Charles E. Ziegler


The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations
Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling, Series Editors
Greenwood Press / Westport, Connecticut London / 1999








Russia's Search for Democracy:

The Yeltsin Era

Sooner or later, I will leave political life. I will exit according to the rules, the Constitution, and the law. I would definitely like to make that contribution to the history of Russia, to set the precedent of a normal, civilized, orderly departure from politics.

Boris Yeltsin, The Struggle for Russia

The death of the USSR gave birth to fifteen new, independent countries-he former union republics. Russia was left with about half the population of the former Soviet Union, at 147 million, and three-fourths of its territory. Russia and the other republics were still bound together by transportation links, economic interdependency, and some common security considerations. Independent Russia was much more homogeneous than the former Soviet Union--82 percent Russian and 18 percent various non-Russian nationalities (see Table 9.1 ). Of great concern to Russian nationalists was the fact that about 25 million ethnic Russians now lived outside their homeland: 10 million of these in Ukraine, 7 million in Kazakhstan, and the remainder scattered throughout the other newly independent states. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) wasormed late in 1991 to preserve some political, economic, and security links among the newly independent republics, but this organization was very weak, and optimistic expectations that over time it might function like the European Union were not borne out. Over the next few years the former republics of the Soviet Union would drift further apart.


Table 9.1 
Major Nationalities of the Russian Federation, 1989 (those in excess of 500,000)
























































Source: Figures are from the 1989 national census, in Rossiskii statisticheskii ezhegodnik 1994
( Moscow: Goskomstat Rossii, 1994), p. 33.


The new Russian Federation faced several daunting tasks. First and most pressing was the need to enact major economic reform--privatizing the state enterprises, freeing domestic and foreign trade, liberalizing prices, and in general creating a market economy from a centrally planned system. Second, Russia needed to continue the process of democratization by designing a new constitution and creating new political institutions, a new legal system, and a democratic political culture. Third, the economic and political transformations that followed the collapse of communism generated pressing social problems, among them unemployment, poverty, declining health care, and crime. Fourth, Russia had to create a new foreign policy identity to replace the Soviet self-designated role as leader of the world communist movement. And finally, Russia would need a system of spiritual or philosophical values to replace the bankrupt ideas of Marxism-Leninism. Addressing each of these issues simultaneously is a tall order, and the process has not been a smooth one.




The first order of business in Russia was to enact radical economic reform. President Boris Yeltsin and his acting prime minister, Yegor Gaidar, adopted a program of "shock therapy," involving abrupt deregulation of prices, privatization of state-owned enterprises, and the shift to a market economy. At first, many Russians believed that capitalism would bring instant riches. However, freeing prices brought about hyperinflation: 2500 percent in 1992, 840 percent in 1993, 200 percent in 1994. Many lost their savings virtually overnight, and wage increases quickly fell behind the cost of living. Russia was inundated with a flood of foreign goods--American Coke and Pepsi, Chinese toys and children's clothes, German Mercedes and BMW automobiles, Japanese and Korean electronics, British cigarettes, and Swiss chocolates. Many resented this flood of foreign goods, particularly Snickers candy bars, which seemed to be everywhere.

Late in 1991 Yeltsin had surrounded himself with a group of young radical reformers who were determined to bring capitalism to Russia as quickly as possible--Yegor Gaidar, Anatoly Chubais, and Aleksandr Shokhin. Foreign economists Jeffrey Sachs of Harvard and Anders Aslund of Sweden served as advisors to the government. A program of price liberalization and financial stabilization was enacted at the beginning of 1992, premised on rapid transformation of the old command economy. Speed was deemed necessary to break the hold of the old Soviet Nomenklatura, who were resisting reform, and to achieve results before patience wore thin with the sacrifices of reform. Politically, they reasoned, weakening the Nomenklatura would make a return to communism impossible. In actuality, most of the new business elite, the wealthy "New Russians," were former Communist Party and government officials who were ideally positioned to take advantage of the economic transition. Similarly, there was a great deal of continuity in the political world. About four-fifths of the politicians in the Russian Congress of People's Deputies were former Party and government officials.

The ranks of these communist-era holdovers were augmented by ambitious, politically reformist, and entrepreneurial young Russians.

