In a recent post, I discussed the spiritual malaise which afflicted the Russian people during the Soviet era, leading to rampant alcoholism and early death. If anybody doubts that contemporary Russia is successfully overcoming this malaise, then the results of two surveys published last week should enlighten them.
The first survey was produced by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre, VTsIOM (Vserossiiskii Tsentr Izucheniia Obshchestvennogo Mneniia). Its overall index subtracts the percentage of people dissatisfied with their lives from those fully or partly satisfied. As seen from the results below, the overall index has declined from a peak one year ago (perhaps associated with a Crimean annexation feel-good factor), but within that index the percentage of Russians declaring that they are ‘fully or mostly’ satisfied with their lives is currently just below the all-time high registered in February of this year, and nearly twice what it was ten years ago. It seems that Russians are lot happier than they used to be.
|In general is your life in good order or not?|
|Fully or mostly||24||24||24||25||24||32||29||40||36||43||50||52||50|
|Partly, partly not||38||42||43||46||44||43||42||38||40||42||30||27||28|
|Definitely not, or mostly not||39||33||31||28||31||25||29||21||23||14||18||20||20|
|Difficult to tell||–||1||2||1||1||2||1||1||5||–||2||1||2|
The second survey is the so-called ‘Smiling Report’, described as ‘an annual evaluation of how warmly shoppers are greeted around the world.’ This is based upon the reports of mystery shoppers who record whether staff smile at them. According to the latest results, ‘Russia has come 15th out of 69 countries for the friendliness of its customer service … Analysts and industry insiders say that Russia’s approach to customer service has drastically changed in the last 10 years – a period that has seen its “smile index” increase by almost 100 percent.’
For anybody who can remember the surly, uncooperative, even downright hostile lack of service which characterized the Soviet Union, this is a remarkable transformation, and I think that it is one which has wider societal ramifications. The surly sales clerk may, in some respects, be more honest than the polite one who smiles while secretly thinking how much she hates her job and what a jerk you are, but universal rudeness makes for depressing days. Soviet surliness was at the same time both symptomatic of the country’s spiritual malaise and a cause of it: ground down by the system, people abused what little power they had, while the general atmosphere of unpleasantness made daily life for everybody just that much more miserable.
Analyses of contemporary Russia tend to focus on high politics, in particular the autocratic tendencies of the central government. The sociological data tell an interesting story as well. Despite its manifold problems, compared with its past Russia seems to be an increasingly good place to live for ordinary people.