Consolidation Of Democracy In Post-Soviet Russia

The fall of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union was more than a political event. The powerful
interaction and fusion between politics and economics that characterized the state socialist system created
a situation that was unique for the successor states of the Soviet Union. The penetration of the
Communist regime into every facet of life left the Russian people with little democratic traditions. Russia
faces the seemingly impracticable task of economic liberalization and democratization. This is combined
with a necessity to answer nationalist and ethnic questions that have plagued Russia for centuries.
This paper addresses the problems of creating a stable democracy in Russia. The prospects for a stable
democracy in Russia are limited at best. I will outline some of the concerns that academics have in the
consolidation of Russian democracy. What is paramount to note is that a stable democracy must
adequately address what Ken Jowitt calls the “developmental trinity”: nation-building; capitalism and
democracy. The dilemma that is especially relevant to Russia it that these conditions are often
contradictory. The often messy business of politically reconstructing a nation defies traditional
democratic ideals. The establishment of democratic institutions can hinder the development of a market
economy and, conversely, programs that are designed to enhance capitalist expansion often are
antagonistic towards democratic goals (Jowitt 7). These seemingly endless Catch-22’s are at the heart of
difficulties facing Russia in its attempt to create a stable democracy.
The Process of Creating A Nation-State
The question of who is the playing the game and what makes the playing field is an important one for the
Russian Federation. Ethnic and nationalist questions plagued the Soviet Union and continue to stress the
Russia Federation during its nascent period. The dynamics of center-periphery relations provides Moscow
with some of the greatest challenges in establishing a stable democracy. Phillipe Smitter writes, “There is
no simply democratic way of deciding what a nation and its corresponding political unit should be”
(Smitter 66). Later in his article, he writes “those that have not yet resolved the dilemma of defining their
national and territorial boundaries are unlikely to make much more progress in other domains” (Smitter
73). The dilemma facing the Russian Federation is that it finds itself with a charge of establishing and
following democratic institutions, while at the same time facing secessionary pressures that seem to
require extra-democratic means to preserve the integrity of the nation.
Nationalism in multiethnic areas in the Russian Federation has provided a substantial challenge for
democratization. There is a direct relationship between democratization and ethnic peace (Smitter 72). In
a democratically weak society, ethnicity assumes a stronger role, and when democracy and ethnicity are
balanced, political stability is possible. As a result of a lack of democratic institutions and channels for
dialogue, Russia’s inhabitants are now increasingly identifying themselves as members of ethnic groups
rather than as citizens of the Russian Federation (Drobizheva).
An important development in center-periphery relations is the growing importance of “economic
nationalism,” an effort to create an economic basis for political independence. Economic nationalism is a
protective defense against the Russian federal government’s economic dominance. Alternatively, it is also
a sign that the republics wish to retain relations with Moscow since politics remains primarily in the
hands of the center (Drobizheva).
For example, Tatarstan and Sakha-Yakutia both have a wealth of natural resources, giving them a
potential advantage in economic development and a desire to establish control over these resources.
Tatarstan, for example, strives to sell its oil at world market prices in foreign markets to generate income,
and in 1993-94, the local governments in Tatarstan and Yakutia sought economic decentralization in
Russia by refusing to pay federal taxes. Consequently, an agreement reached between the federal
government and the republics gave the latter what they wanted: increased economic autonomy
Further inquiry into the agreements with Tartarsan demonstrates the flexibility the Yeltsin regime is
willing to employ in dealing with possible powder-keg situations. A treaty signed on February 15, 1994
attempted to mollify the tensions on both sides. The treaty affirmed Tartarsan right to its own
“international and economic relations” and, as previously noted, provided substantial autonomy in
economic issues for Tartarsan. Smoothing over contradictions in each state’s constitution, the agreement
affirms the union between Russia and Tartarsan