The New Elite in Post-Communist Eastern Europe

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Christopher Vanderpool et al. | Go to book overview

3
The Elite and the Masses in Public Opinion

Yurii Levada

One of the components of long-lasting turbulence in post-Communist Russian society is the destruction of a system of social-cultural samples and examples. At the same time, there is a crisis within elite structures and a deformation of their roles in relation to societies' "mass" structures. Elites lose significance if the "masses" fail to perceive their symbolic and instrumental function (examples of their integrative function, codes of culture, rules of behavior, and so forth). Much of the modern discussion about the moral degradation of Russian society and its deprivation of spiritual leaders, along with the disintegration and decline of the intellectual and ruling elite (who are thus deprived of public recognition), is constructed around this complex. For this reason, the nature and function of elite structures is often perceived as problematic.

One can identify elites by their professional place, by the type of their employment (occupations) in society. Accordingly, it is acceptable to speak about intellectual, political, military, economic, and cultural elites. The character of any elite structure is defined by the function it performs in society. It is also expedient to divide elite structures by the way they perform their functions in relation to society, to the "masses," and to social institutions. Hence, elite structures can be defined as social groups or strata situated in functional frameworks that adapt in appropriate ways to support those functions and structures.


Public Elite and Social Elite

A public elite consists of those actors (persons, figures, personalities) or groups, whose words and actions address society as a whole, that is, their audience, students, followers, supporters, and the public in its broadest sense. This category of the elite acts predominantly through

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