Staunton, June 25 – Russia’s autocratic government is modern not just because it has reversed the democratization wave of three decades ago but because it is willing to make use of modern techniques in some spheres of life under its control for its direct benefit, according to Gulnaz Sharaftudinova.
The Kremlin uses various digital technologies not to modernize its economy but rather as a medium to “control the agenda, divert attention, claim credit for successes or shift blame for failures,” the London-based scholar says. But it also uses the Internet to “improve governance, transparency and responsiveness to citizens’ demands” in certain limited fields.
If its use of the media to reach and mobilize the population is well-known, she says, its use of this same medium as a feedback loop that allows the population to participate in governance and thus feel more a part of the system than would otherwise be the case (ridl.io/ru/komu-sluzhat-cifrovye-tehnologii-ljudjam-ili-sisteme/).
She draws that conclusion on the basis of a study she and two other scholars, Nisan Gorgulu and Jevgenijs Steinbuks prepared for the World Bank on pothole management in the city of Moscow (documents.worldbank.org/en/publication/documents-reports/documentdetail/169891603200854580/political-dividends-of-digital-participatory-governance-evidence-from-moscow-pothole-management).
That study examined how Muscovites used the city’s Nash Gorod portal to report potholes they encountered in the city’s streets between 2012 and 2019. They filed more than 200,000 such complaints on this online platform, and the authorities were “quick to react,” correcting more than half of all complaints within eight days.
Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin benefits from this, with those parts of the city which have used the portal to report potholes the most also being the part of the city that voted most heavily for him. Thus, Sharafutdinov concludes, “the strategy of engaging residents in governing their city appears to work.”
Potholes are not the only thing Muscovites can file online reports about, she continues. They can also complain about housing problems and many other aspects of city life. The city’s resources allow it to respond, but the portal is a critical link, an example of modernity that helps both the population and the powers that be.
St. Petersburg has a similar if smaller portal which has been the subject of study (link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-64677-0_32), and it is likely that other Russian cities will in time copy the Moscow initiative, not only because of their traditional deference to the center but because this form of modernization works.