Russia's middle-aged elites were survivors, but certainly not innovators. In spring 1992 the Supreme Soviet adopted a privatization program, but over strong protests. The job of privatizing Russia's economy was given to Anatoly Chubais, an economist and former university professor in his thirties. In summer 1992 Chubais introduced a system of "vouchers" giving each Russian citizen 10,000 rubles available for investing in newly privatized companies. Given the high rate of inflation, 10,000 rubles, which in the Soviet era would have been four years' salary for a well-paid worker, was now worth only a few dollars. Some invested their vouchers; others sold them at a discount rate to speculators. Factory workers and managers were given the opportunity to purchase onequarter to one-half of their enterprise's shares; these were usually allocated based on the employee's rank within the enterprise. Of course, that meant that factory executives were ideally positioned to obtain the bulk of the shares, and many became wealthy overnight.

Much of the Russian economy was privatized within the first five years. Nearly 47,000 small businesses were privatized in 1992 alone, and by the end of 1994 well over 100,000 enterprises had been privatized. Small businesses employed just over 10 percent of all workers by 1996 and accounted for 11-12 percent of total production. Mid-size and large enterprises were privatized more slowly; only 18 were auctioned off in 1992, but by 1995 that number had risen to nearly 18,000. To placate the political opposition, defense industries, health care systems, and other "strategic" or sensitive enterprises were retained under state ownership.

Very few Russian citizens became investors in the newly privatizing economy. Russians have been very slow to buy stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, and most distrusted banks, preferring to put their cash under a mattress instead of depositing it in a savings account. Many wealthy Russians did not trust their country's business environment, preferring to invest their money in the more stable countries of Western Europe. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development estimates that by the mid-1990s Russians had invested $40-50 billion outside Russia, while foreign investors were putting only $1-2 billion per year into the Russian economy. Furthermore, Russian managers and workers were suspicious of investment by outsiders--either foreigners or Russian mafia--and many refused opportunities to attract much-needed capital investment for their firms. Because of conservative management strategies many firms avoided restructuring, which was necessary in order to turn a profit. One group of Western and Russian economists estimates that as of 1996 three-fourths of Russia's enterprises still needed radical restructuring to be profitable--only one-fourth could operate profitably in the new market economy.

Even before the collapse of communism, officials in the Communist Party, the Komsomol, and the ministries had arranged deals with their friends and relatives to buy state and Party property at bargain prices. These assets were then resold for huge profits, creating millionaires virtually overnight. These New Russians acquired foreign luxury cars, huge homes, and expensive clothes, and surrounded themselves with beautiful young women. They frequented glitzy nightclubs and restaurants, paying exorbitant sums for lavish meals and entertainment. Many hired small armies of bodyguards--former police, army, or KGB agents--for protection against competitors. Average Russians despised the newly rich and the robber baron form of capitalism they practiced. Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar, the architects of Russia's market economy, were held responsible for these ills and soon became the most hated politicians in all Russia.

For most Russians privatization meant a decline in living standards. Beggars, usually older women, sat outside subway stations and churches pleading for money. Street markets sprang up where people would bring old pairs of shoes, toys, vegetables from their garden plots, tools, books, and anything else they could sell. The more successful sold goods out of small kiosks--newspapers, liquor, candy bars, soft drinks, pornography, watches, fruit--and paid protection money to the ubiquitous gangs that roamed the streets. Some hawked souvenirs for the tourist trade-colorful scarves, matryoshka dolls, lacquer boxes. Thousands of aspiring businessmen and women engaged in "shuttle trade." The shuttlers would fly to Istanbul, Bangkok, Warsaw, Berlin, or Seoul, buy up clothes, electronic goods, or food, and bring them back to Russia to sell at greatly inflated prices. In the Russian Far East, used Toyotas and Hondas flooded the streets of Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, and smaller cities. Since Japanese use right-hand drive cars, and Russians drive on the right side of the road as do Americans, these imports made for some exciting traffic.

Russia's economic reforms disrupted the lives of many workers. For the majority of them, wages did not keep up with price increases. The government's tax burden on firms was so great that many could not afford to buy raw materials, pay their taxes, and pay workers too. By the mid to late 1990s workers frequently did not receive their wages on time;

some had not been paid in over a year. Strikes increased dramatically during the years 1994-1997, with miners and teachers among the most disaffected elements of the labor force. Some of the more desperate teachers took part in hunger strikes. The more politically astute workers took advantage of the 1996 presidential elections to extract promises of aid from President Yeltsin as he campaigned across the country. Russian organized labor also made the payment of overdue wages its primary demand. However, organized labor, weak as it was in the post-communist environment, impeded the reform process. The Independent Federation of Trade Unions of Russia, successor to the communist-dominated labor unions of the Soviet era and claimant to 95 percent of all organized workers, lobbied to keep unprofitable mines and businesses open. This kept workers employed in the short term, but jeopardized the long-term viability of their firms.

