COVID-19 skepticism in Russia and its potential political effects

This spring our project seminars, where we talk about various issues, including electoral malpractice, cyber-security, and political consequences in Russia and beyond, returned with a presentation given on 31st of March by Margarita Zavadskaya. In her talk “COVID-19 skepticism in Russia and its potential political effects”, Margarita talked about the research she is conducting now with Boris Sokolov, the senior research fellow at LCSR HSE.

In this study, they explore how various socio-demographic attributes, values, attitudes, and personality traits of COVID-19 skeptics differ from those of the rest of the Russian population, finding several interesting contrasts in terms of values, trust, and political attitudes. The researchers use data collected during the first round of the international online panel survey “Values in Crisis” (in short ViC; fieldwork mid-June 2020, N = 1527). They operationalize COVID-skepticism as support for the idea that the Corona pandemic is a hoax and that all the lockdown measures are a hysterical overreaction, indicated by 38% of our respondents. Moreover, being a coronasceptic is a stronger predictor of political trust and political support than all the other pandemic-related variables available in the ViC questionnaire and most socio-demographic characteristics.

The comments to the research were provided by Anna Tarasenko, visiting researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki and docent at the Department of Political Science and International Affairs, Higher School of Economics Saint Petersburg.

If you missed the seminar, you can watch the recording of it below:

#FreeNavalny campaign

Alexey Navalny has been more than two months behind the bars already, after his return from post-poisoning rehabilitation in Germany. His supporters back in February promised to resume the protests in spring, and now they plan to organise new and unprecedented street protests.

Margarita Zavadskaya was one of the experts whom openDemocracy interviewed about the forthcoming protests – how efficient the new campaign could be? According to Zavadskaya, Navalny’s team strategy is well-justified: such visualisation of the opposition supporters will send a signal not only to the authorities, but also other people who maybe are afraid to go to the streets yet – now they will be able to see that they are not alone. And as we know, the more people attend rallies, the more costly it is for the authorities to repress them.

Read the full version of the article in Russian online.

Blaming the government in the times of pandemic: Effects of unemployment in the EU

The COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the primary function of any government to produce corresponding policies. Despite managing day-to-day administration, executives now should handle the Corona crisis, lockdowns, border closure, and vaccination campaigns. The pandemic context created a window of opportunity for some national executives to exercise extra power and, in certain cases, violate democratic standards (Lührmann, Edgell, and Maerz 2020). Considering this trend, the question is how citizens hold governments accountable for the economic consequences of the current crisis?  Valeria Caras analyzes the relationships between governmental trust and economic indicators in the pandemic context in the previous post. In this text, a mediator in this causal mechanism is added. As such, the impact of unemployment on trust levels is determined by the clarity of governmental responsibility – an indicator measuring how much control the cabinets exercise. 

The link between economy and trust attribution is not as straightforward as it may seem. Although it is acknowledged that people reelect incumbents or punish them in terms of support loss depending on the economic situation, the political factors intervene in this interaction, making blame attribution more complicated (Powell and Whitten 1993). This causal mechanism of economic voting depends on institutional design and the cohesiveness of governmental composition. The basic logic looks as follows: the fewer choices are available, the stronger is the economy’s impact on trust (Anderson 2000). 

Systems with proportional representation and multiple parties, multilevel governance, and institutions with exceptionally balanced powers blur responsibility, causing a challenge for citizens to link actors and policies (Anderson 2006). As such, consensual democracies allow higher representation and are characterized by a more complex institutional design that ensures higher governmental trust levels (Listhaug, Aardal, and Ellis 2009).

