This issue of OZ is devoted mainly to the challenges of building civil society in modern-day Russia, a subject both topical and yet not easily definable. The contributors to this issue have striven to demystify this elusive notion. Judging by the many (though often exotic) sprouts of grass-roots democracy described in some of the articles in this issue, Russia is quite capable of building a fairly habitable social environment within the foreseeable future.
Boris Dubin, Outsiders: Authorities, Masses and Mass-Media.
Based on surveys conducted by the respected Levada-Center public opinion research agency, the article explores the correlation between the changes that have been taking place since mid-1990s in the character of the government, the structures of collective identification, the political culture of the population, and the Russian media. The author focuses on the process of the “mediocratizating mass-mediatization” of society and the phenomenon of a constructed majority whose integrative structure is maintained and reproduced by the country’s two main television networks. This process involves a synergy between political dictates from above, self-serving interests of government-connected business tycoons, and media policies of the new breed of “pragmatic” managers of large media networks. The mass-mediatization of society, in contrast to modernizing its basic institutions, takes the socio-cultural form of epigonism, thereby making the figure of the epigone an important object of sociological study.
Simon Kordonsky. State, Civil Society, and Corruption.
The author takes issue with traditional liberal political thinking which tends to associate the State with all things murky and evil, while presenting an idealized view of civil society. Proponents of this view see Russian civil society as weak, while failing to recognize such powerful forms of civil society activity as draft dodging, tax evasion, theft, and universal bribery. These phenomena, the author contends, cannot be blamed on the State alone; rather, they are “a result of a synergy between a civil society that is unwilling to organize and the State that is organized in an absurd way”.
In a piece entitled Civil Society in Russia, Jens Siegert attempts to explain the reasons behind the fact that although a full range of democratic institutions seems to be formally in place, there is still no stable democracy or mature civil society in Russia. Siegert points out that one peculiar feature of the Russian experience has been that democratic institutions were set up before the introduction of civil liberties, whereas in most democratic countries the order of development stages was different: first, securing bourgeois liberties, then building of the State based on the rule of law, and only after that came democracy. Another important point is that civil society cannot be created by decree. It has to grow naturally as part of a long process which can be affected by a multitude of external and subjective factors.
A round-table discussion on the theme of The Prospects of Grassroots Democracy in Russia brings together Tatiana Vorozheikina, Alexei Levinson, Maria Lipman, Nikolay Petrov, Grigory Shvedov and Evgeny Yasin who attempt to provide answers to three key issues: what progress has been achieved over the past 15 years in building civil society; which civil society institutions will survive if they lose government or foreign funding, and what can be done to invigorate the process of promoting civil society.
Splendors and Miseries of Our Country’s Democracy by Igor Kurukin provides a professional historian’s commentary on the recent flurry of publications about the past and present of democracy in Russia. The author demonstrates that the weaknesses of democratic institutions in Russia cannot be blamed solely on the absolutist monarchy (or any other strong ruling authority). Society itself was unprepared for independent political activity, and a socio-cultural gap between the poor and the elite within society was as much responsible for the failure of society to join forces to achieve common goals, as the reluctance on the part of the rulers to share power with their subjects.
Nikolay Petrov, in a synopsis entitled Civil Society in the Russian Empire as Recollected by Obolensky, demonstrates that although the number of active citizenry was small, they formed dense networks with highly intensive horizontal ties. A network provided a fast and cohesive response whenever authorities threatened any of its members, be it a student or an important local self-government personality. At the same time, according to Prince Obolensky, both the authorities and society in Russia were willing to meet halfway, cooperate with each other and reach strategic decisions.
In a piece entitled How to Become Good Citizens, Tatiana Vorozheikina looks at the relationship between grassroots organizations and representative democracy, and civil and political society in 20th century Argentina. The Peronist regime (1946–1955) set up a mechanism that was quite successful at vertically integrating society and at institutionalizing mass participation through State controlled channels, while leaving representative bodies extremely weak. When, after almost half a century, this model finally disintegrated, new mechanisms for civil and political society interaction emerged and made their presence felt, especially during and after the 2001–2002 crisis. The appearance of new civil society associations helped strengthen the representative aspect of political institutions, although this failed to resolved the issue of opening up the political system to those sections of the population that had been traditionally deprived of access to social and political mechanisms of influencing policy making.