The agricultural sector was in even more dire straits than industry or services. Technically, all the collective and state farms had transformed themselves into joint-stock companies, but most continued to operate as they had before--inefficiently, and at a loss. Communist and Agrarian Party members in Parliament refused to legalize the private ownership of farmland. Without a legal guarantee of property, few farmers were willing to strike out on their own. A few thousand entrepreneurial types had tried private farming early in the 1990s, but given the absence of credit, fertilizer, and technical support and the active hostility of much of the Russian peasantry, many abandoned the effort. By the late 1990s Russia, a potentially rich agricultural country, was importing fully half of its food from abroad.

Perhaps the biggest problem in economic reform was the explosion of organized crime and the links between these mafia gangs and politicians. The Soviet government even at its most repressive had never managed to eliminate the criminal underworld, whose Russian, Chechen, Tatar, and Central Asian variants existed in the labor camps and on the fringes of Soviet society. With the breakdown of order in the early 1990s the old gangs began to operate openly, and hundreds of new ones formed. Reflecting the Russian tendency toward absolutism, complete subservience gave way to total freedom. Russia's mafia gangs were involved in smuggling gold, diamonds, and other valuable minerals out of the country, and computers, electronic goods, and other items into the country (thus avoiding customs duties); selling military weapons to clients abroad; operating extortion and protection rackets; smuggling drugs; and stealing cars. Some of the more powerful criminal bosses set up operations abroad, including in the United States, leading the FBI to establish close working relations with Russian law enforcement.

Organized crime had been closely linked to Soviet officialdom, and these ties carried over into the post-communist period. In the latter stages of perestroika the Soviet elite had plundered the state and secreted billions of dollars in bank accounts abroad. Ambitious young bureaucrats set themselves up as consultants, using their connections with government to help prospective businessmen evade taxes, regulations, and other red tape. The most powerful new businessmen (and virtually all were men) controlled huge conglomerates which encompassed banking, mass media, oil and gas, and real estate. By the late 1990s these financial tycoons were referred to as "the oligarchs"--prime movers and shakers in Russian business and politics. Among the most influential were Vladimir Gusinsky, chairman of MOST bank; Boris Berezovsky, automobile magnate and banker; and Vladimir Potanin, head of Uneximbank. These financial barons had amassed huge profits through the "loans for shares" program, in which the banks lent money to the government in exchange for shares in major Russian industries.

While some Russian entrepreneurs became super-rich, many other Russians remained mired in poverty, and the development of a stable middle class, essential for a successful democracy, proved elusive. At the heart of Russia's economic troubles was the country's failure to evolve into a genuine market economy. Many of the large, inefficient industrial firms were not allowed to go bankrupt--the state propped them up with subsidies and allowed them to continue operating without paying their tax bills. Those firms that did pay taxes often could not afford to pay workers, so wage arrears were widespread. The problem, as economists Clifford Gaddy and Barry Ickes point out in an article in the journal Foreign Affairs ( 1998) is that so many enterprises--possibly as many as three-fourths--were simply not profitable. They did not produce goods or services that would attract cash buyers; instead of paying money for supplies, firms compensated by using elaborate bartering arrangements. Cash shortages meant that workers either were not paid or received some products in kind from their employer, which they in turn tried to sell in the open-air markets. The entire economy was based on the pretense that value was being added to products during the manufacturing process; in reality, factories often made products that were worth less than the resources that went into them. Gaddy and Ickes called this a "virtual economy."

Of course, in a true market economy firms that operated on these principles would quickly go bankrupt. Theoretically, inefficient Russian firms should go under, to be replaced by profitable businesses. That is what happened in Poland during that country's "shock therapy," and Poland by the mid-1990s was posting impressive growth rates of 5 percent per year or better. Russia, by contrast, suffered through eight straight years of economic decline. The pretense of Russia's virtual economy burst late in 1998 when the ruble lost much of its value and the Russian stock market dropped by nearly 90 percent. Since many products are imported, the devaluation of the ruble meant that prices for many items skyrocketed. As Russia's economy collapsed, Yeltsin and the Parliament wrangled over his choice for Prime Minister. In September 1998 the President tried to reappoint Viktor Chernomyrdin, whom he had replaced with the youthful Sergei Kiriyenko earlier in the year. Yeltsin eventually was forced to compromise and appoint Yevgeny Primakov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (successor to the KGB), and a survivor from the Soviet era. But Primakov, an accomplished and erudite diplomat, had little knowledge of economics. His ability to guide Russia toward economic prosperity, the Prime Minister's chief responsibility, would have to be complemented by extraordinary political skills in addressing the serious social problems that have accompanied economic change. Primakov proved to be a very skillful politician, so good, in fact, that an increasingly unpopular Yeltsin fired his Prime Minister in May 1999.





