Democratization in Russia: Expectations and Experiences

AuthorAnirban Chatterjee
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/00208817221124967
Published date01 October 2022
Date01 October 2022
Subject MatterResearch Articles
https://doi.org/10.1177/00208817221124967
International Studies
59(4) 382 –408, 2022
© 2022 Jawaharlal Nehru University
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DOI: 10.1177/00208817221124967
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Research Article
Democratization in
Russia: Expectations
and Experiences
Anirban Chatterjee1
Abstract
Russia being the largest successor state among the post-Soviet countries, its
distinct civilization, unique history, and contribution to various fields has earned
interest among scholars. Moreover, it was also perceived that since Russia
straddles two continents, Asia and Europe, any development in Russia will either
have a direct or an indirect bearing on Europe and Asia. These factors have
collectively generated a great amount of scholarly interest in studying post-Soviet
Russian democratization. The article focuses on the aspects of the convergence
and divergence of these entities in the case of the Russian Federation. In this
endeavour, the article chalks out the key components of democratization and
their interplay in Russia. An attempt is made to understand the perception of
democracy among Russians and whether democratic reforms in post-Soviet
Russia led to any change of perception among Russians about democracy.
The article also unravels the institutional dynamics in order to ascertain the
Russian experience of democratization. The article concludes with some
recommendations for future course of actions with regard to democratization.
Keywords
Democracy, democratization, Russia, Europe, Asia, federalism, post-Soviet states
1 Department of Political Science, Plassey College (Affiliated to University of Kalyani), Nadia,
West Bengal, India
Corresponding author:
Anirban Chatterjee, Department of Political Science, Plassey College (Affiliated to University of
Kalyani), Nadia, West Bengal 741156, India.
E-mail: chatterjee.anirban148@gmail.com
Chatterjee 383
Introduction: The Background to Study Democratization
in Post-Soviet Russia
The fall of Communist regimes across Eastern and Central Europe in 1989 and the
subsequent disintegration of the erstwhile Soviet Union in December 1991
ushered in a new era of democratization in those states. Scholars of international
relations and political science were prompt enough to interpret the new
phenomenon as the ‘third wave of democratization’ (Huntington, 1991). Although
the initial manifestations of the process of the third wave of democratization was
witnessed in Southern Europe and Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s
when successive right wing dictatorships in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Brazil
were falling apart, it was only after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the
successful Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia that the Communist government
was toppled, and also a ‘democratic contagion’ was created across the region.
This phenomenon undermined the entrenched Soviet Communist control, which
ultimately led to the break-up of USSR itself.
Against this backdrop, democratization in the post-Soviet states became an
aspect of intense study for scholars and political scientists alike. Russia being the
largest successor state among the post-Soviet countries, its distinct civilization,
unique history, and contribution to various fields has earned interest among
scholars. Moreover, it was also perceived that since Russia straddles two
continents, Asia and Europe, any development in Russia will either have a direct
or an indirect bearing on Europe and Asia. These factors have collectively
generated a great amount of interest to study post-Soviet Russian democratization.
Democratization refers to the process of transition from a totalitarian to a more
democratic political system. The outcome may vary depending on the historical
legacy and the existing socio-economic configurations in that particular society. It
can either lead to substantial consolidation of democracy or it may witness stasis,
glitches, and sometimes even reversals. In the realm of comparative politics,
democratization bears a distinct characteristic owing to its diverse conceptual
formulations and practical applications. Diverse standpoints exist pertaining to
the approaches for exploring the study of democratization in post-Soviet Russia.
Scholars such as Stephen Cohen (1999) lament that transitologists and
comparative political analysts have not been able to sufficiently comprehend
Russia’s trajectory of economic reforms in the wake of its transition towards a
market economy. He also argues at length that many of the scholarships on
comparative democratization do not grasp the nuances of understanding the
archetypal post-Communist Russia. However, the less stinging critique embarks
on a comparative analysis of unearthing the transition of post-Communist Russia
with the degeneration of erstwhile authoritarian regimes into a democratic one. In
this connection, it is worthwhile to mention certain key parameters of democratic
transition. It includes—simultaneous tasks of introducing democratic political
institutions and a free market capitalist economic system. The existence of ethnic
diversity and conflict, a tradition of weak civil society, the failure of democratic
reforms in the past, and the presence of a relatively less conducive international
environment have posed challenges before the post-Communist countries’

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