In contrast, majoritarian two-party systems with enhanced roles of the executive provide more accountability. Still, they tend to suffer from lower levels of trust in authorities since it is more evident for voters whom to blame for a crisis. The basic institutional design’s role appears to be significant contextually, while recent empirical studies reveal the undermined role of institutional clarity (Dassonneville and Lewis-Beck 2017). The reason is that voters adapt to the complex institutional structure prevalent in modern democratic systems overlooking it, and focusing on evaluations of national executives instead (Hobolt, Tilley, and Banducci 2013). Besides, this study is based on EU member states which, despite having different institutional characteristics are all multi-party systems with a limited institutional variation.  In such case, greater interest is presented by governmental clarity – “the cohesiveness of the incumbent government at a concrete moment,” shaped by such indicators as the presence of the single-party, majority vs. minority coalitions, ideological polarization, and the effective number of parties (Anderson 2006; Nadeau, Niemi, and Yoshinaka 2002; Hobolt, Tilley, and Banducci 2013). 

The compound index of these indicators illustrates how polarized or united the current national government is and the extent to which it can control policymaking. The decision-making deadlocks are more common in a relatively ideologically divergent and oversized with multiple parties governments (Lijphart 2012). The impact of governmental composition on trust follows the same logic as institutional design: higher levels of government cohesion undermine trust and enhance punishments for a recession (Hobolt, Tilley, and Banducci 2013). While the previous research found some support for the impact of clarity and economy on trust, this relationship remains understudied in crisis times. The context of the Corona pandemic with the enhanced role of executives offers an opportunity for such analysis.

I evaluate the relationship between trust in governments and clarity of governmental responsibility based on the Eurofound (2020) survey conducted in the EU member states. The concept of trust was measured by the standard survey question on how much a respondent trusts the current government on a 1 – 10 scale where one is ‘Do not trust at all’ and ten is ‘Fully trust’. The clarity of responsibility is a compound index that consists of four indicators: the effective number of parties, polarization, single-party or coalition government, and the percentage of seats held by the Prime-Minister’s party. The index varies from 0 to 1, where zero is the least precise composition, and one is the clearest. In general, the composition of the  EU governments on the pandemic’s onset is closer to the more blurred threshold since the index’s mean value is 0.41 across countries. However, three outliers have a relatively high value of the index: Denmark, Romania, and Greece. In these countries, prime-ministers’ parties managed to form single-party governments run by the Social-Democrats in Denmark, National Liberal Party in Romania, and New Democracy in Greece[1].

Assuming that clarity of responsibility acts as a moderator in the mechanism of trust attribution for the economic downturn, I modeled the interaction between the compound index and job loss during the pandemic. Previously, I found a negative impact of unemployment on trust. For instance, the permanently unemployed respondents distrust the authorities to the most significant degree. Trust is higher among individuals who lost the market position temporarily and those who kept the jobs. Adding governmental responsibility to the relationship supports the previous findings. However, the trust’s divergences are minor when the clarity of responsibility is lower. People face difficulties assigning responsibility for economic outcomes in systems with polarized and less cohesive governments. The discrepancies between employment are visible in contexts with higher clarity of responsibility. Respondents who did not lose jobs or lost them temporarily trust higher in contexts where governments are united and less polarized. In contrast, permanently unemployed due to the pandemic, experience a greater distrust in such conditions blaming more cohesive cabinets for their losses. 

Figure 1. Predicted trust in governments by the interaction between clarity of responsibility index and losing job during the pandemic[2].

Source: author’s calculation of marginal effects obtained from the multilevel regression model

I demonstrate that trust formation during crises diverges from peaceful times. While in ordinary times, trust is supposed to be lower under more united and cohesive governments who bear responsibility for policies, this outcome proves to be valid only for respondents who lost the job permanently.  The harsh economic circumstances push them to blame incumbents when it is more evident to understand the governmental balance of power. Temporarily unemployed and employed individuals, in contrast, appreciate the united and coherent actors who can manage the pandemic. Such groups value the certainty over ambiguity and may experience the ‘rally around the leaders’ effect’ (e.g., Yam et al. 2020). Overall, these findings partially contradict the economic voting literature showing that higher clarity leads to lower governmental support (Hobolt, Tilley, and Banducci 2013). This mechanism coincides with the theory only for respondents who lost the job permanently. 

[1] Cabinets composition accounts for the period of the survey April – July 2020. Note that in Romania, the new coalition cabinet was formed in December 2020, consisting of the National Liberal Party, USR-PLUS Alliance, and Democratic Union of Hungarians (Casal Bértoa, F. 2021).

