Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Nemtsov and Democracy in Nizhny Novgorod

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Nemtsov and Democracy in Nizhny Novgorod

Article excerpt

Just nine months after President Boris Yeltsin had appointed Boris Nemtsov as governor of Nizhny Novgorod oblast in 1991,7 a respected Western journalist highlighted the "energy [that] emanates from Governor Nemtsov" and noted "[t]he proposed role for Nizhny Novgorod as a crucible of economic revolution."8 Not two years later, echoing the consensus view of the 34-year old Nemtsov prevailing at the time, another journalist characterized him as "a charismatic reform-minded governor."9 But did Nemtsov's reformist vision filter down to the political elites whose support was needed to implement his program?

Nizhny Novgorod under Nemtsov was one of the field sites for my dissertation research on Russian elite political culture that I carried out in cooperation with the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology in the mid-1990s. As my local collaborators and I fanned out to interview department heads in Nizhny's regional administration (administratsiya oblasti) and deputies in the oblast legislature (Zakonodatel'noe Sobranie), we found that access to both government buildings and our respondents was remarkably easy to obtain. This environment provided a welcome respite from the long days we had spent in Moscow trying to secure interviews with highly placed federal bureaucrats and State Duma deputies.10 It stood in even starker contrast with Tatarstan under Mintimer Shaimiev, where we were denied access to republic-level officials altogether. Instead, a representative of the republic's presidential administration conducted the interviews for us and forbade the sessions to be tape-recorded, as had been our practice in Moscow and Nizhny.11

Moreover, the interviews we conducted reveal that Nizhny's regional administrators and legislators were indeed more democratic, more market-oriented, and less willing to pursue an aggressive foreign policy in the former Soviet Union than their counterparts in both Tatarstan and the federal government. Table 1 displays results that demonstrate these attitudinal differences most vividly. Nizhny's elites were virtually unanimous that all citizens should have an equal opportunity to affect government policy, compared to slightly more than three-fourths of the Moscow sample and less than two-thirds of Tatarstan's elites. In the realm of economic policy, Nizhny officials were again the most reform-oriented: whereas three-fourth of Tatarstan's officials agreed that all heavy industry should be state-owned, only slightly more than half of those in Nizhny supported this proposition. …

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