Seminar with L. Polishchuk at Uppsala

At the UCRS seminar recent research findings by Elena Gaber, Leonid Polishchuk, and Denis Stukal will be presented.


The authors trace illiberal sentiments and a lack of civic culture in today’s Russian society, and poor state of the Russian democracy, to economic and political transformations of the early 1990s. Prior to the reforms, there was considerable optimism in Russia about free market and liberal democracy, but these hopes and expectations were quickly shattered. The collapse of trust and civicness that ensued was often ascribed to economic hardship, and as such expected to be temporary and repaired by an economic recovery. However, value drift away from liberal democracy continued against the backdrop of decade-long economic growth. Another hope for a value shift – due to a generational change – has also failed to materialize, and younger generations with no memory of the Soviet regime are sometimes less liberal and civic than older ones.

The authors explain the observed trends and outcomes by a democratic deficit at the time of reform, when democracy was viewed as a political obstacle and liability, rather than a resource and driving force of transformation. Democratic support was expected ex post, once market institutions start paying off. However the representation void was filled by organized elite groups – first the oligarchs and next the “vertical power” bureaucracy, which have established and sustained “extractive” economic and political institutions, instead of “inclusive” institutions serving the society at large. Temporary suppression of democracy at a “critical juncture” has set in motion a stable vicious circle, reproducing a general pattern a la Acemoglu and Robinson’s Why Nations Fail. The authors argue that such mechanism involves a cultural change towards paternalism and survival values, which provides a stable ground to a competitive authoritarianism-type regime. The authors draw from multiple waves of the World Values Survey and other data sources to provide empirical support of the above conjectures, and to conclude that the present state of the Russian politics and society reflects not only centuries-old, but also much more recent path-dependencies.