[2] The interaction effect between clarity index and losing a job is statistically significant (p-value <0.001**, t-statistic). The confidence intervals are computed on a 90% level and are overlapped due to the low difference between employment levels on the segment with low values of clarity index.

Russia #FreeNavalny Protests: Toilet Brushes and Akvadiskoteka

Margarita Zavadskaya has contributed to the latest episode of “Talk about power” podcast “Russia #FreeNavalny Protests: Toilet Brushes and Akvadiskoteka”.

Walter and Macon talk to Russian opposition figures and organizers affiliated Alexei Navalny’s political network about the recent #FreeNavalny protests. Why are Russians protesting? How does the opposition organize? Why is corruption such a potent issue in Russia? What does this mean for Putin’s hold on power? Walter and Macon conclude with takeaways for U.S. policymakers and others in the West.

You can listen to the episode below:

Introduction of our keynotes – part two

We continue to present the keynote speakers at our October International workshop “Electoral Integrity and Malpractice in Russia and Beyond: New Challenges and Responses”. Today we want to introduce you to the rest of our brilliant speaker group. If you want to hear their talks and discuss your research with them, make sure to apply for the workshop – the call is open until the 1st of June.

Our third keynote speaker is Åbo Akademi University Research Fellow Inga Saikkonen. Dr. Saikkonen specialises in electoral authoritarianism, electoral manipulation, and democratic developments.  Her latest publications are dedicated to how the COVID-19 affects democracyauthoritarian capacity, and electoral manipulation.  At the workshop, Inga Saikkonen will give a talk “Asymmetrical Effects: The Subnational Electoral Geography of Authoritarian Regime Stability”, which is based on the paper she is co-authoring with Assistant Professor Allison White from Colorado State University:

How do changes in subnational politics impact the stability of authoritarian regimes? Previous research has examined the spatial heterogeneity of support for authoritarian regimes and has argued that regime stability depends, at least in part, on the mobilization of support in key subnational strongholds. However, existing scholarship has not examined the electoral ramifications of changes in the relationship between the center and those important subnational constituencies. When the relationship between the center and key subnational actors changes significantly, how are the regime’s electoral fortunes affected? Why do authoritarian regimes pursue strategies with respect to key domestic allies that may jeopardize their electoral support? We examine these questions with fine-grained electoral and census data from one of the world’s most prominent authoritarian regimes–the Russian Federation–to evaluate the potentially far-reaching consequences of the Putin regime’s recent political campaign against its former domestic allies. In this paper, we compare the patterns of electoral support in four most recent national legislative and presidential elections to uncover implications for Russian electoral politics and the durability of the Putin regime. Our results highlight the importance of subnational political structures in securing electoral support for the current regime. Our paper also contributes to the broader literature on electoral politics in authoritarian regimes.

Our next keynote speaker is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Ora John Reuter. His research interests include comparative political institutions, authoritarianism, elections, democratisation, comparative political economy, and Russian politics. Professor Reuter is the author of the book the Origins of Dominant Parties: Building Authoritarian Institutions in Post-Soviet Russia and the recent papers on Clientelist Appeals and Voter Turnout in Russia and Venezuela; Protest Coordination in Authoritarian Regimes. At the workshop, Ora John Reuter will give a presentation “The Demand for Democracy: How Voters React to the Cancellation of Local Elections in Russia”:

One feature of democratic decline in Russia has been the cancellation of elections at the regional and local levels. How do voters react to these reforms? Does the cancellation of elections affect their approval of the regime? Why or why not? This paper utilizes the largest dataset on public opinion ever assembled in Russia–containing almost 2 million polling responses drawn from two decades of polling by Russia’s top polling agencies–to analyze how the cancellation of elections in Russia’s large cities has affected public attitudes toward the authorities.

