To Stem Moral Decline, Russians Look to Family, School and State, Not to the Church, Study Finds


Sensing that their society may be sinking into an irreversible moral decline, Russians are far more inclined to look to the family, school, and state for a way out of this situation than to organized religion, according to a series of recent sociological surveys.

According to one poll, Leonid Chupry writes in a survey of both Russian concerns and Russian proposals of which institutions could best help address this problem,67 percent pointed to the family, 48 percent to the school, 45 percent to state power, and 28 percent to the media. Only 18 percent mentioned religious groups (

Chupry provides a disturbing set of indicators of the moral decline of Russian society over the last few decades, a period during which he, the director of the Genesis Center of Social-Political Reswearch, says, “society [has lost]its cultural traditions which had served as a moral anchor.”

Faced with this societal tragedy, many are calling for creating “a national idea,” but that will not be enough, Chupry argues. Instead, he insists that there is a need to increase punishments so that people will be less inclined to ignore legal and moral precepts, punishments that only the state can impose in many cases.

According to Chupry, “the level of theft in Russia now exceeds all imaginable limits.” And he gives as an example the case of the construction of the Eastern Siberian-Pacific pipeline. For that project alone, those involved stole four million US dollars –an amount that works out to approximately 35 US dollars for every adult in the country.

Many have mistakenly thought that as Russians become richer, they will steal less, Chupry says, but in fact, there is no link between theft and wealth. Instead, the amount of theft “directly depends” on the harshness of punishment.” Where punishments are severe and certain, there is less theft.

Several years ago, he points out, 1,000 Muscovites were polled about these issues. Fifty-eight percent of them agreed with the assertion that Russians “live in a society of selfishness, a lack of spirituality, one in which moral norms are forgotten.” And 66 percent of those polled said that the situation “could lead to serious social disturbances in the future.”

Experts like religious affairs analyst Roman Silantyev said that the findings would have been even more disturbing if this investigation had tapped opinions across Russia and not just in Moscow. Indeed, Chupry says, Silantyev said that Russians “unfortunately” are now close to a situation in which there are simply no values beyond greed and fear.

Other commentators on the results of this poll, Chupry said, drew other conclusions. Some suggested that they showed “an obvious social demand” for a more active role on the part of the state in moral instruction, while others noted that the results suggested people doubt the efficacy of the traditional channels of moral instruction like the church.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, Chupry says is that compared to other nations, Russians are much more prepared to declare that “an individual can violate the law and be right to do so.” Those who say that violating the law is impermissible in all cases, he notes, have been about 10 to 15 percent throughout the last 15 years.

To cope with this situation, Chupry makes six recommendations. First, there must be “an effective dialogue between the powers and the people.” Second, the legal code must be toughened to defend morality. Third, the principles of social justice must guide the actions of the powers that be.

Fourth, there must be a positive effort to “decriminalize” Russian society. Fifth, there must be an effort to create “an effective system” to educate the rising generation. And sixth, there must be “an active rebirth of morality through religious institutions” both to increase their authority and to try to save the situation of Russian society as a whole.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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