For many Russians one of the most traumatic consequences of the collapse of communism was the loss of the comprehensive social welfare programs that had made life safe and predictable, if not affluent. The rights to a job, a free education, free health care, and a guaranteed pension were taken for granted during the Soviet period. In the brave new world of emerging Russian capitalism these entitlements were placed in jeopardy.

Soviet ideology held that unemployment was an evil of capitalism, unthinkable in the more humane socialist state. Of course, the inefficient planned economy concealed massive underemployment, in which surplus employees were paid for less than a full day's work. Russia's new capitalist system threw many of these redundant workers out on the street. By 1997 official unemployment reached 10 percent; however, the reluctance of many of the old state enterprises and newly privatized monopolies to shed excess workers meant that the actual unemployment figures were much higher. Compounding the problem, the government was unable to pay adequate unemployment benefits due to the massive state debt.

Education had been one bright spot in an otherwise dismal Soviet record. The communist system had provided a solid basic education for each child, with particular strengths in math, science, geography, and languages. Entrance to the best universities, like Moscow State and Leningrad, was highly competitive, and their graduates were the equal of those at Harvard or Oxford. Less talented students matriculated at small universities or polytechnic schools. Engineering was by far the most popular major at Soviet universities and polytechnics; science, math, and literature were also well represented. Education was free, and students were guaranteed a job after graduation. They were also expected to work for at least three years at an assigned job after receiving their degrees.

Education in the post-communist period has experienced drastic changes. The censorship and discipline of the Soviet era have been replaced by open inquiry and individual expression. Business and economics are now the majors of choice for college students. Russian high schools now offer a variety of educational experiences, including gymnasiums (highly competitive college preparatory schools), vocationaltechnical schools (also competitive), and independent and religious schools, which are usually funded by churches and businesses. Since the government has been forced to slash education budgets, even students in state schools are asked to pay for tuition and books. Most state schools are dilapidated, and teachers are paid only $80-$120 per month, if they are paid at all. Periodically teachers go on strike to demand back wages. The youngest and most capable teachers left to go into business, where they could earn a decent wage.

Russian education quickly came to reflect the emerging social divisions between haves and have-nots. Private elementary and high schools opened to educate the children of wealthy New Russians, and by 1997 approximately 300 private colleges and universities, many incorporating business studies, were operating. However, less than half of these were licensed, and many had questionable academic standards. Often a hefty bribe could secure an academic degree. The wealthiest of the New Russians sent their children abroad to be educated in Switzerland, France, Britain, or the United States. President Yeltsin was roundly criticized for sending his fifteen-year-old grandson to an exclusive private school in England, which charged $23,000 a year in tuition.

In the late perestroika era and the early years of post-communist Russia many young people abandoned higher education as useless in Russia's emerging capitalist economy. The prospect of spending five years or more in college was far less attractive than the ready money that could be made through creative business activities on Russia's mean streets. By the late 1990s, however, educators detected a trend. Young people were beginning to return to the university, most seeking degrees in economics, law, finance, and accountancy, with a few pursuing language or environmental studies. The total number of college students rose from 583,000 in 1990 to 748,000 in 1997. Higher education was still very elitist, though, when compared to that in the United States, where 52 percent of high school graduates go on to college.

Health care in the former Soviet Union functioned on two levels: excellent modern treatment for the elite, and universally available but poor-quality care for the average patient. Post-Soviet medicine is also bifurcated, but according to those who can pay for treatment at the new private hospitals and clinics, and those who must continue to rely on government medical services. Russia's population is not healthy by Western standards. Alcoholism is acute among males, and about 70 percent of men smoke, as do 30 percent of women. Drug abuse is widespread among Russian youth, and sharing needles contributes to a growing AIDS problem. High levels of stress, crime, and environmental pollution raise morbidity and mortality rates. In some regions cholera, tuberculosis, and hepatitis are major problems.