And our last but absolutely not least keynote speaker is Katalin Miklóssy, a Senior Researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute and Lecturer at the University of Helsinki. Katalin specialises in political history, nationalism and identity building, strategic culture, and the Central and Eastern European region. Dr. Miklóssy works as an expert evaluating research projects for the EURIAS, the Austrian Science Fund, and Baltic Sea Fund. Her recent publications are dedicated to Subregional Integration in East-Central Europe and Strategic Culture in Russia’s Neighborhood.  At the workshop, you can listen to her talk “Electoral adaptability in the Eastern EU”:

The current European concern about how to tackle the apparent erosion of the rule of law in the Eastern members of the EU has calibrated the focus on elections as the main democratic instrument of changing power-holders. Much less attention has been directed to ways in which contemporary illiberal leaderships apply to maximize their chances for staying in power. It can be argued that preparation for and proceedings of elections display a remarkable flexibility, designed to adapt to fast changing pressures coming from below or from the international arena. The administrations’ ability to react to upcoming challenges are partly due to their openness to networking with each other and resembling regimes. In addition, the Pandemic gave an extra opportunity to boost authoritarian tendencies especially because Western democracies applied also shortcuts in parliamentary decision-making, limited civic freedoms and rescheduled elections as crisis management. This provided an unexpected point of reference to apply new argumentative means, which became suddenly available for illiberal elites.


We are very proud to have such distinguished experts as our keynote speakers and we cannot wait to see them all at our October International workshop!

Introduction of our first keynotes

Our ElMaRB team is preparing the International workshop “Electoral Integrity and Malpractice in Russia and Beyond: New Challenges and Responses”, which is going to take part in October 2021. We would like to remind you that the call for papers is open until the 1st of June, and we are waiting for your submissions through e-lomake.

At the workshop, we will have an excellent panel of Keynote speakers, and today we would like to present you the first two – Professor Norbert Kersting and Professor Vladimir Gel’man.

Norbert Kersting is a Professor in Comparative Political Science at Local Muenster University and Chair of Comparative Political Science – Municipal and Regional Politics’. His research focuses on comparative political science, political culture, modern instruments to promote political participation and discourse, local politics, parliamentarism, e-democracy, regional integration, and sport. He published various articles and books, such as the edited book “Electronic democracy” (2012) in the IPSA series: World of Political science. He co-authored a book on “Local Governance reform in global perspective” (VS-Springer 2009).

During the workshop, Professor Kersting will give a talk “Direct Democracy and Integrity. Russia and beyond”. Here is the abstract of his presentation:

Referendums at used in modern authoritarian systems as well as in democracies. The new Direct Democracy Integrity Index is a newly developed empirical instrument to evaluate the variety and integrity of referendums. Based on the electoral cycle a referendum cycle was defined in order to evaluate the implementation and the integrity of referendums. It covers electoral laws and electoral procedures as well as thematic limitations of referendums in different political systems. It highlights voter registration and the initiation of referendums. It focuses on campaign and media coverage as well as on campaign financing. Furthermore, the voting process itself, the post referendums vote count, and the role of the electoral authorities are important areas for evaluation. The new instrument was used to analyse constitutional referendum as in the Turkish, Russia, etc. What is the level of integrity in Russia and elsewhere? Where is integrity and what kind of malpractices exist?

Our next Keynote speaker, Vladimir Gel’man, is a Professor of Russian Politics at Aleksanteri Institute and a Professor at the European University at St.Petersburg, focusing on political regime dynamics, political institutions, governance and policy-making, elections, governance, and policy conduct in Russia and post-Soviet Eurasia, political parties, and political protests, and sub-national politics in Russia. Vladimir holds the Russian Political Science Association Award and is the author of various articles and books on post-Soviet politics. His latest research is dedicated to Authoritarian Modernization in Post-Soviet Russiabad governance during the COVID-19 pandemic in Russia.

