Civil Society and Protests in Russia Alfred B. Evans, Jr. Department of Political Science California State University, Fresno Fresno, CA 93740-8029 [email protected], [email protected] Paper prepared for presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Western Political Science Association, Seattle, Washington, April 17-19, 2014. Not for quotation or citation without permission of the author.
Some scholars have suggested that little has changed in civil society in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet system (Ljubownikow, Crotty, and Rodgers 3013: 164). It is true that most independent social organisations in Russia were weak and marginal at the end of the first post-Soviet decade, and the situation has not improved greatly for most of them to the present day. It also may be said accurately that Vladimir Putin has sought to subordinate civil society to domination by the state. Certainly some aspects of the relationship between the state and social organisations that is envisioned in Putin’s model are reminiscent of features of the Soviet system (Ibid.). Yet this chapter will argue that a great deal has changed in civil society in Russia since the beginning of the post-Soviet period. The assessment of the degree of such change depends to a large extent on the perspective of each person who analyzes trends in Russian society and politics. Those who have directed their attention to civil society in Russia mainly because they have hoped that it would contribute to the success of democratization in that country are likely to conclude that there has been little significant change. Yet as Russians themselves look at organisations in their society, most of them do not assess such organisations in terms of their contribution to the growth of democracy in their country’s political system. A variety of evidence indicates that most Russians evaluate the work of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in terms of the impact that they feel in their lives. They ask whether any of those organisations have produced improvements by addressing the problems that most trouble them. We need to keep that perspective in mind as we examine trends in civil society in Russia. Problems of Civil Society in Post-Soviet Russia 2
The 1990s, the first years after the demise of the Soviet system, were a painful and difficult period for most people in Russia, in which providing for basic necessities in the face of economic instability was the overriding concern. The consensus of scholars is that during that period, most Russians continued to rely primarily on informal networks of family members and friends to satisfy their most urgent needs (Crotty 2009: 88; Ljubownikow, Crotty, and Rodgers 2013: 158). Indeed, it is recognised that Russian citizens continue to resort to informal practices based on friendships and tradeoffs of favors at the present day to ensure the adequate provision of key services (Greene 2012: 138). As part of the unofficial legacy of the Soviet system, Russians have regarded the public sphere, including
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