Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Putting Up with Fellow Russians: An Analysis of Political Tolerance in the Fledgling Russian Democracy

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Putting Up with Fellow Russians: An Analysis of Political Tolerance in the Fledgling Russian Democracy

Article excerpt

Research from the early days of Russian democratization has suggested that political tolerance among the mass public was in terribly short supply Several questions remain, however. Has intolerance persisted since the late 1980s and early 1990s? Further, how intolerant are the Russians when compared with the mass publics of other Central and Eastern European democratizing countries; how intolerant are the Russians when compared with Western Europeans and Americans? Most importantly, is Russian intolerance likely to become pernicious? That is, does it have the attributes that make it likely to result in political repression? I answer these questions by theoretically specifying and investigating empirically four attributes of Russian public opinion that presage whether political consequences are likely to flow from political intolerance. My overriding conclusion is that Russian intolerance has several traits that may indeed make it pernicious, especially for unpopular political minorities.

One of the most vexing problems of attempted democratic transformations is the problem of political intolerance-the unwillingness of citizens and leaders to allow all political interests to compete openly for political power. This is perhaps not particularly surprising since, in the early days of political transformations, the contestants for power are likely to believe they are fighting life or death political battles, centered around a struggle between "good" and "evil." For bitter enemies to learn how to compete peacefully and democratically for political power is one of the most formidable problems for the consolidation of democratic transformations.

Political intolerance is an especially grave problem in the Russian case since there are so few cultural norms that cultivate tolerance. A key defining aspect of Russian political culture is often said to be its intolerance, and certainly there is little in the Marxist-Leninism of the old Soviet regime that encouraged tolerance of one's most hated political enemies. In part, this may be a function of the absence of liberalism in Russian political traditions, but whatever the cause, initial empirical research convincingly demonstrates that tolerance is in terribly short supply in Russia, at least during the early days of the Russian transformation (e.g., Gibson, Duch, and Tedin 1992; Gibson and Duch 1993b). A paramount hurdle to the consolidation of Russian democracy is the political intolerance that seems to be so widespread in Russian political culture.

Much of what is known about Russian intolerance derives from surveys of mass opinion conducted during the period of democratic initiation.1 Intolerance was at that time widespread (e.g., Gibson and Duch 1993a; Bahry, Boaz, and Gordon 1996). But perhaps that was to be expected during the early days of the transition. Perhaps now that the Russians have a few years of experience with relatively democratic politics, intolerance has abated somewhat. To some degree, the intensity of political conflict within Russian politics has subsided; perhaps the Russian public has grown accustomed to witnessing political competition among groups arrayed from the very far "right" to the very far "left" (to the extent that terms such as "left" and "right" mean anything any more). Thus, the overriding objective of this article is to reexamine the intolerance of the Russian mass public, focusing on the period of the attempted consolidation of democracy in Russia.

The most important theoretical question I seek to address in this article is whether political intolerance actually matters for the real politics of Russia. That is, is intolerance, so commonly treated as a dependent variable, of any importance as an independent variable? It is clear from some of the earlier research on political intolerance that intolerant attitudes do not always materialize in intolerant behavior (e.g., Gibson and Bingham 1985; ch. 7; Marcus et al. 1995); and that even intolerant behavior does not necessarily generate repressive public policy (e. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.