The participants of the workshop will get a chance to hear Professor Gel’man’s presentation “Governing Authoritarian Elections: The Case of Russia”:

The mechanisms of electoral governance under authoritarianism aimed at preservation of political monopoly under the guise of multi-party and multi-candidate contest. However, the very framework of legal regulations and their implementation relied upon numerous political and institutional devices, carefully chosen and arranged on the basis of “menu of manipulations”, typical for some electoral authoritarian regimes. Under such conditions, regimes employs the combination of high barriers, vague norms, biased enforcement of rules, and top-down mechanisms of control. Russia demonstrated the evolution of mechanisms of electoral governance towards near-elimination of very possibilities for unwanted electoral results. Still, these mechanisms are imperfect, as they perform at the expense of legitimacy of elections and not always prevents undesired outcomes. This is why authoritarian elections is a risky game, vulnerable to disequilibrium, observed in the wake of post-election protests in 2011-2012. Based on this perspective, I will discuss the experience of elections in Russia since the Soviet collapse until the State Duma elections of 2021.

Follow our blog and ElMaRB’s LinkedIn to get all the updates on the workshop.

Workshop on coronavirus pandemic’s effects on Russian society

Today HSE SPb organises a workshop “Coronavirus pandemic: new challenges for socio-political relationships in Russia”. During the workshop, the experts will discuss the research results of the effect of COVID-19 pandemic on various aspects of social and political life in Russia. Margarita Zavadskaya gives two presentations with Boris Sokolov (HSE SPb). In the first presentation, they outline a socio-psychological portrait of a typical COVID skeptic. In the second one, the researchers describe the determinants of political support and institutional trust in Russia during the pandemic.

Margarita and Boris demonstrate that Russia and the post-Soviet space, in general, are leaders in covid-skepticism among ten countries included in the “Values in Сrisis” survey. One explanation of this outcome may be the communism past, but the causal mechanism is ambiguous and requires further research. The researchers compose a portrait of a typical COVID skeptic in Russia. The dissidents are individuals who believe in the mysterious nature of the COVID-19. Commonly, these are more regularly men than women with an average level of education living in a medium or small town. Covid-skepticism prevails among respondents who distrust institutions, government, and traditional media to a greater extent. This group is more pessimistic and expects the Russian economy to shrink dramatically because of the pandemic. Counter-intuitively, covid-dissidents are less conservative and more open to risk. Facing the virus personally undermines skepticism while experiencing financial problems due to the restrictive measures acts as stimuli to a more significant skepticism.

If you want to learn more about Zavadskaya’s and Sokolov’s research, you can read the new article “How did Russian society react to Covid-19?” on Riddle.

Coronavirus exacerbated fundamental problems that had accumulated before the pandemic

Margarita Zavadskaya gave an interview to “European dialogue”, which was published yesterday in the article “Coronavirus exacerbated fundamental problems that had accumulated before the pandemic” (Коронавирус обострил фундаментальные проблемы, которые накопились до пандемии). Despite the pandemic (or because of it?), the year 2020 was full of protests. Dr. Zavadskaya was asked to reflect upon the new protest trends, her answers in Russian can be found online. Read this insightful interview to find out how the imposed during the pandemic restrictions affect mobilisations, what is the difference between protests in authoritarian regimes and democracies, and what is the fate of long-term protesting.

How unemployment and perceptions of the economy affect political trust in times of the Corona crisis?

Declared in response to the Corona crisis states of emergencies had enforced the role of the executive, placing the national governments on the first line of pandemic management. Considering the unprecedented character of the situation, some governments have experienced the ‘rally around the flag’ phenomenon – the rise of support during an external crisis while others have been faced with ‘hyper accountability’ – a severe punishment by the population for an economic downturn and pandemic’s consequences. In the pandemic’s complexity where healthcare and economic crises are linked together, it is ambiguous what factors impact trust formation. In this post, Valeria Caras focuses on economic factors as financial perceptions and unemployment from the comparative perspective. Valeria is ElMaRB project intern and a master’s student of the European and Nordic Studies programme at the University of Helsinki.

Trust in governments and economic performance

The economy acts as a deriving point for citizens to punish or reward governments in the elections (Powell and Whitten, 1993; Nadeau et al., 2002). When the economy is in recession, unemployment rises, and people earn less, they start to distrust governments and are less likely to vote for the incumbents in the next elections.

