An non-formal community of Russian sociologists “Open mind” starts realization of an independent social research on public attitudes of residents of Crimea.
– Why “Open mind” has decided to put attention to residents of the Crimea now?
The reason is the one for all our projects – the attention is focused on the point of tension where the distrust of data about social reality is concentrated. On the territory of Crimea a lot of different sociological studies were held over the past two years. As a rule, all studies gave similar results, confirming the mood of the population, manifested in the referendum of 2014. These results were in doubts despite the differences in researchers, techniques and subject of the study. Critique of projects is based primarily on one important point: “the correct research of the social object in a special state of transition from one state jurisdiction to another is impossible.”
In fact, the Crimean issue has put our branch of applied sociology a new challenge. The professionalism, qualification and teaching opportunities are in doubts. We have to respond! Or we will have to recognize that there are closed topics and closed areas for sociologists. We believe that such topics and areas should not be. Our colleagues work around the world and try to understand and explore the lives of people and social phenomenon in the most unusual places (even very risky for life). We don’t have any rights to show professional indifference to such interesting and important object as the Crimea.
– Why do you have the feeling that Crimea is a point of tension? Whom do you want to explain something? Is there a target group that don’t believe that Crimea is ours?
We have no intention to convince someone. But around the mood of the Crimean people is an intense myth-making. Almost everyone tells from name of Crimean. Ukrainian and Russian propagandists, foreign policy and the media, all sorts of “experts”, often living very far away from the Crimea. The voice of the Crimean people drowning in the noise of the propaganda debates. That is why our mission is to give the opportunity to residents of the Crimea to present their opinion without any interpreters. We have to do it professionally and correctly that others would believe this opinion.
Of course, the majority of Russian citizens are sure in the choice of the Crimean people. But abroad there is a doubt in other information background. Before start the project I was talking with one of the leading Russian specialists in the crowdfunding and asked him to lead this part of the project. And he said that it is a dirty business and he is not going to participate in politics. It turned out that the last two years he was living abroad and received the basic information from the foreign media. He is absolutely convinced that is not possible to go in the Crimea because “this is a war zone”. He even asked me if I do not afraid to go there. That is why we want to get and represent accurate information, verified with international participation. A reference source of information is needed. We hope that we will become that source for everyone… In General, our main target audience are all interested and hesitant people.
– How did international experts reacted to your proposal? Who of renowned experts involved in the project?
– We had a discomfiture, very instructive, and correcting the idea of freedom of creativity in international sociology. We asked a number of prominent Western sociologists who have being learned Russian for a long. All they showed a sincere interest in the study, but gave to understand that can not to participate in the project public, because it creates for them “reputational risks”. Same story for the same reason happened with several of our partner research companies of the CIS, which we proposed to participate as polling centers (“is very interesting, we are ready to work, but without mentioning us as participants”).
A different motive for non-participation was declared by one of the leading Ukrainian sociologists V. I. Paniotto, Dr. phil., the CEO of Kiev international Institute of sociology, who we are also invited to work with us. He shown interest to the project and even agreed to participate, but with the condition that in the survey there will not be a question about the referendum and joining Crimea to Russia. Moreover, he publicly justified this condition, writing on Facebook following: “…Most of Crimean, I am sure, support joining to Russia (I think about 75%). It is public opinion, formed as a result of successful information war and a direct military invasion… Now you will get the results of hybrid war and deception of public opinion on support for joining Russia. … You want to give objective information about the situation in Crimea. In fact, that it is important for the integration of Crimea into Russia and the legitimization of the take-over the Crimea…, i.e. to help the authorities. I don’t think this is a noble task for sociologists, and that it is now important for Russia.”
In other words, you do a research, get a “fair result”, but this is not good, because it legitimatize certain policy. How? I believe such a position is purely political and unacceptable to the sociologist. But I must honestly say, not everyone agrees with me, and the position: “the better is not conduct such study” has supporters among Russian colleagues. Part of active members of the “Open mind”, especially those included in foreign contacts and contracts, quietly distanced theirself from the project. Fear – “what if the Schengen area will be closed for us? If we will be not invited to the conference?” – has some spread in the professional community.
