparty elections



Freedom of foreign travel



Free enterprise



The right to strike



This, however, does not necessarily mean that liberalism is doomed in Russia. The majority of Russians welcomes the democratic changes that have taken root in society, although they take one marked exception, appraising the appearance of a bewildering multitude of political parties largely negatively. 

Despite a general disenchantment with liberalism (or perhaps, with the idealistic understanding of liberalism, characteristic of the early 1990s), liberal ideology has taken root in Russian society. Millions of well-educated ex-Soviet citizens living in urban areas have already made the psychological transition to the post-Soviet realities.

Russian stock exchange

Thousands of entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the new laws allowing private enterprise and have opened their own businesses. A new post-Soviet generation is rising to leading positions throughout the country. Many of its members have lived their entire professional lives in the world of Gorbachevs perestroika and the post-Soviet market economy.

Thus, liberalism is embraced by more dynamic sectors of the electorate; it informs the activity of many key decision makers in the Russian executive branch, including the presidential and governmental structures; it is the dominant ideology of powerful financial-industrial groups; and, most importantly, it has the support of the leading mass media. All this enables the adherents of liberalism to exert considerable influence on the way of thinking of the Russian people.

Contemporary Russian public attitudes are a vibrant mixture of contradictory elements drawn from the prerevolutionary, Soviet, and post-Soviet periods, and enriched with global moral and intellectual influences.

This is a national mentality in a state of flux: it combines a resurgence of Russian nationalism with survivals of the values of Soviet patriotism and collectivism and with high levels of support for principles associated with liberal democracy, including political and religious tolerance, political liberty, individual rights, rights of opposition and dissent, freedom of speech, and competitive elections. It is a fluid culture, engaged in active processes of social modernization leading to a market economy, a law-governed state, and a civil society.

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Paradoxes of Mentality

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