Monday, February 18, 2019

Russians Reject Democracy Now Because of What It’s Become in West Since 1991, Rogozhnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 17 – Russians generally welcomed the arrival of democracy in Russia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mikhail Rogozhnikov says; but they dislike it now less because of the way it has operated in the Russian Federation itself than because of what democratic practices has become in the West since that time.

            In Vzglyad today, the chief editor of Ekspert says that Russians viewed democracy in terms of how the West defined it in the past but have turned on that system of governance because it has been subverted in the West itself by money and the way it and business elites can shape and even determine outcomes (

            The characteristics of democracy Robert Dahl and others described were never fully realized in the West, of course, Rogozhnikov says; but they have been subverted so blatantly in the last several decades that the notion of popular sovereignty achieved and maintained by competitive elections no longer looks as attractive to Russians as it did. Instead, it repels many.

            “Twenty and thirty years ago in Russia,” he continues, “democracy seemed a successful means of carrying out unpopular transformations.  But [as a result of the changes that democracy itself was undergoing as a result of the infusion of money and private power] it too soon showed its ‘true face.’”

            For more than a decade, however, Russian elites continued to try to introduce and make use of “the Western model of democracy,” allowing the elites to satisfy themselves while proclaiming that the population at large was making the decisions via competitive elections at the ballot box just as Western leaders continued to do in their countries.

            That has had the effect, Rogozhnikov says, of making Russians who were attracted to the idea of democracy earlier ever more suspicious that democracy is not what the West has advertised it to be but rather simply a new cover for the same old rule by backroom elites they have long suffered under.

            The Ekspert editor acknowledges that other domestic factors are at work, including the recrudescence of traditional power relations in Russia, the difficulties of carrying out the transitions Russia needs to make in order to modernize, and Russians’ proclivity to think in cosmic ways.

            But those factors alone, he suggests, would have not been enough to convince Russians that democracy was not for them had they not see the way in which the entrance of enormous amounts of money and the use of the mass media have transformed what they found attractive a generation ago into something they want no part of. 

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