Barrel of laughs is (although is a little here), that at a time when some are afraid of losing contacts “out there”, other colleagues have fear the consequences “here.” I already privately asked: “what if the poll shows less support than power likes? What will they say in the Kremlin? Not “roll up” us after that…”. You see, professionals are afraid to do their job depending on the working hypotheses about the state of the object, which they seem to be the most likely, and beliefs about the consequences when you confirm these working hypotheses. The horror…
– And you are not afraid? Neither the U.S. Department of State nor the Kremlin?
– I’m afraid. But my most fear is to be disappointed in my colleagues and in the principles of non-formal professional cooperation. I’m afraid to betray my beloved profession, abandoning the study, afraid (sorry for the pathos) to betray the Crimean people, abandoning the opportunity to give them a word. I am sure that Crimeans are more interested in such study. Because they are in a very intense information field. The propaganda beats the best army in the world for their ideas about the proper world order. They can be in a state of uncertainty about what their own countrymen think. And it is also a factor in the decline of public trust and solidarity.
– But the Crimean people have already said that they are Russia. Why ask them again, and not for the first time? Give them a reason to doubt two years after the referendum, about they are with Russia? People have already made their choice. Now, the area is already Russia. They are part of Russia. And all the other doesn’t matter.
– You know, nobody have doubt about the voting results of 2014, even our Ukrainian colleagues. Dispute about precise figures, but about fundamental result – no. Before the referendum in Crimea was conducted polls, then there was the referendum, and all of these procedures have fixed a definite distribution of the public sentiment of the Crimean population. But now questioned the subjectivity of the Crimean people. This is a fundamental question – do the people of Crimea took a decision on joining or forced them, forced some “green men”. What’s now: can people freely and independently demonstrate their commitment to their selection or are they all hapless victims of propaganda? All debate are around that. And the survey, if it will done correctly, should in some way confirm or not confirm this subjectivity. Were they “taken-over” or did they “came”? And various stories, which we now actively offered and which have the potential to become the basis of a new Crimean mythology, after 25 years, can come back very negative.
This is the first. And secondly, you don’t ask why the leading sociological companies around the world regularly ask voters about whether they trust the President, approve his work. In your logic: well, we have chosen and trust us witout doubts. The measurements are conducted in regular (monitoring) mode to capture the dynamics of attitudes, to catch signals the change of sentiment. In our study, by the way, we are not going to examine in detail the attitude of Crimeans to join Russia (well, just one question). In the subject of the study is included primarily questions of the current social well-being and assess changes that have occurred in the life of Crimeans over the past two years. Plus the perception of relevant social problems on the Peninsula, information preferences, migration intentions, etc.
– When the poll starts?
– Planning in early June. The survey, think will be hold during the week. If foreigners are refused, then we will work the Russian call-centers, but different. From different cities – Kazan, Cheboksary, Arkhangelsk…. Maybe one organization from Belarus will join us. B
Much depends on the success of crowdfunding. We launched a fundraiser on the platform Planeta.ru and have to run the same collection on one of foreign platforms. We plan to conduct a fairly large survey of approximately 1600 people, it costs money.
– How much money you have to collect to conduct research? Are you going to raise all amount with crowdfunding?
– In the first resort about the beginning of the project, which was published in February, it was written that we look about on sponsoring media, both Russian and foreign. As you know, in the West, the main customer of polls are the media. We do exactly the opposite, the media did not order sociology. I know only 1-2 such cases. And that was (and still is) a dream to a study funded pool of some well-known media, it would be an important precedent for the Russian applied sociology, and Russian media too.
While we were negotiating with foreign partners, dreamed of the support of the media and had doubts about how policies will look at all this, an important view come. We believe the concerned party in an “Open” is society, ordinary citizens, our dear respondents. So let us first of all ask them whether we need to conduct the research or not. And crowdfunding, in this sense, a great tool not only raise money, but inspection of the project on necessity, usefulness and interestingness more to someone other than the researchers themselves.
For study we need from 600 thousand to 1 million rubles. But important is not only the amount of funds collected, but a support. Sometimes it can be expressed by the words more expensive and more ringing than the ruble.
The process of public financing is already underway. And we are a group of professional sociologists “Open mind” – perhaps for the first time, look at the amount of money not only on the growing financial resources of the project, but as to increasing human trust and responsibility.