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When Putin Retires...




Of course, any direct parallels with the past are superficial or even misleading. Putin rules by modern methods, using democratic processes and institutions. He is strongly against a return to the Soviet system and is committed to economic and judicial reforms. His political style verges on autocratic, but his strong social support among ordinary Russians and his genuine efforts to consolidate society give “Putinism” a democratic face.

Vladimir Putin. Photo:

As a professed “gradualist,” Putin realizes that, in light of Russia’s historical legacies, it is not to be expected that the necessary institutional framework for good governance can be brought about overnight. Political traditions, customs, and forms of political behavior (e.g., paternalism, collectivism, and patronage networks) will in all probability continue for a long time. Putin understands that attempts to cancel them by decree are doomed to fail.

Finally, today’s demand for a strong leader and the current power centralization reflect the weakness and ineffectiveness of the institutions of democracy in Russia. The institutions of a broad civil society – the press, political parties, free associations and others – are not yet well developed. The rule of law has not been well entrenched.

In part, these weaknesses are a legacy of the Soviet police state of Putin’s early career, when the Communist Party had a monopoly on power. In part, they are a hangover from Yeltsin’s years, when the attempts at reformulating the relations between the state and society brought into being civic and media structures, which were taken over by corporatist actors and exploited as instruments of furthering clan and corporatist interests, rather than the public good.

In this situation, the state, as it happened on more than one occasion before in Russian history, has to take on social and political functions that in mature democracies are performed by the institutions of civil society. State intervention is capable of solving major political problems and directing vital national efforts, but it can also delay the “coming of age” of public institutions of a fully fledged society.

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