William Pyle (Middlebury College): Russians’ “impressionable years”: life experience during the exit from communism and Putin-era beliefs
This paper presents evidence that Russia’s illiberal turn under Putin may, in part, be a legacy of the lived experience of Russians during the country’s exit from communism. While others have surmised as much, this paper may be the first to use survey evidence to connect Russians’ individual experiences during the late-Gorbachev and early-Yeltsin years to beliefs espoused during the Putin era over a decade later. Drawing on the 2006 wave of the Life in Transition Survey, I show that a range of illiberal attitudes – including diminished support for markets and democracy and a stronger affinity for “law and order” – can be partly explained by one’s experience with economic hardship, specifically wage cuts and/or arrears, in the half decade from 1989 to 1994. Labor market disruptions of this sort over the subsequent decade, surprisingly, bear no such relationship to beliefs in 2006. I do not observe these patterns elsewhere in post-communist Eurasia. Though an explanation is difficult to pin down, a preliminary hypothesis is that Russians were uniquely impressionable during this “exit from communism” period. The disposal of old truths, the dysfunction in the economy, and, importantly, the dissolution of the Soviet empire were particularly disorienting for those living in the country in which communism first took root. Life experiences during these years of instability, uncertainty, and diminished status left a uniquely deep impression. A difference-in-difference analysis of World Values Survey data from 1990 and 1995 complements this finding.
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