Maria Nozhenko. Who and in What Way Fosters Civil Society in Russia. The level of civil society development of a country is to a large extent determined by the strength of its nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). By analyzing the findings of a survey conducted in several municipalities outside St-Petersburg and by looking, among other things, at how active NGOs are, what form their work takes and what stance they adopt vis-a-vis the State, the author attempts to surmise a broader picture of NGO activity in the country as a whole. The author’s main conclusion is that NGOs in Russia are still very weak and display little propensity for pooling their efforts. In most cases only State authorities can push them in that direction.
Sergei Pchelintsev. Civil Society and the Issue of Restrictions on Personal Rights and Liberties. Russia’s transition to democracy will inevitably mean a break with the prevalent disrespect for the law, and will require a more balanced relationship between the State and the individual. The author points out that however democratic a society, the rights of citizens will still have to be limited to some degree. What is important is that these limits should not be arbitrary, but constitute a compromise between social necessity and interests of the individual. This, however, raises an important question – to what extent should the State be entitled to limit the rights of its citizens. This issue assumes added urgency in the light of the military operation conducted by Russia in the Chechen Republic. Some legal scholars reject any attempts to limit civil liberties for whatever reason, while others take the view that imposing certain limits may be justified as part of the fight against terrorism. The article looks closely at the arguments put forward by both sides.
OZ presents a legal analysis of the amendments enacted to the Russian Law on Public Associations and Not-for-Profit Organizations on 17 February 2006. Analysts from the International Center of Not-for-Profit Law conclude that many of the new regulations may seriously impede the activities of civil society institutions.
Ivan Kurilla. Civil Society vs. the State in Volgograd: A Polarized Model of Grassroots Democracy.
Taking the city of Volgograd as an example, the author argues that a distinctly left-leaning protocivil society has taken hold in regional Russia. In the early 1990s the liberals allied themselves to the then reformist government, and when the State subsequently withdrew its cooperation, the liberals discovered that they had no base to rely on. The Left, however, used the time when they were in opposition to build State-independent civil structures and gain influence in many organizations leftover from the Soviet era (trade unions, street committees etc). In the author’s view, Russia faces a choice: there will either be a victory of the State over society, which would lead to yet another cycle of modernization from above, or a far less likely victory for the Left, which would mean the freezing of many reforms but provide an opportunity to reshape the State-society relationship.
We present an excerpt from an article by Brian D. Taylor Law Enforcement and Civil Society in Russia, 2006. The author outlines three strategies of civic activity practiced by nongovernmental organizations in Russia. The first strategy, called Civil Society I, seeks to educate the public about the norms and values of liberal democracy; the second, Civil Society II, focuses on the monitoring, criticizing and publicizing of various abuses committed by State authorities. The third approach, Civil Society III, which the author discusses at length, citing specific projects, involves constructive engagement with law enforcement agencies to strengthen law and order.]
“Rassvoenie”: Typology of Environmental Organizations by Boris Zhukov looks at the history of the environmental movement and at the activities of Russian ecological organizations in the Soviet era and after perestroika. The author discusses the issues facing the green movement, in particular the lack of a positive ideology which can be a mixed blessing, providing a wide platform for political association, while making it more difficult to reach effective common decisions.
Nikolai Karbainov. “Nahalovka” of Ulan- Ude: Civil Society on the Runway.
In 1990s, unofficial settlements sprang up on the outskirts of the capital of Buryatia. The city authorities declared these settlements illegal and are now threatening to pull them down, while the residents have vowed to fight any attempt to demolish their houses. Failure to reach compromise could undermine social stability in the city.
Oleg Pachenkov. Civil Associations of Small and Medium Businesses.
Research into corruption in St-Petersburg has revealed that, surprisingly, business associations are not engaged in trying to improve the business climate for their members by putting pressure on the authorities; instead, they concentrate on helping their members adapt to the existing business environment which is constantly made worse by shifting rules imposed by the State. In particular, small and medium business associations do little to defend their members against widespread bureaucratic extortion. The author contends that this state of affairs is caused by the fact that entrepreneurs regard corruption as State-sponsored and therefore inevitable.
