Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Searching for a Russian National Idea: Putin Team Efforts and Public Assessments

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Searching for a Russian National Idea: Putin Team Efforts and Public Assessments

Article excerpt

The crafting of a new national idea has been the most elusive of the four processes comprising Russia's quadruple revolution in the wake of the failing state of the 1990s. However, the seven pol icy position papers of Vladimir Putin's 2012 presidential campaign illuminate a Putin-contoured national idea of four primary components. Relying on the October 2014 ROMIR national survey results, augmented with results from other survey, this article explores Russian public judgments that are connected with a new national idea. Russians are found to strongly support a key component of Putin's national idea, the strong state, and their views accord with the hegemonic leadership position assumed by Putin. Russians view Putin's strong state as a democracy, though their understanding of democracy and its key components varies from that of Westerners. Russians' overall mixed assessments of key policy efforts by the governing team generally fit with Putin's articulated preferences, but there are policy oft pots. Putin and his team confront a Russian public that is more supportive of their hegemonic political-institutional position and vision of a national idea than laudatory of the results of that team's policy efforts.

"Of course, we should always be thinking about the future. Here in Russia we have this old tradition, a favorite pastime, of searching for a national idea. This is something akin to looking for the meaning of life. It is, generally speaking, a useful and interesting pursuit, and also one that is never-ending."--Vladimir Putin (1)

Vladimir Putin and his team have governed Russia for more than sixteen years, addressing the challenges of Russia's "quadruple revolution" and reversing the dilemmas of the "failing state." (2) As the first term of the second Putin presidency moves toward its conclusion, it is appropriate to take stock of Russia's current political condition, as a well-entrenched governing elite continues to promote a policy program that has dominated the Russian polity, economy, and society for a generation. (3) During the period 2000-2016, an array of profound dilemmas confronted both the elite and society, and we can debate whether the regime policy responses have been reasoned or haphazard, and whether they sum to a more coherent programmatic whole. But by many statistical measures, identifiable advances occurred, with the governing Putin team predictably championing claimed successes, while critics offer more measured--and even negative--judgments. As the third Putin period presidency winds down, the Russian public is well-positioned to offer its own judgments. Results of the October 2014 ROMIR survey, combined with those of other surveys, yield important insights into Russian citizens' assessments; such assessments, linked with Putin team policy claims, are a core focus of this article.

While attentive to public assessments of Russian political realities and Putin team policies, this article focuses on Russia's continuing search for a post-Soviet "national idea." Russians have long ruminated over the meaning of the Russian culture and Russian civilization, with such ruminations stretching back centuries. Yet in the wake of the complete collapse of Soviet ideology, with the near-complete discrediting of almost all Soviet institutions, the sorting-out of a new national idea for a re-emerging and increasingly self-confident 21st century Russia is an important concern. It is a significant issue that merits analytical attention.

A Russian "national idea" is a nuanced and multifaceted phenomenon, and it necessarily entails complexities. Given the hegemonic institutional position of President Vladimir Putin, who is the dominant figure in Russian society, this article will focus on Putin's ideas and expressed preferences in identifying an emergent national idea. Four important elements are at the core of Putin's construction of a 21st century Russian national idea: (1) the strong, functioning state; (2) the state-guided market economy; (3) the welfare state with attendant safety net; and (4) the state-safeguarded foreign and security policy position that provides Russia a Eurasian--and even global--leadership position. …

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