Monday, February 14, 2005

What do Russians prefer?

This does sound like one of those rather open-ended questions in a particularly lugubrious Russian poem. In fact, it is close to the one the nineteenth century poet Nekrasov did ask: Who can live happily in Russia? Our readers will not be surprised to hear that the answer after many verses of misery was: nobody. Nekrasov pretty well drank himself to death at a reasonably early age.

One of the web publications we are linked to, the wholly estimable EUObserver has decided to join the “let’s all knock America by saying how everybody prefers the EU” brigade.

An article by Elitsa Vucheva tells us that according to a poll conducted by the Yuri Levada Analytical Centre between 21 and 24 January in which 1600 Russian adults were asked, 74 per cent answered the rather bizarre question “Do you have positive or negative feelings towards the European Union” by saying that their feelings were positive. 14 per cent said they did not like it.

When it came to the USA, only 61 per cent said they had positive feelings towards it. (These were clearly not the people who told the BBC that they thought President Bush was the greatest threat to world peace since Genghis Khan.)

Well, I guess, this will not alarm the Americans unduly and the discrepancy between the figures may be accounted for by a certain tightening of rules on American visas issued to Russians after a number of high-profile fraud and criminal cases.

There is, however, another aspect to this: I have spoken to many Russians, read the newspapers regularly, have visited the country (until the Foreign Ministry decided not to give me a visa any more) and have taken part in various programmes for BBC Russian Service in Moscow.

The one lesson I have drawn from all that is the lack of knowledge and, indeed, interest of the European Union in Russia and among Russians. Europe they know and, no doubt, feel positive about. Individual countries they know and feel either positive or negative about (mostly positive). United States or America, ditto. But a question about the European Union would not evoke much of a mental echo.

I would dearly like to have a little chat with the people at the Yuri Levada Analytical Centre to find out what the responses were really before they were processed into a suitable data.

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