In a piece entitled Community of Backpackers, Boris Rodoman looks back on group hiking as a form of independent self-organizing experience for citizenry in the Soviet era. The author suggests that a group of backpackers can serve as a model for a non-government organization.
The Role of Global Processes in Mobilizing Grassroots Democracy in Forestry Townships in Russia: The “Priluzie” Model Forest by Maria Tysiachniuk provides an opportunity to learn how global innovative social and economic processes are being implemented at the local level. Taking as an example the case of a large forestry company in the Republic of Komi which embraced innovation and underwent voluntary certification with the international Forest Stewardship Council, the article explores the way new global forestry trends can improve the day-to-day practices of forest management in Russia’s regions. The author demonstrates, that given correct implementation, the process of globalization can bring enormous benefits not only in terms of attracting ecologically responsible international investment to the regions, but it an also encourage the development of democratic institutions.
Maria Eismont. Is There Life on Mars: Independent Media in Russia’s Regions.
The first privately-owned newspapers began to appear in Russia’s small towns in 1990–1991. The article discusses financial, political, creative and ethical issues facing the local independent broadsheets: thin profit margins, competition from the government-funded municipal press, local administration pressure, denial of access to information etc. Nevertheless, dozens of local publications try to become fully independent of the authorities, and see their role as promoting civil society in their own towns.
Sergei Filatov in a piece entitled Russian Christian Communities as Element of Civil Society notes that most Russian Orthodox Christians do not feel any need to network with other members of their parish and do not form communities. However, those confessions that have been barely tolerated or even banned by the authorities, have set up closely knit communities characterized by a high degree of internal solidarity.
THE COUNTRY OF OZ
Alexei Levinson. Alien Russians.
An excerpt from a future book Natives or Aliens? Forced Migrants in Post-Soviet Russia presents a study of 118 interviews with ethnic Russians who were forced to flee from former Soviet republics and migrated to Russia proper. The interviews reveal that apart from the suffering caused by a sharp decline in their standard of living, the refugees generally also face hostility from the local population. The article explores the issues of the refugees’ ethnic identity crisis and looks at the reasons behind the xenophobia exhibited toward ethnic Russian immigrants in Russia. The author claims that xenophobia is a reaction of primitive human communities and neighborhoods to the arrival of an “alien” whose lifestyle poses a challenge to their habitual dreary way of life.
The Bug Hollaender, a historical study by Olga Solovieva, a schoolgirl from the village of Zalari in Irkutsk Region, discusses a unique group of ethnic Germans (or Dutch) who for many centuries lived along the banks of the Western Bug River and in Volynia, and later settled in Siberia. The author looks at their fascinating history, customs and traditions, and then goes on to describe what these people had to go through when they were branded suspect Germans during World War II.
War Zone by Olga Darfi features an interview with a professional soldier who fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The interview was intended for a documentary theater project on the subject of modern warfare and the methods it employs, including individual terror. It is possible that at some point in time the project will be transformed into a series of short plays based on interviews with people whose profession is in some way related to war.
In developed countries, people enjoy a higher standard of living and live longer, yet these counties have two to three times more disabled persons than in Russia. The nature of this paradox is considered by Sergei Vasin in his article The Light Burden of Disability. The reason, it turns out, lies in the shortcomings of Russian accounting methods, as well as in the fact that the Russian disabled often see no point in claiming a legal disability status, since it involves a lot of hassle, while the benefits are paltry and typically impossible to get. Meanwhile, the Russian population continues to age and numbers of the disabled are growing ever larger.
Mikhail Prishvin. Diaries (1930). The concluding part of the publication begun in the previous issue. A secret diary of the distinguished Russian writer, presenting a graphic account of the degradation of Russian society under Stalin.
Isaak M. Filshtinsky. Through the Eyes of a Friend.
In memory of Eleazar M. Meletinsky (1918–2005), Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, RSHU
In memory of the distinguished slavicist, Academician Vladimir N. Toporov (1928–2005).