Staunton, July 16 – Many both in the post-Soviet countries and elsewhere confused the weakening of state institutions there in the 1980s and 1990s with democratization and thus failed to see that most of these countries, including Russia, were not on course to shift from an authoritarian past to a democratic future, Maria Snegovaya says.
These observers failed to recognize that after a long period of authoritarian rule, the prospects for a shift to democracy are far from great, the Washington-based Russian analyst says. Indeed, “democracy is more the exception” than the rule in such cases (reforum.io/blog/2023/07/16/pochemu-demokratizacziya-90-h-okazalas-lozhnoj/).
It took almost a decade for most observers to recognize that “the end of authoritarian regimes doesn’t mean the rise of democracy” because most countries with an authoritarian past don’t have “sufficient structural prerequisites” for such a transition. That was true for Russia in spades.
According to Snegovaya, 80 to 90 percent of the “new” elites were in fact members of the older Soviet ones. “All Soviet institutions were completely transferred to the new Russia;” and “of approximately 300 oligarchs which arose after the first wave of reform, 43 percent were from the nomenklatura.”
Under Putin, she continues, “this situation has been preserved: 60 percent of the top 100 people in the Putin elites are people who began a nomenklatura career in Soviet times or their children.”
And in another sign that there was no democratic transition, the Russian opposition was not able to win a majority in a single regional parliament. Instead, “all the achievements of the opposition were concentrated in cities with more than a million residents. Thirty years hav passed, but the situation almost hasn’t changed.”
What has continued are not only the personnel but their habits of rule and the fact that 97 to 99 percent of the population is left out of any political struggle at all. That means many things but one thing is certain: if Yeltsin had not chosen Putin, the situation might have been less harsh; but it wouldn’t have led quickly to democratization.