Building the Russian State: Institutional Crisis and the Quest for Democratic Governance

By Rees, David | Canadian Slavonic Papers, June-September 2001 | Go to article overview

Building the Russian State: Institutional Crisis and the Quest for Democratic Governance


Rees, David, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Valerie Sperling, ed. Building the Russian State: Institutional Crisis and the Quest for Democratic Governance. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000. xiii, 245 pp. Tables and figures. Index. $27.00, paper.

Building the Russian State is a collection of ten articles edited by Valerie Sperling. The volume attempts to explore the reasons behind Russia's failure to develop into a liberal democracy. It is divided into two parts. Part I examines the interactions between Russia's elites, their values, and their economic and political behaviour. Part II analyzes the condition of Russia's political, economic, legal, and military institutions for long-term stability and democratic governance.

The main focus of Part I addresses the Russian elite's understanding of the public good. At the heart of an understanding of the public good is the need to minimize the deleterious effects of a classical insider-outsider problem. In the absence of mechanisms and procedures to promote and enforce public accountability of an elite's actions, elites become self-serving and cynical. Pauline Jones Luong shows that an inside group, members of the former Soviet energy nomenklatura, with access to privileged information and personal contacts with top political figures was able to take control of the country's energy resources in the 1992-93 privatization drive. Mark Walker makes similar conclusions, arguing that Yeltsin skilfully used referenda in his struggle for control over the legislative branch. The April 1993 referendum gave him the legitimacy to dissolve the parliament five months later for new elections and to have the Russian public vote on a new constitution which would create a powerful executive branch of government. Virginie Coulloudun divides Russia's elites into two groups, one enjoying state backing and the other whose power comes from independent sources. The clash between these two groups is basically the attempt by the second group to gain recognition by and acceptance into the first group.

The seven articles of Part II focus on Russia's legal, political, military, and economic institutions. The conclusions the seven authors make emphasize repeatedly the importance of public accountability, the rule of law, and compromise. In the absence of an independent judiciary and rigorous enforcement of the law, Russia has no means to arrest its economic decline and the criminalization of its society, writes Louise Shelley. Eva Busza remarks that the most dangerous development resulting from the collapse of the Russian state may be the loss of civilian control over the military, with its attendant implications for domestic and international stability. …

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