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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Intelligentsia Shifts to Support Putin




It used to be communists and nationalists who would cry out for a tough hand to rule Mother Russia. But now the ostensibly liberal intelligentsia has joined the chorus calling for order and strict leadership.


And the leader in mind is Prime Minister - and former KGB officer - Vladimir Putin.


No Russian leader has had such unified support among the educated, professional and artistic classes since Boris Yeltsin in the late 1980s and early 1990s, pollster Yury Levada said.


"Putin's popularity among the intelligentsia is comparable only to that of early Yeltsin. Only now it turns out that the intelligentsia no longer needs freedom but want a tough hand," said Levada, the director of the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research, or VTsIOM.


The desire for order over freedom is a commonplace of Russian political culture. But now the general weariness over chaos has reached even people who tend to support personal freedom. They are on the same side as everyone else - supporting the bombing of Chechnya and waiting for Putin to restore law and order there.


Approval of the war in Chechnya runs higher in well-off Moscow and St. Petersburg, at 77 percent, opposed to 64 percent nationwide and 57 percent in small towns, according to the Public Opinion Foundation.


The political views of intelligentsia, or a large part of it have reversed radically and in a very short time, said Levada.


"Until midsummer this year, as much as three-quarters of the upscale, more educated part of Russian society were against any military activities in Chechnya. Now there is vast support for the war," Levada said.


Levada said the reasons lies far beyond September's apartment bombings, which killed almost 300 people. "Everyone is simply fed up with the sense of defeat and disorder. Supporting Putin is a direct answer to this sense of loss," Levada said.


Writer Vladimir Zheleznikov said, "I more or less trust Putin. ... As for Chechnya, I believe that we have missed the time when the problem could be solved peacefully.


"I only hope that what they say about trying to make it as bloodless as possible is true," he added.


At a round table gathering last week of several dozen historians, philosophers, psychologists, journalists and writers at Moscow's House of Scientists, voices were heard asking for forceful leadership.


"The country is a headless rider. ... What we need is an understandable, predictable but decisive leader," Alexander Asmolov, the head of the psychology department of the Moscow State University.


Georgy Arbatov, former director of the USA/Canada Institute, said that Putin was popular in part because people are not always thinking beyond tomorrow.


"Everybody waited for someone who will finally start doing something. What he is doing, or whether it is correct, is to be decided later," Arbatov said.


"As for the intelligentsia, there are many of them who can't stop dreaming of a Russian Pinochet," said Arbatov, referring to the autocratic Chilean leader credited by some with laying the foundations for economic growth.


"They created a legend, that Pinochet saved Chile, which is wrong. ... When things are bad they all want a tough hand," he added.


Arbatov said the dream may not come true.


"So far, things are going well for Putin in Chechnya, so everything is generally good for him. But if suddenly something goes wrong there, it may well make him less popular on all counts."