Press release №1998
02.10.2017
POLITICAL REPRESSION IN THE 1930s AND1940s: CAUSES AND SCALE

IN BRIEF

  • 75% of Russians are aware of the persecution of people for political reasons in the 1930s-1940s, however the public assessments are quite different
  • 65% believe that persecution was part of state policies
  • Whereas 45% think that persecutors were guided solely by personal motives rather than national policies, Prisoners were tortured physically and psychologically

According to Russians, during Stalin’s time many innocent people were subject to political persecution which was immense.

MOSCOW, October 2, 2017. The Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM), the GULAG History State Museum and the Memory Foundation present the data of the second study devoted to the mass repression in the twentieth century.

Almost three-quarters of Russians (75%) are aware of persecution of people for political reasons which took place in the 1930s and 1940s; however the awareness level directly depends on respondent’s educational level and age: Russians aged 18-24 (54%) and those with a below-average educational level (42%) tend to be less informed than the older generations (84-86% of persons aged 45 and over) and those who have higher education diplomas (85%).

About 71% of Russians are confident that the repression involving innocent people was massive; this share is high across all social groups regardless of their gender, age and educational level. According to 23%, victims number in hundreds of thousands; 19% - in several millions; 17% in tens of thousands; and 9% - in tens of millions. Thirteen percent report that persecution was occasional. Eight percent say that the persecution scale was similar to the scale of crimes to be punished for.

Two-thirds (65%) are confident that mass persecution was state policy. Twenty-two percent believe that it was a grass-root initiative launched by ordinary citizens, workers of the Soviet party and law enforcement bodies. The latter are often mentioned by those who have low level of education (45%), live in the rural area (32%) and have a good income (32%).  Those who were behind the persecution were mainly driven by personal interest rather than national interest, according to 45% of respondents; they are opposed by 36% (this share is higher among young respondents aged 18-34 and makes up 42-48%).

Most of Russians fail to cite the names of persons who were subject to political persecution (61%); most of them mention Solzhenitsyn (a Soviet writer), Sergey Korolev (designer of the first manned spacecraft), Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Andrey Tupolev (aircraft designer), Nikolay Vavilov (scientist), Georgy Zhzhonov (actor) and others. Russians consider that victims of mass repression were basically innocent people (53%), Stalin’s opponents (31%), the regime opponents (19%), or the USSR opponents (8%); 8% say the victims were Stalin’s supporters.

Investigation methods involved intimidation and blackmail (21%), physical tortures (19%), psychological manipulation with the mention of relatives (14%), sleep deprivation (11%), bright light torture (9%); every second (54%) thinks that any of the above-mentioned techniques were used.

In the Stalin’s time both the guilty and the innocent were persecuted (70%); 11% say that all the victims did not deserve their punishment; just 2% oppose them. Forty-one percent of Russians believe that people were persecuted for no reason; every fifth considers that the measures were violent (21%); and 18% say the punishment was unfair.  

The results of the study were presented at the Museum of Contemporary History of Russia.

Detailed results are available in PPT format.

The VCIOM-Sputnik Russian nationwide survey was conducted on August 22 and 24, 2017. The survey involved 1,200 Russians aged 18 and over, and was carried out using stratified dual-frame random sample based on a complete list of landline and mobile phone numbers operating in Russia. The data were weighted according to selection probability and social and demographic characteristics. The margin of error at a 95% confidence level does not exceed 3.5%. In addition to sampling error, minor changes in question wording and different circumstances arising during the fieldwork can introduce bias into the survey.

