Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Boris Nemtsov and the Reproduction of the Regional Intelligentsia

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Boris Nemtsov and the Reproduction of the Regional Intelligentsia

Article excerpt

Abstract: This essay situates Boris Nemtsov as an individual in the broader sweep of Russia's regional--and national--history. To what extent is the democratic development of particular regions a result of the force, drive, and charisma of particular transformational leaders? And, to what extent is Nemtsov himself a product of the particular social milieu conducive to the genesis of the public-minded, self-sacrificing crusader for the common good? If regional microcosms matter for understanding the genesis of the democratic leader, what are those elements of the longue duree of regional cultural, social, economic, and political fabrics that might help explain the phenomenon of Nemtsov? And how can Nemtsov's own life help illuminate what aspects of regional histories we should study to explain the paradox of democratic resilience in particular regions and the potential of these regions to help transform national politics? This essay attempts to provide some answers to these questions by discussing the inter-temporal, political regime-transcending reproduction of human capital variations in Russia's regions and specifically those related to the development of institutions of learning and science. (1)

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I first heard of Boris Nemtsov when I was a young Russian graduate student in America in the mid-1990s contemplating pursuing a PhD in Russian regional politics. For a new, post-Kremlinologist, generation of political scientists, it was the phenomenon of leaders like Nemtsov that made the study of Russian provincial politics fascinating and exciting. In the post-Soviet hyper-federalist Russia of the early years of Boris Yeltsin's presidency, sub-national regions quickly emerged as powerful players in their own right, shaping regional and national politics. As governor of the Nizhniy Novgorod region, still only in his early thirties (he was only thirty-two when he became governor), Nemtsov was already a star--well before he entered national politics as deputy prime minister. Nemtsov led the democratic transformation of the Nizhniy Novgorod region, nurturing an atmosphere of political openness, attracting foreign investment, and supporting independent media and civil society. To scholars of Russian regional politics, Nemtsov's governorship of Nizhegorodskaya is associated with the most vibrant period in the history of Russian federalism. I hesitate to use the expression "golden age" of federalism because Yeltsin-era federal relations were associated with ad hocism and preferential politically-motivated deals with regional bosses that in some cases helped promote regional authoritarianism, nepotism, and corruption. Yet, regions like Nizhniy stood out as islands of sub-national openness, while governors like Nemtsov helped keep in check excessive concentration of power in the national executive and shaped national policy and public opinion. In 1996, for example, he organised a campaign against the war in Chechnya, collecting one million signatures in the Nizhniy Novgorod region on a petition to President Yeltsin and calling on other regions to support his initiative. (2) President Vladimir Putin's recentralization drive of the early 2000s ensured that even the hitherto politically open regions would turn into dependencies of the Kremlin delivering blatantly fraudulent electoral support to the national incumbent. (3) Back in the 1990s however, the more politically competitive regions could, and did, shape national political landscapes. While the Rakhimovs, the Shaymievs, or the Ilyumdzhinovs--long-serving presidents of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, and Kalmykia of that era will be associated in the public mind with patrimonialism and neo-Soviet sub-national authoritarianism, (4) Nemtsov will be remembered as a democratic, public-minded, governor.

This essay attempts to situate Nemtsov as an individual in the broader sweep of Russia's regional--and national--history. To what extent is the democratic development of particular regions down to the force, drive, and charisma of particular transformational leaders? …

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