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Yuri Levada, 76; pollster was a sociology pioneer in the former Soviet Union

November 17, 2006|From the Associated Press

Yuri Levada, a pioneering sociologist who was shut out of his profession in Soviet times but came back to track public opinion as Russia made the transition from communism, died of a heart attack Thursday in Moscow. He was 76.

Levada, considered one of the founders of Soviet sociology, began his career under Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev, whose political "thaw" allowed him to carry out the first public opinion surveys. He was ousted from his job at Moscow State University in 1969, banned from having his work published, and barred from leaving the country for what Communist Party authorities condemned as "ideological mistakes in lectures."

In 1988, as Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev's glasnost swept the country, Levada joined the first independent public opinion survey firm in the Soviet Union, which provided snapshots of Russians' attitudes to the biggest questions of the day as well as to their own lives. He took the firm's helm in 1992.

Surveys conducted by Levada's center showed strong public support for President Vladimir Putin but also critical attitudes in Russian society toward the wars in Chechnya and other Kremlin policies.

In a February interview with Expert magazine, Levada said he and his colleagues were surprised that the post-Soviet values system did not collapse more quickly, and suggested that Russians appeared most interested in living well.

"We assumed that people would be happy with the possibility to live more freely, work, talk, travel the world, express their opinions and get to know what is foreign to them," he was quoted as saying. "It turned out that now they are much more interested in a life of more material well-being but not a more multifaceted one."

In 2003, Putin's government tried to name a new board of directors at Levada's center in what the staff considered a play to trim its independence. Staff members responded by forming a new center and abandoning their old name to a new, pro-Kremlin grouping.

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