 

Are you aware that there was persecution based on political reasons in the 1930s and 1940s, or is this the first time you hear about that?  (closed-ended question, one answer, %)
  Total respondents Aged  18-24 Aged  25-34 Aged  35-44 Aged  45-59 Aged  60 and more
I am well aware 75 54 63 71 84 86
This is the first time I hear about that 24 46 36 28 16 13
Don’t know 1 0 1 1 0 1
In your opinion, how many people were the victims of persecution for political reasons?  (closed-ended question, one answer)
  Total respondents Aged  18-24 Aged  25-34 Aged  35-44 Aged  45-59 Aged  60 and more
Hundreds 2 2 0 2 4 2
Thousands 6 10 7 6 6 5
Tens of thousands 17 33 21 16 15 12
Hundreds of thousands 23 23 30 26 17 26
About one million 10 3 7 13 12 8
Several millions 19 15 18 17 19 21
Tens of millions 9 4 5 12 13 7
Don’t know 14 10 12 8 14 19
In your opinion, was persecution for political reasons rare or massive?? (closed-ended question, one answer)
  Total respondents Moscow and St.Petersburg Million cities More than 500 ths 100–500 ths Less than 100 ths Rural area
Massive; a great number of innocent people suffered 71 70 82 81 67 69 68
The scale of persecution was similar to the scale of crimes to be punished for 8 9 4 9 11 5 7
Rare; many of those who should have been persecuted managed to avoid the punishment 13 14 9 6 13 17 14
Don’t know 8 7 5 4 9 9 11
In your opinion, was political repression initiated by the government or was it grassroots?   (closed-ended question, one answer)
  Total respondents Incomplete secondary education Secondary education (school, vocational school) Specialized secondary education  (technical school) Incomplete higher, higher  education
By the government; it was a purposeful state policy   65 42 66 62 69
Grassroots initiative; ordinary citizens, Soviet party and law enforcement bodies’ workers  initiated repression 22 45 25 22 18
Don’t know 13 13 9 16 13
In your opinion, were those who organized and conducted political repression driven by national or personal interest? (closed-ended question, one answer)
  Total respondents Aged  18-24 Aged  25-34 Aged  35-44 Aged  45-59 Aged  60 and more
National interest 36 48 42 39 33 31
Mainly personal interest 45 45 42 42 50 45
Don’t know 19 7 16 19 17 24
In your opinion, what is the main feature of persecution based on political motives? (closed-ended question, one answer)
  Total respondents
Persecution was carried out  in contravention of human rights, often without charge or trial 41
Persecution was cruel (punishment could have been milder)   21
Persecution was unfair (the motives they referred to were not motives to punish for) 18
There was nothing special; similar things happened repeatedly in the past in many other countries)   6
Persecution was carried out  in contravention of the Soviet law 6
Don’t know 8
Were any of the below-mentioned methods used to those arrested for political reasons? (closed-ended question, any number of answers)
  Total respondents
Intimidation and blackmail 21
Tortures 19
Lying that someone close, relatives or friends, has already testified 14
Psychological contrast: one investigator examines in a mild manner, the other is very rude 11
Sleep deprivation 11
Use of swear words towards the one under investigation 10
Bright light torture: round-the-clock bright light in the ward   9
None of the above-mentioned 1
Everything above-mentioned 54
Don’t know 14
Speaking about persecution based on political motives, who suffered the most from that?  (closed-ended question, up to 2 answers)
  Total respondents Aged  18-24 Aged  25-34 Aged  35-44 Aged  45-59 Aged  60 and more
Innocent people 53 41 48 43 58 59
Stalin’s opponents 31 46 37 34 26 26
Opponents of the Soviet regime 19 40 26 22 16 12
Opponents of the USSR as a country, regardless of social regime 8 10 13 12 8 3
Stalin’s supporters 8 4 4 10 6 12
Other   5 1 2 7 5 5
Don’t know 11 5 11 10 13 10
In your opinion, how many of those who suffered from political persecution did not deserve that at all? (closed-ended question, one answer)
  Total respondents Moscow and St.Petersburg Million cities More than 500 ths 100–500 ths Less than 100 ths Rural area
Almost everyone 11 15 4 7 14 12 10
Three-quarter did not deserve that 22 31 24 27 19 20 19
Half of them did not deserve that 38 30 47 30 36 40 42
One-quarter did not deserve that 10 7 11 9 14 10 9
Almost everyone deserved that 2 2 0 2 0 2 4
Don’t know 17 15 14 25 17 16 16
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