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Between Dictatorship and Democracy

Between Dictatorship and Democracy: Russian Post-Communist Political Reform

Michael McFaul
Nikolai Petrov
Andrei Ryabov
Mikhail Krasnov
Vladimir Petukhov
Viktor Sheinis
Elina Treyger
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  • Book Info
    Between Dictatorship and Democracy
    Book Description:

    For hundreds of years, dictators have ruled Russia. Do they still? In the late 1980s, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev launched a series of political reforms that eventually allowed for competitive elections, the emergence of an independent press, the formation of political parties, and the sprouting of civil society. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, these proto-democratic institutions endured in an independent Russia. But did the processes unleashed by Gorbachev and continued under Russian President Boris Yeltsin lead eventually to liberal democracy in Russia? If not, what kind of political regime did take hold in post-Soviet Russia? And how has Vladimir Putin's rise to power influenced the course of democratic consolidation or the lack thereof?Between Dictatorship and Democracyseeks to give a comprehensive answer to these fundamental questions about the nature of Russian politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-87003-290-5
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Jessica T. Mathews

    The initiation of political liberalization in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev had profound and unexpected consequences for both the USSR and the world. Gorbachev aspired to make the Soviet regime more accountable to its citizens, more pluralistic, and more effective. He did not achieve his aims. Instead the Soviet Union collapsed altogether and Gorbachev was deposed as its last leader.

    After the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, a newly independent Russia seemed to be making its way from autocracy to democracy. Russian President Boris Yeltsin called himself a democrat and pledged to build democratic institutions. Leaders in Western...

  2. Abbreviations and Acronyms
    (pp. xii-xii)
  3. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)
    Michael McFaul, Nikolai Petrov and Andrei Ryabov

    Is Russia a democracy? Will Russia be a democracy in ten years? Was Russia ever a democracy? This book seeks to give comprehensive and nuanced answers to these difficult, controversial questions. They are difficult to answer because Russia’s political system is neither a full-blown dictatorship nor a consolidated democracy, but something in between. They are controversial because the answers have implications for both theorists and policymakers in Russia as well as in the United States.

    Our method is not to present tedious, long semantic debates about the adjectives that should modify either democracy or dictatorship when describing the Russian regime.¹...

  4. 2 Elections
    (pp. 23-55)
    Michael McFaul and Nikolai Petrov

    Competitive elections are the cornerstone of any democracy. Elections alone do not make a country a democracy, but they are an essential component of the democratic process. In seeking to describe regime types, analysts have invented many adjectives to qualify the word democracy, but all descriptions on the democratic side of the ledger, including electoral democracies and illiberal democracies, still recognize competitive elections as the critical variable that distinguishes autocracies from democracies.¹

    The advent of competitive elections in the Soviet Union and then Russia certainly contributed to the reclassification of the country as a democracy.² In the early 1990s, Russia...

  5. 3 The Constitution
    (pp. 56-82)
    Viktor Sheinis

    Russia’s 1993 constitution was drafted to work around the constitution that was already in existence. It was approved by means of a referendum whose official results raised serious concerns about falsification. The referendum was conducted during a brief period of suppression of one of the opposition political forces and brought to an end a period of violent conflict between the president and the parliament. Unlike many states in transition, Russia was given a constitution written by the winners of the October 1993 showdown instead of a document approved through consensus. Therefore the continuation of debate about the 1993 constitution in...

  6. 4 Legislative–Executive Relations
    (pp. 83-104)
    Andrei Ryabov

    The separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches has been among the most important accomplishments of the grand program of reforms to sweep post-communist Russia during the past decade. The transition from a one-party state led by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to a new political system based on interaction between legislative and executive institutions was a tortuous process punctuated by a number of conflicts, including an armed conflict between the president and the parliament in October 1993. Since this conflict, the relationship between the executive and legislative branches has stabilized. The quality of their interaction...

  7. 5 Political Parties
    (pp. 105-134)
    Michael McFaul

    A party system is an essential attribute of a democratic regime: no parties, no democracy.¹ Despite the erosion of the influence of parties in old democracies and the difficulties of establishing parties from scratch in new democracies, theorists still agree that parties and a party system are necessary evils for the functioning of representative government.² In liberal democracies, parties perform several tasks. During elections they provide voters with distinct choices, be they ideological, social, or even ethnic. After elections, parties then represent the interests of their constituents in the formulation, and sometimes the implementation, of state policy. The degree of...

