Chechen Islamic rebel leader Doku Umarov, the self-styled Emir of a breakaway region in southern Russia known as the Caucasus Emirate, claimed responsibility for the bombings on the Moscow subway that claimed 39 lives. In a 2010 study, Political Capital measured the scale of Russia’s demand for right-wing extremism, paying particular attention to Russians’ attitudes toward the Muslim minority. The terror attacks and the government’s handling of them will have a huge impact on public morale. Xenophobic, chauvinistic sentiments are likely to rise – and not just among the ethnic Russian majority.


Key Findings

  • The March 29 attacks did not take Russians entirely by surprise: Two-thirds of the people expected that a new terror attack would happen sooner or later, according to European Social Survey research conducted in 2009.
  • The Demand for Right Wing Extremism (DEREX) Index, published in 2010, found that the rate of potential right-wing extremists in Russia was fairly high, both among the Orthodox Christian majority (14%) and the Muslim minority (19%). Muslims are more predisposed to extreme right-wing ideologies because they are more likely to cherish religious and traditional values, harbor strong resentment toward the political establishment, and express a high degree of distrust in institutions and in their fellow citizens.
  • The attacks and the government’s response to them are likely to stoke demand for nationalist, chauvinist, authoritarian politics among both groups.
  • The terror attacks will strengthen the Russian people’s demand for a strong, law-and-order state beyond its already high levels. The majority of Russians already consider it acceptable to use methods that break democratic legal norms in order to prevent terrorist attacks, including torturing and imprisoning suspects.
  • The DEREX data shows that anti-establishment sentiments are strongest among Russia’s Muslim community, especially their distrust of the political elite and the political system. Roughly a third of Russia’s Muslims harbor extreme anti-establishment feelings. Inappropriate handling of Russia’s ethnic-national conflict with the Chechens may enflame such sentiments among the Muslims, which makes new terror attacks ever more likely
  • Russian society has one of the highest rates of prejudice and welfare chauvinism. Some 46% of respondents expressed extreme aversion to homosexuals and/or immigrants. The attacks can be expected to increase xenophobia in the majority population, especially against the Muslims.  It may increase ill will toward other minorities as well, deepening the rifts in Russian society.

The terror attacks have once again brought the situation of Russia’s religious and national minorities to the forefront. The following pages will examine Russian societal attitudes using Political Capital’s DEREX Index, which is based upon data from the European Social Survey (ESS)’s two most-recent polls in 2007 and 2009.



A short desription of DEREX methodology


Political Capital designed the Demand for Right-Wing Extremism (DEREX) Index using its own theoretical model and data from the European Social Survey, a biannual study that tracks changes in societal attitudes and values in 32 countries. Political Capital’s risk-analysis division developed the model, chose the questions, determined subject groupings and set the criteria. DEREX’s data is culled from people’s responses to 29 questions in the European Social Survey’s database beginning in 2003. These questions are divided into four categories: Prejudice and Welfare Chauvinism, Anti-Establishment Attitudes, Right-Wing Value Orientation, and Fear, Distrust and Pessimism. Each of the four sub-indices has a numerical value that shows the rate of people over the age of 15 whose answers indicate that they belong in that category.  A country’s DEREX number is determined by the number of people who belong to at least three of the four categories – for example, respondents who express anti-immigrant sentiments, anti-establishment attitudes and right-wing values all at once. Using these strict criteria, the DEREX Index examines the percentage of people whose extremist views could destabilize a country’s political and economic system – if these views continue to gain credence.



Fear of terrorism


The terrorist attacks of the past decade are causing Russians to be increasingly vigilant. The proportion of Russians who think terrorists are likely to strike sometime in the next 12 months was 64.5% in 2007 and 63.8% in 2009, according to the ESS survey. People expect the government and authorities to take robust action to prevent such attacks: Some 67% of respondents think the police should have the right to imprison terror suspects until they are satisfied that they pose no threat. Just 46.4% respondents say torture is never justified, even if it might provide information that could prevent a terrorist attack.

Russians traditionally prefer charismatic leaders and an authoritarian power structure. The survey shows demand for a strong state is high: Some 42% of respondents think it is important for the government to keep its citizens safe against all threats. They want the state to be strong so it can defend its citizens.

This demand is probably going to rise, which will narrow the government’s room to resolve the conflicts that inspire terrorism in a peaceful, democratic manner. It may also fuel conflicts between the central government and the “peripheries” and lead to repression of autonomy movements.



Differences between religious groups


Some 46% of Russian respondents told ESS pollsters that they were not religious, 45% identified themselves as Eastern Orthodox and 8 percent said they were Muslims.






Russians express prejudice and welfare chauvinism in roughly equal proportions regardless of their religious orientation. Each religious group’s index score for this category is no more than 1% above or below overall population’s extraordinarily high rate of 46.4%. The subway bombings will probably boost xenophobia toward Muslims and other minority groups alike.



Anti-establishment attitudes


Less than a quarter (24.5%) of Eastern Orthodox Russians expressed a lack of confidence in politicians and dissatisfaction with state institutions, but nearly a third (32.5%) of Muslim respondents did. The Muslims’ robust antipathy toward the establishment is most evident in their rejection of the political elite and the political system: The percentage of Islamic respondents who say they distrust politicians is 40% greater than in the Russian population as a whole. There is a similar gap between the number of Muslims and non-Muslims who say they are dissatisfied with the government and the democratic system itself.

Past experience leads us to believe that the government will react to the subway attacks with heavy-handed, repressive measures that will roll back political autonomy in minority regions. Such actions will increase the number of Muslims with extreme negative feelings toward the political elite.



Right-wing value orientation


Russia is right around the middle of the countries in the ESS survey in terms of its predisposition to right-wing values. The right-wing value index for Muslims is more than 13% higher than the index for the country as a whole, primarily due to their strong religiosity and respect for tradition.



Fear, distrust and pessimism


There is little difference between the attitudes of religious and non-religious Russians in the DEREX’s fourth sub-index, fear, distrust and pessimism. A slightly higher percentage of Muslims gave responses that qualified them for inclusion in this category. Russian Muslims are much more likely to be suspicious toward their fellow citizens, probably because of their minority status. At the same time, Muslims are less likely to express economic worries or fears about security.


DEREX Index scores for Russia’s main religious groups