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Survey Report: What's Wrong with Russia's Diaspora

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Is Russia's diaspora helping to polish or besmirch the country's international image?

When Russian emigres in the West talk positively to their new neighbors about Russia, they perceive themselves as being largely disbelieved.

And when those emegres talk Russian politics with fellow emigres they are likely to be greeted by disagreement.

These are findings of a study I conducted last November. I invited readers from three online publications --,, -- to participate in the study.

Responses came from both diaspora members and non Russians, about 60-40. Over 80 percent of all respondents reside in North America, the balance in Western Europe or elsewhere.

It was up to each individual reader to take part. That means those in the study are self-selected and do not represent a statistically valid sample. Accordingly, we can't generalize from the results with certainty. But they do suggest some anecdotal patterns that are interesting to consider.

Take for example the matter of Russia's role in the world today: Is it positive or negative? I asked the Russian respondents if they are familiar with the views of fellow diaspora members. They overwhelmingly said yes.

How do they characterize their compatriot's attitudes? Well, it depends. There is dramatic difference in assessments. It depends upon the period in which the survey participant emigrated. Those who left Russia in the 1990s say that nearly a third of the diaspora members they know view Russia's role positively. But for those who came earlier and those who came since 2000 it's a different story. They see only around 10 percent of their fellow diaspora members viewing their homeland positively. But obviously in both cases most diasporic views are negatively biased.

It seemed puzzling that respondents in the middle period of emigration, the 1990s, saw things differently from the rest. It seemed aberrational. Those who emigrated earlier and those who came since 2000 responded like each other. They perceived the attitudes of their compatriots more bleakly than the 1990's group.

At first I thought the aberration might be related to how much first-hand contact people had with modern Russia. Are some working off of memories of a bygone time? But that didn't seem to correlate. Only about a third of the 1990s cohort had visited Russia in the past five years. That's the same for visits of the earlier emigres. Some members of both groups have in fact never been back. But those who emigrated since 2000 are visiting Russia in greater numbers. Ninety percent of this group report at least one visit in the past five years. They're the ones with the most current personal experience. So it's not first-hand experience in today's Russia that is making the difference.

The reason that the 1990s crowd think compatriots are more positive than the other emigre cohorts remains a mystery. This survey provides no clue.

The non-diaspora survey respondents have a slightly different story to tell. They think they have a sense of how their Russian emigre neighbors look upon Russia's role in the world.

That's possible because many of those Russians have not been close-mouthed about their country of origin. In the survey almost all the Russians confessed that they've conveyed their attitudes toward Russia to others in their present country of permanent residence.

What do the non-Russians think of those views? To them the immigrant views seem pretty evenly divided between positive, negative, and neutral.

Whatever those views may be, however, the North American and Western European responders have been mostly unpersuaded by them. Two-thirds claim they have not been influenced. But not everyone is immune to diasporic influence. A solid third admits to having been influenced by what they've heard from the Russians.

The personal comments I received from survey respondents give even more insights into the Russian diaspora question. Here is a sampling. (Comments from diaspora members are tagged "D" and those from others are labeled "ND.")

D: "Russia is a new country. With the collapse of the USSR it went through a terrible period, but in this century it has been reborn. It is now a vibrant, prosperous country, with better prospects for its people than the US. Many in the Russian diaspora are either stuck in the past or forced to face an uncomfortable truth that they made the wrong choice by leaving Russia. Or perhaps they are simply trying to fit in wherever they are by abandoning their past. As for my own family, we are going back to Russia."

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William Dunkerley is author of the books "Ukraine in the Crosshairs," "The Phony Litvinenko Murder, "Litvinenko Murder Case Solved," and "Medvedev's Media Affairs," published by Omnicom Press. Mr. Dunkerley also has authored several monographs (more...)

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