  8. 6 Civil Society
    (pp. 135-173)
    Michael McFaul and Elina Treyger

    At the end of the Gorbachev era, a society reared by decades of totalitarian rule surprised the world with political activity of unprecedented and unexpected scope. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the Soviet system repeatedly in 1990 and 1991, including the attempted coup in August 1991. An open, democratic opposition materialized where dissidence had been sparse and scattered; and a heretofore passive, deferential citizenry formed political organizations unassociated with the Soviet party-state. The proliferation of nonparty, nonstate civic groups, trade unions, political parties, and newspapers and the exponential rise in citizen participation fueled...

  9. 7 The Mass Media
    (pp. 174-194)
    Andrei Ryabov

    Every definition of a liberal democracy includes independent media as a critical component. Theorists of democratic transitions have highlighted the critical role that liberalizing media can play in forcing the pace of democratization. Russia has been no exception. The development of independent mass media, even if a sporadic and unfinished process, played a key role in Russia’s postcommunist political transition and democratization. Thus the history of their development over the past decade and the obstacles they encountered has generated intense interest among political scientists and analysts and has inspired a vast amount of literature, both in Russia and abroad.¹


  10. 8 The Rule of Law
    (pp. 195-212)
    Mikhail Krasnov

    Soviet jurisprudence theory did not recognize the concept of a law-governed state (meaning the control of law over power), classifying such a concept as a category of bourgeois law. The influential four-volume workThe Marxist-Leninist General Theory of the State and Law,published at the beginning of the 1970s, states plainly: “The idea that law, whether understood as a supra-class norm of obligation, as an abstract, comprehensive kind of justice, or as a natural right of man, rulesoverthe state andoverthe political authority, binding and limiting it, is by its nature a disguise for class dictatorship.”¹


  11. 9 Federalism
    (pp. 213-238)
    Nikolai Petrov

    A long with the regular holding of elections, the creation of Russia’s federal system was perhaps the greatest achievement of the first decade of post-Soviet Russia. What is called federalism in Russia is a mixture of federal features along with a weak, centralized, unitary state, in which the central is opposed by quasi-democratic, semi-authoritarian, regional elites. Like Russian democracy, Russian federalism has many elements that are decorative rather than substantive and that appear similar to their Western analogues but have a different essence. Russian federalism serves as a ritual rather than as a function. Consequently, the current situation is unstable....

  12. 10 Regional Models of Democratic Development
    (pp. 239-267)
    Nikolai Petrov

    Those discussing the fate of democracy in Russia often focus on ostensibly nationwide phenomena, such as the separation of powers, the relationships between various political institutions, the freedom of the press, and the activity of nongovernmental organizations. Yet observers often erroneously deduce trends from developments solely at the federal level of government. The reality is that the situation in Moscow and its adjacent regions (Moskovskaya Oblast), diverges fundamentally from the situation of each of the eighty-seven other subjects of the federation. A full and accurate picture of the state of affairs in Russia with regard to democratization or any other...

  13. 11 Public Attitudes About Democracy
    (pp. 268-291)
    Vladimir Petukhov and Andrei Ryabov

    During the 1990s, Russians endured one of the fastest and most farreaching transformations in their country’s political, social, and economic history. During this decade, Russia embarked on a painful transition from a centrally planned to a market economy, while simultaneously moving from a closed, totalitarian political regime to a more open and pluralistic system. By the mid-1990s, after years of formal government control, parts of the mass media became independent and began to play an important role in shaping public opinion. The fundamental principles of the former political system were revamped to promote the development of new, more democratic structures....

  14. 12 Postscript: The 2003 Parliamentary Elections and the Future of Russian Democracy
    (pp. 292-298)
    Michael McFaul, Nikolai Petrov and Andrei Ryabov

    The political system that President Vladimir Putin headed at the end of his first term as president differed qualitatively from the regime that President Boris Yeltsin had bequeathed to him. Yeltsin proved to be more able at destruction than construction. The first Russian president helped to guide the Soviet empire to a relatively peaceful collapse, dismantled the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and destroyed the Soviet command economy. In the wake of this regime destruction, Yeltsin managed to build only weak political institutions of a democratic nature. Nor was his destruction of the ancien régime complete, as many powerful...

  15. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    (pp. 365-365)