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Is Russian political culture a serious obstacle to democratization?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Seventy years of communism.
    1. An illiberal political culture.
    2. The importance of which should not be overestimated.
  3. Russian Presidents as elected czars?
    1. The political culture of Russian leaders.
    2. Propects for democracy in Putin's Russia.
  4. Conclusion.
  5. Bibliography.

From the end of the Cold War to nowadays, Russia has endeavored to reform itself so as to exit from a situation of crises. Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to give a new start to the economy of the Soviet Union, to reform its plethoric administration and take steps towards a more democratic, transparent political system; these reforms led to the disintegration of the country, the dismantling of Communism and the birth of the Russian Federation. Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the new state, put in place the basis of a market economy (with only partial success). Since 2000, his successor Vladimir Putin says he wants to renovate the institutions, regulate wild capitalism and integrate the national economy within world economic structures. Therefore, the History of contemporary Russia can a priori be perceived as a search for ?normality? ? a normalisation that notably implies some progress in terms of democracy.

[...] In this essay, I will examine the question of whether or not Russian political culture is an obstacle to the full democratisation of Russia. The term ?political culture? refers to values, perceptions of tradition and history, and beliefs about politics held by individuals? that ?sustain a political system?, as defined by Richard Sakwa in his textbook about Russian Politics and Society.[2] Seventy years of communism We need to evaluate the influence of seventy years of Marxism-Leninism on Russian political culture an influence that cannot be but critical, all the more so than of all other East European socialist states, the Soviet republic of Russia were undoubtedly the least vulnerable to Western influence. [...]


[...] The way we perceive Russia is subjective, on account both of a typically Western feeling of superiority and the fact we tend to use this large, mysterious country as an so as to define our own identity there is a long tradition in French political scientists of the eighteenth and nineteenth century to take Eastern countries such as Russia or the Ottoman Empire as ideotypical examples for their definition of tyranny. It is probably not true in Canada, but it was undoubtedly the case of the Americans during the Cold War, and it is still true in Western Europe.[8] Another critical point to make is that as Michael MacFaul reminds us we tend to misinterpret some signals sent to us by Russians.[9] For instance, if the words ?democracy? and ?liberalism? are not perceived positively by a majority of Russians, as indicated by polls, this is not on account of a culturally-based opposition to democracy as such : it is due to their memory of the hardship they suffered at the time of the Yeltsin- supported ?shock therapy?, when their country allegedly became a ?liberal democracy.? When asked in broad terms if they support freedom of expression and the right to elect one's leaders of Russians answer Similarly, the election of the authoritarian Vadimir Putin as President of the Russian Federation is not as much the proof of a rejection of the ideas supported by his liberal contenders than the consequence of the belief by most Russians that only he appeared capable of dragging the country out of its dramatic situation. [...]


[...] Interesting for the study of Russian political culture is the question of whether the main directions of Putin's policy are or not likely to accelerate the democratisation process in a country still on the threshold of normalisation. Indeed, Putin is both seen as a modernizer and an authoritarian ?modern and ?Putinism? is sometimes considered as an expression of/fitting Russian political culture an allegation we need to question, and whose impact on Russia's progress toward democracy is still to be evaluated. [...]

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