During the external shocks, the performance of the economic voting and economy’s impact on trust is sometimes reinforced. The harsh economic downturn can bring significant cuts in the healthcare provisions, austerity measures that enforce social vulnerability, and as a consequence, undermine the levels of trust. The political trust falls due to the unfulfillment of peoples’ demands for higher social protection during the hard times when governments do not introduce enough expansive economic instruments (Kumlin, Stadelmann-Steffen, and Haugsgjerd 2017).

However, the economic perceptions usually deteriorate not immediately as the crisis has started but after the recession accelerates. On the initial stage of the international crisis, people might experience the ‘rally around the flag’ effect – consolidation around the leaders contributing to the rise of their popularity (Mueller 1970). The recent research on pandemic has revealed a strong significant relationship between daily cases of COVID-19 and the approval of eleven world leaders in majoritarian systems, explaining it by the ‘rallying effect’ (Yam et al. 2020); a general increase of both specific and diffuse support in Western Europe (Bol et al. 2020); higher institutional and interpersonal trust on the initial stage of the pandemic in Sweden (Esaiasson et al. 2020). ‘Rally around the flag’ crops up due to limited access to information, decreasing open criticism of the incumbent in the unknown situation (Baker and Oneal 2001), and is characterized by the weakened role of the economic performance evaluations (Schraff 2020). Although the societies can unite around the leaders and governments in the early stage of the pandemic, the rally is usually relatively short-lived in time and may differ between groups. The economic decline coming after strict lockdown policies and the rise of unemployment may cause the harsh punishment of incumbents called in the literature  ‘hyper accountability’ (Roberts 2008). The phenomenon was studied on examples of the Central and Eastern European countries which experienced the harmful transition to the market. The region’s elections are still characterized by ‘hyper accountability’ since incumbents systematically receive significantly fewer votes than in established Western democracies (Jastramskis, Kuokštis, and Baltrukevičius 2019). Facing economic and social consequences of the anti-covid policies, people might become more critical to the governments and judge them for economic performance.

Is it ‘rallying’ or ‘hyper-accountability’ in the EU countries?

The ongoing analysis illustrates that rally and hyper accountability diverge by the groups and contexts. Respondents who are more confident about their financial situation and who managed to keep the job positions tend to experience higher political trust levels. In contrast, individuals whose jobs and finances are already affected by the Corona crisis tend to distrust governments, punishing them for economic losses.

Based on the two waves of Eurofound survey data, I carried out an analysis of how economic perceptions and unemployment status correlate with political trust[1]. The mean of trust is higher in the first round (4.77 points on a scale from 1 to 10) compared to the second (4.63). Finnish respondents followed by Danes on average trusted the government the most compared to other EU member states in the first round.  In both countries, trust has dramatically declined in the second round while Luxembourg occupies the leading position across the EU in the second survey. Besides, the higher than average level of trust in both rounds is in Sweden, Ireland, Austria, Portugal, Malta, Netherlands, Germany, Cyprus, Italy, Greece, and Estonia. Trust in Slovakia was slightly higher than average in the first round but noticeably decreased in the second.  The opposite trend is seen in Spain where trust in government has increased in the second round slightly above average. Among Western European countries, trust in Belgium and France was the lowest and lower than average. However, the minimum trust in both rounds is seen in Central and Eastern European countries where leaders in distrust are Hungary and Poland.

Figure 1. Average trust in 27 EU member states during pandemic measured in two survey rounds: red line – 1st round, yellow line – 2nd round.

Source: made by the author based on Eurofound (2020).

To estimate the relationship between the economic effects and trust during the pandemic, I calculated the average measures of such indicators as losing a job during the pandemic and perceptions of the financial situation in the past and next three months.

As such, people who feel more anxious about their finances in the next free months score lower on trust. Moreover, people were more worried about their future finances during the first round of the survey when lockdowns were in place across the EU, and the general situation was more unpredictable. During the second round, the smaller proportion of people expect their finances to worsen, and the bigger proportion evaluates that their financial situation will remain the same. The change in proportions between groups indicates that people experienced financial distress and anxiety when the pandemic started (Eurofound 2020, 15).

