Russian Politics and Society

By Richard Sakwa | Go to book overview

18Problems of transition

A weak state is a threat to democracy in no less a degree than a despotic power.

(Vladimir Putin) 1

Gogol ends his satire on Tsarist Russia, The Government Inspector, with the image of a careering troika (three-horse carriage) dragging the country no one knew whither: 'And where do you fly to, Russia?' This troika has still not yet been tamed, yet a sense of direction has been at the heart of post-communist Russian developments. In this chapter we examine the historical and theoretical problems associated with the concept of democratic transition, and in the next and final chapters analyse the tribulations of democracy in Russia. As we shall see, approaches focusing on modernisation and development are misleading in suggesting an inevitability in outcomes that can by no means be assumed. The view that Soviet-style politics could be cast off to expose a nascent capitalist democracy was misleading, but not entirely erroneous. There are profound continuities between the Tsarist, Soviet and post-Soviet eras in Russia, but at the same time there are enormous discontinuities and innovations. It is precisely the analysis of the dynamics of change and continuity that can reveal the sources of Russian political evolution. A democratic Russia could not emerge fully formed like Minerva from the brow of Zeus; but neither was the country forever in thrall to its tragic yet glorious past.


The challenge of history

It is often argued that Russia's failure to come to terms with its past is the greatest obstacle to the development of a consolidated democracy. According to the historian Yurii Afanas'ev, 'The public consciousness has not yet reached the required level. That there existed a certain regime and that a return to it is out of the question is acknowledged only by individuals, not as yet by the society.' 2 A certain nostalgia for the past was entertained not only by the communists but also by the great mass of the people. The memory of the past, however, was selective: both in terms of choosing the particular period that suited present tastes, and in reinterpreting the significance of each particular epoch. In adopting the Tsarist double-headed eagle as the state emblem, the Soviet national anthem (with new words) as Russia's official hymn, and the 'democratic' tricolour as the national flag, Putin sought to achieve the reconciliation of the various national myths. The past, its selection, interpretation and dynamics, however, remains a problem for contemporary Russian politics. 3

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Russian Politics and Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures ix
  • Tables x
  • Preface to the Third Edition xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Note on Style, Spelling and Transliteration xiv
  • Glossary of Acronyms, Acrostics and Terms xv
  • Part I - The Fall of Communism and the Rebirth of Russia 1
  • 1: Soviet Communism and Its Dissolution 3
  • 2: The Disintegration of the Ussr 27
  • Part II - Political Institutions and Processes 43
  • 3: The New Constitutional Order 45
  • 4: Law and Society 72
  • 5: The Executive 98
  • 6: The Legislature 125
  • 7: Electoral Politics 140
  • 8: Party Development 172
  • Part III - Federalism, Regionalism and Nationalism 201
  • 9: Federalism and the State 203
  • 10: Regional and Local Politics 224
  • 11: National Identity and State-Building 254
  • Part IV - Economy and Society 277
  • 12: Marketising the Economy 279
  • 13: Society and Social Movements 305
  • 14: Cultural Transformation 331
  • Part V - Foreign Policies 347
  • 15: Foreign Policy 349
  • 16: Commonwealth, Community and Fragmentation 375
  • 17: Defence and Security Policy 396
  • Part VI - Dilemmas of Democratisation 423
  • 18: Problems of Transition 425
  • 19: Pluralism, Elites, Regime and Leadership 445
  • 20: Democracy in Russia 463
  • Notes 475
  • Select Bibliography 524
  • Index 527
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