The economic crisis demonstrated the vulnerability of Russia’s system of governance but has brought neither a transition to political pluralism, nor an economic restructuring. The crisis has, however, stimulated thought, including attempts to analyze the nature of the regime that has evolved over the last ten years and to understand its potential for survival. The authors of Pro et Contra’s latest issue make their contribution to this effort.
Democracy-2010: The Past and Future of Pluralism in Russia
There is little doubt that the sustainability of the non-competitive regime built during the 2000s will continue to wane, while demand for an alternative political system will grow. Personalistic regimes, however, are particularly poorly adapted to peaceful transformation or negotiated transfers of power, while simultaneously being particularly sensitive to economic factors. This basic contradiction looks set to be the primary challenge on the Russian political agenda for the near future.
Overmanaged Democracy: The Tandem and the Crisis
The gargantuan system of management, programmed for the performance of standardized tasks and the transmission of signals from the pinnacle of power, is poorly equipped to deal with a crisis. Officials are disoriented by the cacophonous and contradictory signals they receive, and so a crisis is particularly dangerous for any kind of ruling “tandem”, regardless of whether it is purely formal, or internally harmonious, or both. This problem is most visible in the ideological sphere, where the leadership continues to seek ersatz ideologies, while holding “casting calls” for the role of “guilty” should the situation worsen as the crisis drags on.
The Dead-end of Authoritarian Modernization
The longer democratization is avoided, the greater the risk that the intention of “dividing up everything” will eventually become a reality in Russia, and in the least civilized form, to boot. The “problem of simultaneity”, indeed, looks even more relevant in Russia today than it did in the early 1990s, when it was first articulated. The necessity of combining political and economic modernization is becoming an imperative for politicians interested in finding a way out of Russia’s authoritarian dead-end.
The Lost Opportunity for a “Revolution of Values”
When the heat of the crisis subsided, Russia’s rulers concluded that even a measured softening of the system could be unbalancing. The ruling elite thus returned to its policy of further weakening and marginalizing non-state political actors, seeking to minimize the risk of losing power. In other words, rather than create a more complex and rational social system, they have elected to rely on traditional methods of strengthening administrative control, which they see as the guarantor of social stability.
Moscow 2042 Under the Sway of the Market
Time travel can be a powerful medicine against pessimism. Everything will be fine, if we sign up in time to join the Guards. But falling out of the Service would seem an unfortunate turn of events: it is the “extraneous people” who will have to pay the price for the country’s breakthrough to a future in which the Market is Power. Only, unlike the peasants of the 1930s who were forced to pay for industrialization, in this case business and citizens will be punished for the simple failure to understand their own interest correctly and in a timely manner.
Russia’s Spheres of Interest, Not Influence
Even as Russia is building its post-imperial great power identity, also with a view to its stature vis-a-vis the former provinces, all new states have built their statehood in opposition to Russia. This is only natural as their independence is, above all else, independence from Russia. Unlike in the EU neighborhood, Russia so clearly dominates its “new” neighborhood that too much rapprochement with it may lead to ceding a high degree of sovereignty not to an institution, as in the EU, but to a hegemon.
Debtor Civilization: Challenge and Response
The current crisis reminds us that our civilization must find a response for the historical challenges it faces. That it is threatened with degradation and fall is commonly accepted. To avoid that fate, it must seriously revise its basic values and organizational forms to such an extent, that when the revision is completed we will have an entirely new civilization. Or, perhaps, Gandhi had found the truth when he joked that Western Civilization had yet to be created. It may be that the past 200 years have been only steps along the way.
1989 and the Prospects for Velvet Revolutions
Timothy Garton Ash
The prospects for an attempted velvet revolution depend not just on the nature of the state and society it happens in, but also on the place of that state and society in a wider international setting. Painting with a very broad brush, one might suggest that the best chances are to be found in semiauthoritarian states that depend to a significant degree, politically, economically, and, so to speak, psychologically, on more democratic ones—and most especially when the foreign states with the most passive influence or active leverage on them are Western democracies.
A Chronicle: Anatoly Chernyaev and His Diary
A significant portion of Russians believe that everything would be better if things in the country had remained as they were prior to Perestroika. This interpretation is supported not only by the usual idealization of the past, but by the common conception that the fall of the USSR and the communist regime was caused by subjective, rather than objective, factors. But whatever a reader uncovers in Chernyaev’s diary entries, he or she will find no illusions about the increasingly deep decline of the regime, along with the intellectual level and moral qualities of its leaders.
Andrew Wilson, Mikhail Vashchenko, Sergey Panarin