‘Foreign agents’ as reflected in a sociological survey

posted 23 Feb 2017, 02:33 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Feb 2017, 02:41 ]
13 February 2017

Source: HRO.org 

The Yury Levada Centre has conducted a survey on Russian attitudes to the ‘foreign agent’ law and to those who have suffered as a result of its implementation.

The results of a sociological survey by the Levada Centre on public attitudes to amendments to the law ‘on non-profit organizations’ are included among materials published by the permanent commission on the development of NGOs, which is attached to the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (the ‘Human Rights Council’). The survey was carried out in December 2016 in 48 regions of the country. The results show that, despite the law having been in existence for 5 years, and 150 organizations being listed in the Ministry of Justice’s register, the majority of Russians – nearly 70% of those surveyed – are unaware of its existence. Roughly 20% of those answering the survey had heard of the law but have no clear idea of what it is about. Only 2-3% think that they do have a clear understanding.

Among those who had heard of the law, more than half (56%) are convinced that the law is intended ‘to limit the West’s negative influence on our country’. Given that few knew of the law, people were asked of their reaction to the expression ‘foreign agent’. The following emerged: the expression has a wholly negative connotation for the population (despite all the assertions of the chair of the Constitutional Court that today the phrase has lost the negative connotation it had in the Soviet period). For almost 60% of those surveyed the expression has negative associations, for 30% - none in particular – and for 3% (yes, there are such) it has a positive meaning.

The most widespread category of notions connected with the expression ‘foreign agent’, which appeared when the survey used an open question (respondents answer without suggestions offered by the sociologists) is related to espionage: in this group a foreign agent is ‘a spy working for foreign intelligence,’ ‘a CIA guy,’ ‘a double agent,’ ‘a recruiter’, and ‘an infiltrator,’ and so on. These descriptions are shared by 45% of respondents.

The next most widely held group of notions, shared by 7% of respondents, is connected with ‘an enemy of the people’ (‘an enemy of Russia’, ‘traitor’, ‘renegade’), while 4% proffered neutral images associated with economic activities. For 3% of the population the term ‘foreign agent’ is associated with the James Bond and Stirlitz films.

Even the asking of questions relating to ‘foreign agents’ produced negative and aggressive responses from some.

Translated by Mary McAuley