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Russia: Public Trust In Government Up, In Contrast To Global Trend

Russians' confidence in their leaders is rising (AFP) Around the world, public confidence in governments is falling. At the same time, however, confidence in the national government in Russia is on the rise -- and has risen every year since 2001. This is the conclusion drawn by authors of a survey commissioned by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and published on 14 December in Geneva.

Prague, 15 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The survey shows that from Canada and Brazil to Turkey and South Korea, public levels of trust in national governments are at their lowest since the survey was launched in January 2001.

Russia, in fact, is the only country in the WEF survey where trust in the national government has risen steadily over the past five years.

Vladimir Andreenkov is the general director of the CESSI institute for comparative social research, which provided the Russian data for the WEF survey.

He says, overall, the public trust in the Russian government remains relatively low -- lower, for example, than in India, Indonesia, or the United States.

But he says the fact that trust continues to grow is due in part to an active campaign by the Russian government to get out the message that it is working hard on the people's behalf.

Russian media -- particularly television -- devotes much of its energy to covering the government's social programs, often in semi-public forums like talk shows and roundtable debates.

"Of course, this can't help but have an effect on people's thinking. Even if these [social] programs end up having a real impact -- and if they do, it won't be anytime soon -- it's still pleasant for people to hear, 'We're looking out for your welfare.' They want to hear government leaders say that it's true, that they're really thinking about them," Andreenkov says.

So is Russia a model for other countries to follow?

Douglas Miller is the president of GlobeScan, which conducted the WEF survey. He says Russian President Vladimir Putin's policy of strengthening the so-called "power vertical" of federal control, though highly controversial, has proved to be a savvy political strategy.

"It appears that while President Putin's policies have certainly raised eyebrows in the West, and even in close allies in Europe, it's definitely good politics for him. Certainly the initiatives of taking control back of the central pillars of the economy in the resource sectors, standing up to the oligarchs, that kind of thing appears to have played very, very positively with average Russian citizens," Miller says.

The CESSI institute surveyed over 1,000 people across the country between June and August 2005.

Government loyalty aside, Russia did follow other global trends reflected in the WEF poll -- namely, a drop in trust for the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations.

The ongoing scandal surrounding the UN's oil-for-food program in Iraq is credited with its dwindling support.

And although the survey was conducted before the Kremlin began its campaign to restrict the work of NGOs, Andreenkov says most Russians have a poor understanding of how NGOs operate -- and what they do know is generally unfavorable.

"Before [the measures to restrict NGOs], generally speaking, very few people had any concept of what an NGO was -- for the vast majority of people it just wasn't a relevant issue," Andreenkov said. "And it's been the same with international organizations [like the UN]. Of course, everyone knows what they are, but they're so far away, operating on such a distant, global level, that they're just difficult to comprehend."

In many countries surveyed, public trust in both large national companies and multinational firms has also eroded. Russia saw slight gains in public perception of national and global companies, although overall figures remain quite low.

GlobeScan surveyed more than 20,000 people in 20 countries across the world.

The findings are meant to act as a kind of prep sheet for world and economic leaders attending the WEF's annual Davos summit in January.

Their task -- figuring out how to reconnect with citizens who are increasingly skeptical about the work of their governments, businesses, and global institutions.

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