Voices from Russia: Society, Democracy, Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Most Russians do not consider themselves European and almost half of them view the EU as a threat, according to the findings of a research project carried out by the EU-Russia Centre think-tank.

The drift away from Europe since the end of communism “must be of concern for the EU, and helping to reverse this trend should be a priority for the Union”, according to Fraser Cameron, the EU-Russia Centre Director, especially condidering the increasing inder-dependent nature of their trade and energy relationship.

The survey shows that while Russians, like Europeans place great value on the importance of human rights, there are differing views in Russia from those in Europe about how these fundamental rights can be secured.  “Whilst Europeans consider human rights, the rule of law and respect for private property to be inextricably linked with a democratic society, democracy for Russians does not have the same positive association – and many Russians do not understand democracy at all”, says Cameron.

In addition, similar concerns and confusions are expressed about the Western market system and in particular, about privatisation, which is “closely associated with greed, corruption and dishonesty”.

Cameron says that given this scepticism over two such fundamental elements of European society, “it is unsurprising that Russians’ overall perception of Europe is negative”, indeed far from being a positive influence and role model for Russia “Europe is considered first and foremost to be responsible for exploitation of Russia’s mineral and intellectual resources”.

He concludes by saying that in light of the ongoing negotiations over a new partnership and cooperation agreement there is “an increasing need for constructive dialogue based on recognition of core values.  Without this understanding the relationship will be clouded by distrust and misunderstanding and opportunities for mutual gain will be missed.”

“Under no circumstances should it [the EU] accept, as some responses to the survey indicate, that democracy is ‘not for Russia’.  Democracy is for all,” Cameron concludes.

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