A Clever Survey Reveals How Russians Really See Themselves

A new survey asking Russians how they think people abroad view them and their country is overly optimistic, revealing a "warped" sense of reality.

Coming into focus?
Coming into focus?
Sergei Goryashko

MOSCOW — A recent survey by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center that sought to measure how Russian citizens think people outside of their country view Russia has revealed what we can only call a "warped" view of reality.

Respondents were asked to rate different ideas on a scale of 1 (don't agree at all) to 5 (completely agree) about how Russia is viewed from outside. Here were the results:

People think Russia is an "interesting" country: 4.04 points

Russia is a country with "a strong government:" 3.92 points

Russia is "independent:" 3.79 points

Russia is "kind-hearted:" 3.81 points

Russia is "hospitable:" 3.74 points

Russia is "rich:" 3.71 points.

Russia is "tolerant:" 3.49 points

Russia is "friendly:" 3.7 points

Respondents were much less likely to say that the rest of the world has negative feelings about Russia and Russians.

Russia is "authoritarian:" 2.96 points

Russia is "stubborn:" 2.83 points

Russia is "wasteful:" 2.78 points

According to Olega Kamenchuk, head of communications for the research center, the survey was enlightening in terms of how Russians see themselves.

"This is the image that these citizens want to see," Kamenchuk says. "They think that people in Russia are interesting and warm-hearted, and they don't want to agree that people abroad see us as stubborn and angry."

She thinks that having a strong government and being independent are "one of the most important factors," and they want Russia to be perceived that way, which is why they so often said that foreigners think of Russia as strong and independent. In addition, Kamenchuk notes that few Russians travel abroad, so the majority don't know how the world really sees their home country.

"It's like people are looking in a warped mirror and seeing themselves in a way that doesn't reflect what they are really like," says Leontii Byizov, senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology at the Russian Academy of Sciences. "Citizens are absolutely not prepared for the reality, to learn what people really think of them."

For example, Russian citizens are not prepared to accept even a part of the responsibility for the Crimean and Ukrainian crises. "There is this aggressive opinion that Crimean was ours and we didn't do anything wrong by taking it back, and that the sanctions the West has instituted against Russia have only strengthened the feeling among many Russians that the West is bad and Russia is good."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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