Managing Democracy in Russia

Back in December, I wrote down some initial thoughts here about the street demonstrations against Putin that were happening in Russia at the time. One of the results of my engagement with the literature on the topic in the recent months is this new article for Dissent, just published today.

I will not re-post the whole thing here. You can visit the link above and read for yourself. But here are some excerpts:

“As Tony Wood perceptively noted in a recent article in the New Left Review, not only are the boundaries of the middle class difficult to pin down in the Russian context, but the remnants of the Soviet order continue to influence social relationships in the country. Rather than seeing the oligarchic accumulation of privatized state resources under Yeltsin and the re-entrenchment of state and economic power under Putin as accidental detours on what was supposed to be a linear transition from Soviet Communism to capitalist democracy, it is more important to ask how this particular system grew out of the previous one, why it has remained relatively stable, and what implications the opposition movement could have on Russian politics and society in the near future.”

“In any case, a possible twelve more years of Putin is an unnerving prospect to Western media, scholars, and policymakers, closing the window on the possibility of seeing Russia transform (if ever so belatedly) into a liberal democracy. Indeed, for much of the twenty-year period since the breakup of the Soviet Union, we have thought in terms of a dichotomy between the telos of liberal democracy—free elections and free markets—and its obstruction in the post-Communist bloc through statist bureaucracy, elite technocrats, and patronage politics. For the most part, this is also the language in which the opposition has formulated its demands. Yet considering Putin’s re-entrenchment and the uncertainties facing the opposition, perhaps we should rethink our categories, as some have already done, and ask if we are dealing with a new form of government that will remain in a “gray zone” between democracy and authoritarianism for at least the near future.”

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