Figure 2. Expected financial situation and trust in governments across EU during the pandemic (Round 1 and 2).

Source: made by the author based on Eurofound (2020).

The ratios of respondents who are more worried about their financial situation are higher among unemployed individuals (Eurofound 2020, 15). The harsh lockdown measures and closure of borders to stop the pandemic have impacted employment, especially in sectors like transportation, commerce, and hospitality (Eurofound 2020, 12). Since the onset of the pandemic, 8% of respondents became unemployed across the EU with the highest rate of losing the job in Spain, Greece, Hungary, and Bulgaria (Eurofound 2020). Although there are small differences between sexes regarding employment, the difference between age is more significant since young people under 35 are more likely to be unemployed during the pandemic (Eurofound 2020, 12). Unemployment affects trust negatively and is associated with the lower levels of trust in governments among people who lost their jobs during the pandemic. The mean values of trust are considerably lower for the first group of the respondents, those who became unemployed permanently since the lockdown policies came into power. The mean is also lower among temporarily unemployed people, but the difference is not very sharp among them and respondents who kept their workplaces.

Figure 3. The mean values of trust in governments by losing job status[2].

Source: made by the author

Generally, drops in economic growth and unemployment rise are expected to cause the decline of political trust. This analysis demonstrates that during the Corona crisis, trust fluctuates between population groups and contexts. As such, respondents who lost the job on the onset of the pandemic on average trust less in governments than those who kept the job market positions. The unemployed people are keen to hold governments accountable for economic losses, making executives work ‘hyper accountable’. Contrary to them, those who estimated the same or better personal finances and kept the jobs might experience the ‘rally effect’. Among these respondents’ trust in governments is more considerable, and the average level of trust was higher when the pandemic just started. Commonly, the pandemic caused financial anxiety among the respondents, especially in the initial stage when the more significant proportions of people considered that their finances would worsen in the next three months. In general, respondents whose financial situation was worse in the last three months or expected it to worse –  distrust governments higher. Across the EU, Western European countries led by Finland, Denmark, and Luxembourg witness the highest trust in governments, while executives in Central and Eastern Europe are distrusted the most.

[1] The studied phenomena – trust in governments was measured in the Eurofound survey by answering the question: ”How do you trust the national government on scale 1 – [Do not trust at all] to 10 [Trust fully]”. The question was asked among 27 EU member states in two rounds: the first one in early April and May when countries were under strict lockdowns and the second one in June-July when restrictions were less tight.

[2] The differences between all groups are statistically significant. The difference between permanently and temporarily unemployed is 8.0e-17****, between permanently unemployed and employed is 5.3e-56**** and between temporarily unemployed and employed is 1.0e-83****.

Reaction to light

On the 14th of February Navalny’s team decided to organise an event of a new format – “Love is stronger than fear”. Everyone who wanted to protest police brutality and arrests of Navalny and other political prisoners was encouraged to go with lights and candles into their yards at 20:00 on Valentine’s day. It is not possible to learn how many people participated in the event, though one thing is clear – police did not detain or beat up anyone, unlike during the previous protests in January and February 2021.

Margarita Zavadskaya was interviewed about the 14th of February protest by Current Time TV (Настоящее время). Doctor Zavadskaya said that the event could be counted as successful – it allowed the neighbors to get to know each other and create the new social links together with “normalisation” of the protests, which was made safe again. This is important for future protests, and the plans of Navalny’s team to resume the mobilisation later in Spring seem plausible; however, according to Margarita, it is too early to expect that there will be large protests after the Duma elections in September 2021. It is highly unlikely that the authorities would allow prominent opposition leaders to take part in the election, and this would decrease the initiative of protesters to go to the streets against electoral fraud.

Ongoing Russian protests are inevitably compared to the Belarusian ones. Margarita Zavadskaya, however, warns not to think of them as similar phenomena – in Belarus, a much higher share of the population engaged in protest activity, and the level of protest brutality there outraged not only the opposition but also the Belarusians at large. The Belarusian regime lost its popular support, while in Russia, the status quo is still supported in general.

You can watch the full interview embedded below, 08:30-24:40: