Why is the middle class heading abroad?

Socialists learn the priorities of middle-class Russians

The basic image of Russia’s middle class is a salary of 50,000 rubles for each family member, a foreign car, good education, personal library and newly built summer home. Civil servants say 60 percent of all Russians will fit the description by 2020. Sociologists from the Levad Center decided to find out more about the lives and plans of the country’s most economically active sector. Are they ready to become the stronghold of the country? Do they trust the state? What do they want and what makes them tick?

Russia lies in wait…

“Do you think stability has reached Russia?” the sociologists asked. The answers were far from unanimous and divided into two camps. Forty-nine percent think everything is developing smoothly; 46 percent are satisfied and look to the future with confidence. However, most middle-class Russians (59 percent) think the “present situation may change.” They fear upheavels, instability and economic catastrophes. Thirteen percent told the Levad Center that the “country lies in wait.”

The pessimists’ answers were more emotional: “I think an apocolypse or global catastrophe awaits us,” “People are more afraid now. They used to take risks, knowing they could lose or win a lot. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

The optimists’ answers were more to the point: “Things are better. You used to need criminal protection, but that’s all past us now,” “The law is more considerate of small business,” and “Business has started to develop.”

“The sociologists primarily spoke with businessmen — small business owners or managers at large companies,” said Evgeniy Gontmakher, director of the Social Policy Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Economics Institute. “This means experts with their own businessnes — doctors, lawyers and journalists. They deal with corruption more than other professions as they have to solve problems with power structures. They also travel abroad and have the opportunity to compare the level and quality of life here and there. In one word, they have something to lose. That explains the decadent attitudes.”

Where to seek protection?

What doesn’t the middle class like? Why do they have the blues?

More than anyone else, the middle class holds hard feelings against the government. Seventy-six percent of respondents answered negatively to the question: “Do you feel safe from the whims of the authorities, police or other power structures?” This isn’t a good sign. Who will develop business in a country where there is no justice against an army of civil servants and specifically the strongmen? (On this note, it’s worth mentioning the concept “strongmen” doesn’t exist anywhere in the world but Russia.)

Sixty-five percent of respondents say civil servants don’t obide by the law. Sixty percent don’t think they can protect their rights if they need to. Another interesting detail is 50 percent said it’s best not to let a case reach court when asked: “What would you recommend to a relative businessman who is unlawfully accused of avoiding taxes?” The preponderant majority prefers an amicable resultion to the problem — bribes or acquaintances. Anything but legal proceedings. This is the legal nihilism President Medvedev promised to tackle.

Keep me out of it…

The middle class also doesn’t maintain an active position in society. Fifty-seven percent of respondents don’t want to take part in politics even on a city level. Eighty-three percent say they can’t influence political processes in the country whatsoever.

Here are some popular answers to questions about politics:

“As a citizen I simply don’t care. I just need to know who my president is… I need to earn a decent salary, raise children and have everything I need.”

“Politics have their own life, and the middle class has another.”

“There are a lot of topics worth discussing. We just don’t have the time to get around to the subject of politics.”

They can leave!

The saddest conclusion drawn from the Levad Center’s census was that people are morally ready to leave Russia. Approximately half the respondents think about leaving the country for a warmer, richer nation abroad. Sixty-three percent dream to send their children abroad to study or work.

“The burgeoning middle class needs to be valued and protected,” said Gontmakher. “They’re buying real estate abroad and that’s just the first step to emigration. I think economic rehabilitation will help the situation. All sectors need to flourish — not only oil and gas. Ownership rights need to be protected and personal safety must be guaranteed. Combatting corruption and decreasing inflation is also important. The prices are climbing and people have decided it’s pointless to have savings. If it becomes possible to provide quality, equal development, then our middle class will remain. Patriotism is good, but people want something more.”

What’s left?

After analyzing the census, Levand Center experts made the following conclusions.

Russia’s stability is fragile because it’s only rooted in oil prices and not the overall economy.

The respondents say Russia’s economic success increases its authority on the international arena. The country is turning into a powerhouse. But the mighty are always feared. As a result, Russia’s strength could lead to poor relations with the West.

The respondents fear the government and especially law enforcement agencies. Many believe the authorities are above the law.

Despite the fact that the middle class fears corruption, they’re often connected to various corruption schemes. They look down upon bribetakers, but aren’t shy when it comes to offering money to nurses or teachers under the table. READ MORE

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