Polls turn against 'shock therapy'


By Renfrey Clarke

MOSCOW — As Russians gasped for breath after their first weeks of price liberalisation, how did they rate their government and its policies? Opinion polls in Moscow and St Petersburg have now provided some of the answers.

No more than a third of Russians, and probably far fewer, are sympathetic to Yeltsin's strategies of neo-liberal "shock therapy". Much greater numbers of people are opposed.

Many others are totally confounded by the situation, with no idea whether to believe the government's assurances that things will start to improve in six months — or in the autumn, or after a year.

The government is now heavily unpopular. However, President Yeltsin has been able to avoid being identified closely with the actions of his ministers, and retains most of his earlier support.

A poll taken in Moscow and St Petersburg on January 18 and 19 posed the question: "Will the recent introduction of free prices help the country escape from its crisis?" In Moscow 47% of respondents, and in St Petersburg 50%, answered "no or probably not". Those who answered "yes or probably yes" made up 31% of respondents in Moscow and 22% in St Petersburg.

To the question "Are the actions of the Russian government helping the country escape from crisis?", 43% of respondents in Moscow answered "no or probably not", 26% of those polled were inclined to support the government's record, while 31% found it "difficult to answer".

When the pollsters asked the same question about Yeltsin, the response was much more favourable. Forty-four per cent of Muscovites saw the president's record in a positive light, while 32% were critical.

Support for the government and its policies is concentrated in a relatively narrow band of the population. A poll taken in Moscow between January 10 and 12, and reported in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, showed 26% of respondents agreeing with the proposition that on the whole, events in Russia were moving in the right direction. The majority of these people, the paper noted, were "young people up to the age of 30 years, people with higher education, students, and workers in non-state structures." Workers in general were much more inclined to be hostile.

There is little comfort for Yeltsin in these results. Right at the outset of "shock therapy", when the president can still claim that the agony will be brief, opponents of his policies already heavily outnumber supporters — even in the regions where his support is strongest.

Moscow and St Petersburg, where the above polls were taken, make up Yeltsin's main political base, and are almost the only areas of Russia where the idea of a transition to capitalism commands important support. In provincial industrial centres and in the countryside, the on and to the dropping of price controls has in the past been strongly negative.

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