On 27 February 2013 Moscow's independent bi-monthly, Bolshoi Gorod (Big City), published a long feature, "Why is Everything the Way It Is? Scientists Answer 15 Eternal Russian Questions." Bolshoi Gorod is an intellectual magazine that writes on Moscow's lifestyle and major trends. With an 81,500 circulation, it is a partner with such opposition-leaning media outlets as Slon.ru (Elephant) and TV Dozhd (Rain). This particular feature consists of 15 questions and individual responses from different experts.
The accompanying excerpts show an amazingly candid discussion within the Russian middle class. The 15 questions include: "Why do we love so much to look for enemies?"; "Why is the idea of a 'special path' so popular among us?"; "Why can't we fix corruption?"; "Why do [caregivers] in Russia yell at children?"; "Why do people always blame the authorities but make excuses for the main ruler?"; and "Why is everyone rude?" These questions go to the heart of Russia's current political, social, and cultural problems. Such an honest and open discussion about them in print is significant.
Equally candid are the responses. For example, answering the question about Russia's "special path," sociologist Alexei Levinson says that when comparing Russia to the West—Russia's chosen ideal—Russia loses "hopelessly." That, he says, is painful and upsetting, "[a]nd we want to make it so that it is not upsetting."
To give another example, in response to the question about looking for external enemies, teacher-psychologist Lyudmila Petranovskaya attributes this to a famous psychological response, projection, i.e., looking for external enemies when an internal problem is too intolerable to admit and accept. Projection, she says, could also be based on simple personal interest, "[f]or example, if you steal in your country, you need to somehow explain this to the people, why given the enormous volumes of oil dollars people still live in barracks and why there are no normal roads."
These expert comments confirm a kind of Russian "awakening," and frustration with Russia's status quo, which many experts have noted since the December 2011 parliamentary elections that led to massive protests in Russia. The demonstrators were primarily urban middle class and protested against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his United Russia Party. They stand in contrast to the rural lower class, Putin's support base.
The split within the Russian society between these two groups is important. Prominent expert Lilia Shevtsova, senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office, observed in February 2012, on the eve of Russia's presidential election, "Never before has Putin taken the desperate step of stirring up confrontation in society under the slogan 'Russia against Moscow.'"
Boloshoi Gorod, reportedly, will be closing down, joining a large number of independent media that have recently closed down or fired prominent journalists to prove loyalty to the Kremlin. Yet the social debate on such core issues as the ones discussed in this article is unlikely to go away—it is too much out in the open now. The fissure between the elite and the lower class in Russia over issues such as the ones discussed in Bolshoi Gorod may soon reach the tipping point.