The Magic Mirror of Russian Public Opinion

In medieval Europe, the global language was Latin; in the East, Chinese hieroglyphs. Today, millennials everywhere– this writer among them– have their very own universal language: references to “Harry Potter”.

The initial Harry Potter book presented the enchanting Mirror of Erised, which showed a various reflection per person that stood prior to it– what that individual wanted most. For example, the legend’s hero, an orphan, saw his moms and dads mirrored in the mirror.

The Mirror of Erised may be the very best metaphor for popular opinion in modern Russia under Putin. What we see in it exists and at the same time does not. That is, everyone who looks into the mirror of public opinion locates what he constantly expected to locate. As well as no 2 people ever before see the very same point.

Take the most current top-level instance. The big chain of trendy grocery stores Vkusvill has actually run in Russia (generally in big cities) for greater than 10 years. Oriented in the direction of the middle course and also progressive youth, they sell locally-sourced fruit and vegetables with a focus on the health and wellness and also nutritional value of their items.

Towards the end of June, the chain posted on its web site and social media sites materials with the theme ‘family members happiness’, with photos as well as stories of numerous family members. Included was a tale about 2 girls hoping to marry.

It was truly nothing special. For several years, LGBT lobbyists the world over have commemorated June as Pride Month, and also every year a lot more brands and companies show their assistance. There has also arised such a term as ‘rainbow-washing’, for when businesses make use of rainbow flags as a marketing ploy with no real definition.

But for today’s Russia, VkusVill’s act (which, I repeat, was a write-up on a business website) struck like a lightning screw on a hot, dry summer day. In a nation where homophobia has handled a practically main personality, where the last six months have seen the remains of road national politics and public discussion run over by a steamroller, it motivated a real tornado of feeling, both favorable as well as unfavorable.

The progressive part of the audience (younger, better educated, staying in large cities) applauded the grocery store chain’s “heroic” act. Vkusvill was “cherished”, “the very best” food store around. Customers promised their timeless loyalty. The conventional part of the audience, naturally, reacted with condemnation. Brand name representatives on social networks handled the action well.

After that something failed.

On July 4, the write-up and also pictures were suddenly deleted. Something unusual appeared in their area: a declaration authorized by VkusVill’s founder and eleven leading supervisors. Here’s the relevant quote: “This page formerly included an article which much of our customers, vendors, companions, as well as workers discovered offensive. We regret that this occurred as well as think about the magazine our error, which arised from the unprofessionalism of private employees.”

They included that the purpose of their firm was to give buyers with fresh, delicious food, “not to publish write-ups sharing any type of political or social views.” Stores noted their desire “not to become sources of hate as well as discord,” as well as used their “sincere apologies” of what had actually occurred.

In actual mins, the situation was entirely reversed. Those who just yesterday had vowed the brand name their unequaled love and also registered for its commitment card now demonstratively destroyed those cards on video camera and also banged the chain on social media, threatening a boycott.

Whether there will certainly be a boycott, and also if such a boycott would certainly be successful, is hard to say. No previous effort by the dynamic component of Russian culture has ever before done well.

What I locate intriguing here is something else– the very different understandings of public opinion that developed among each of the participants in this story.

The full series of feasible analyses was on display: from those persuaded that the frustrating bulk of Russians were “caveman homophobes”, to those who assumed all the first unfavorable remarks were composed by crawlers as well as the choice to erase the write-up was taken just after a specific call from “up top”.

Couple of will certainly confess honestly, but the truth is that in Russia, every observer, blog writer, reporter– any person on social media sites– operates his own suggestion of what public opinion is. That is, we all check into our very own Mirrors of Erised.

Some might take comfort in thinking themselves component of an informed minority, surrounded on all sides by spear-shaking savages. Others may find it pleasant to think that everybody around them has actually long arrived at the very same, proper understanding.

The boundaries of truth are blurred because our understandings of societal standards are themselves created and subject to change. Today’s Russia does not have much of the tools characteristic of many western nations to return people to a common truth.

For a start, Russia has no real elections. The legislative political elections readied to take place in two months do not certify, not with several candidates simply not allowed to register and others struck down by criminal examinations. Neither is it a given that the votes permitted will certainly be precisely counted.

If there were political elections, we might find out the number of individuals would support a homophobic event and also the number of a pro-LGBT one. So it is in Poland and Hungary, for instance. Russia does not have that.

Nor does Russia have absolutely independent journalism offering the entire of society. Yes, there are still some information outlets holding on by a string, waiting nervously for their resort to be pronounced ‘foreign representatives’. Yet that is inadequate to stand up a mirror to society or develop an usual understanding of life because culture.

Ultimately, Russia does not have normal social scientific researches. There are absolutely good social researchers, yet no social scientific researches. This comes from the truth that in a half-authoritarian culture built in huge part on pretension and fake info, people are reluctant to reveal their true ideas to job interviewers. Or certainly to anyone at all, not least themselves.

Our situation is special and potentially extremely unsafe. Everyone in Russia, from man in the streets to political bigwigs, has his own magical Mirror of Erised. Considering it, each utilizes his very own instinct to reason regarding the point of views of others. All of us cope with the results.

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