To the Russian mind, the worst acts of immorality are abandoning a child, suicide, and homosexuality. These are the top-ranked “sins,” according to a new survey commissioned by sociologists at Russia's Levada Center. Casting off a child was considered the most socially unacceptable by 75 percent of respondents. Suicide scored a 64 percent unacceptability rating. And homosexuality came in third, with 62 percent of respondents against it. Activities coming in lower on the “sin-list” included abortion, polygamy, and human cloning.

The results of the survey came as little surprise to experts, although they remain open to a number of different interpretations. According to Dr. Lyubov Boriusak, Dean of the Russian State University for the Humanities (RGGU), Russian people are most often guided in their moral assessments by religious maxims.

“Abandoning a child lies at the cross-section of every system of moral values and taboos, while anathema toward suicide and homosexuality is deeply rooted in religious proscriptions,” Dr. Boriusak said.

Indeed, the Russian Orthodox faith does consider all such acts as taboo. Yet, the authors of this study believe that Russians are skeptical of such religious leanings. “There are actually very few people in Russia who simultaneously describe themselves as being Russian Orthodox followers and additionally direct the practical aspects of their lives according to religious beliefs and tenets. The number of those who do so is probably less than 10 percent”, said Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center. Grazhdankin believes that the true answer lies in the unique orientation of the country's philosophy, which is neither Western, nor Eastern.

“Russia is a markedly conservative country,” Grazhdankin said. “Intolerance of behaviors outside of the social norm is considerably higher than it is in other European countries – although lower than in Islamic countries. In this regard, our position is somewhere between that of Europe and that of Asia.”

By way of illustrating his point, Grazhdankin cited the survey's responses to the question of the death penalty. Only 21 percent of respondents rejected the death penalty – a figure considerably higher than in European countries and the United States.

Sociologists also noted some significant fluctuations in Russian attitudes on ethical issues. In particular, the social attitude toward abortion has changed noticeably since the same survey was conducted five years ago. While 27 percent of respondents agreed with the moral acceptability of abortion in the 2007 survey, only 18 percent believe it is morally acceptable today.

Dr. Boriusak identified a number of factors which may have caused Russians to re-evaluate their feelings toward abortion:

“Primarily, the wide availability of contraception no longer justifies abortion as a surgical answer to this question. Secondly, more widely-held religious beliefs incline increasingly toward regarding abortion as a form of infanticide. And thirdly, there's been a wave of morally triggering media coverage of the issue.”

Sociologists still noted a number of trends toward lessened proscription in several areas. Russians increasingly exclude activities such as binge-eating, boozing or gambling from the category of personal transgressions. In fact, the number of survey respondents ready to turn a blind eye on their fellow citizens' gambling habits has doubled since the previous survey. Even so, the number of respondents unperturbed by gambling remains, for the present, a minority.

“Of course, over the intervening five years there has been a swing in the direction of greater tolerance,” Grazhdankin said. “But overall, it's not a large swing.”


What angers Russians most – Survey results


Which of the following activities would you categorize as ethically unacceptable?

(%)

Human cloning

52 

Abortion

38

Suicide

64

Homosexuality

62

Medical experiments on animals

21

The death penalty

21

Divorce

7

Polygamy

41

Euthanasia

21

Having children outside of marriage

5

Abandoning children, or refusing to accept responsibility for them

75

Buying or wearing clothes made of animal fur

3

Source: Levada Center