Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Social Capital and Grassroots Democracy in Russia's Regions: Evidence from the 1999-2001 Gubernatorial Elections

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Social Capital and Grassroots Democracy in Russia's Regions: Evidence from the 1999-2001 Gubernatorial Elections

Article excerpt

The election of Vladimir Putin and the consolidation of a post-Yeltsin regime are perhaps the most significant developments in Russian politics since the constitutional plebiscite and "engineered founding elections" of 1993. (1) Although Putin's election brought a decisive end to the Yeltsin period and marked the first transfer of democratic power in Russia's history, it does not tell us all that much about the progress of democratic consolidation in Russia. Beginning with Gorbachev's policies of perestroika, glasnost, and demokratizatsiya, and continuing to the present day, democratization in Russia has been largely a top-down enterprise. For democracy to work in Russia, however, much more needs to happen than simply conducting national legislative and executive elections on schedule every four years. In fact, given the country's vast size, perhaps democratic consolidation in Russia will depend more on events in the regions, cities, and towns than in the country's capital. Participation in local politics is low, however, as it is in most industrialized societies. That leads to a particularly troubling situation, therefore, since society's involvement in local politics may be lacking at precisely the time that it is most needed the period of postcommunist state building, which, under Putin, may progress into the development of a neoauthoritarian state. The major defense against that would be a strong grassroots base of democracy and democratic support. But does one exist in Russia, and if so, is it up to the task ahead it?

Since Russian democracy as a whole rests to a large extent on successful regional democratization, the progress being made in Russia's regions is of critical importance. The recent wave of gubernatorial elections provides the opportunity to search for signs of emerging bases of grassroots democracy and, alternatively, for indications of slides toward authoritarian rule. After a brief introduction to the topic of regional executive elections in Russia, I proceed by reviewing the general results of the 1999-2001 gubernatorial elections, including such issues as the role of incumbency and Kremlin support. Continuing, I attempt to determine the strength of grassroots democracy in Russia and the factors that may contribute to its development by constructing a regional democratization index based on the results of the gubernatorial elections. I then explore the relationship between grassroots democracy and social capital by analyzing sets of correlates, including indicators of civic engagement, associational life, and interest in public affairs. The results indicate that there is great diversity among Russia's regions in terms of grassroots democracy, with some regions having a vibrant democratic fabric while others seem to be moving toward neoauthoritarianism. Moreover, the existence of social capital does seem to contribute to the strengthening of grassroots democracy in Russia, although it appears to be only one of several factors involved in that process. I thus conclude by discussing what some of the other factors might be.

Regional Executive Elections in Russia

During the past decade, Russia's republics, regions, cities, and towns have all undergone political reforms alongside those taking place in Moscow. (2) Unfortunately, the relative success of democratic reform on the national level has not been matched in regional and local politics. Regional democratization is perhaps just as important, because genuine democracy is impossible without the development of grassroots support to serve as a foundation. One necessary component of democracy is of course the introduction of electoral competition for the many positions of political leadership in the republics, regions, and cities.

As early as 1989 and 1990, when Soviet citizens went to the polls to vote for delegates to their republic-level legislatures many also had the opportunity to vote for their regional and city legislatures. …

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