The extent of Russia's health care crisis is apparent in the following statistics. Life expectancy for Russian men in 1995 was on average only 57 years; in 1987 it had been 64.9 years. By comparison on average males in the United States live to 73, women to age 79. Russian men die more frequently in industrial and automobile accidents, and frequently drink themselves to death, often from consuming poisoned moonshine. In addition, Russia's birth rate is declining, probably due to low living standards and the uncertainties of life in post-communist Russia. Women simply are not bearing enough children to offset the large number of deaths in the population. A study by the Russian State Statistics Committee in 1995 predicted that if these trends continue, Russia's population will decrease by 5.1 million over the next decade.

The environmental situation in Russia has also contributed to the poor state of Russians' health. As noted in Chapter 8, the Soviet record on the environment was abysmal. Soviet communism left a legacy of polluted water, fouled air, eroded agricultural land, and piles of radioactive waste. Lake Baikal's pristine waters had been contaminated and, in Central Asia, the great Aral Sea's waters had been depleted to irrigate cotton for hard-currency exports. The dissolution of the USSR left some of the problems to the newly independent states; many others, however, remained to plague Russia itself.

Environmental protection did not improve notably after the collapse of communism. Some benefits were realized from the steep decline in industrial production--closed factories were no longer polluting the air and water. Strapped by huge budget deficits, Moscow and the regional and local governments did not have the funds to clean up polluted lakes and rivers, deal with soil erosion, or properly dispose of radioactive wastes. Nor did they have adequate means of enforcing environmental laws. Russia's new entrepreneurs were intent solely on making money, and cared little about their environmental records. Environmental interest groups had formed as early as 1987, but Russian environmental activism peaked in the next three years and then declined markedly after the collapse of communism. There are still many ecology groups active in Russia, but most are small, and few have the resources to lobby effectively for environmental protection.

Russia's military is responsible for much of the country's environmental destruction. In the closed military research city Tomsk-7 an explosion in 1993 released a plume of radioactivity across northern Siberia. The Russian navy dumped nuclear waste from decommissioned submarines off the Russian Far East coast, angering the Japanese, who fish in these waters. National security arguments are still used to justify withholding information about nuclear contamination. When a retired captain, Aleksandr Nikitin, co-authored a report with a Norwegian ecology organization on extensive nuclear waste dumping in the Arctic Ocean, he was charged by the Federal Security Service (FSB) with espionage. A St. Petersburg judge dismissed the charges against Nikitin in 1998, ruling that they were based on insufficient evidence.

Women had experienced informal discrimination in the Soviet period; still, many women held prominent positions as factory managers, scientists, Communist Party and government officials, and professors. A quota system ensured that women were well represented in the Supreme Soviet and local soviets, the elected but relatively impotent legislatures. After the communist system collapsed, women found their position in society eroding. Virtually all the financial and business elites were men, while some 70 percent of the newly unemployed were women. Businesses openly engaged in discriminatory practices in hiring, and there were few protections against sexual harassment. The Russian Orthodox Church and conservative politicians urged women to return to traditional domestic roles in the home.

In 1993 a coalition of three women's organizations formed the Women of Russia electoral bloc to promote women's political interests; they secured 8.1 percent of the party vote in that year's December parliamentary elections, giving them a total of 21 seats in the Duma. In all, 60 women were elected to the 450-seat lower house, giving them total representation of 13.5 percent. Women of Russia had campaigned for a socially responsible state--a government that would provide consumer goods, child care, and housing at reasonable cost. The bloc also called for the observance of human rights and attention to the rule of law.

The end of the Soviet quota system for women meant that a smaller proportion of women were now represented in politics, but with more opportunities for genuine democratic participation. Women were most prominent in the Duma, the lower house of Parliament. At the beginning of 1996 women made up only 10.4 percent of the Duma, about the same proportion of women as there were in the U.S. House of Representatives. Women's representation declined after the December 1995 parliamentary elections, when the Women of Russia electoral bloc failed to garner at least 5 percent of the vote required for proportional representation, and secured only three district seats. Only one woman was serving in the Federation Council, the upper house, out of 178 deputies, and only one of 89 regional governors was a woman. There were three women (out of 19) on the Constitutional Court, and 19 of 115 Supreme Court justices were women. Tragically, Russia lost one of its most outstanding reformist politicians, Duma member Galina Starovoitova, when she was gunned down outside her St. Petersburg apartment in November 1998.

By the end of the 1990s Russia's economic transformation had divided society into roughly three groups: the numerically small but very wealthy New Russians engaged in the banking, business, and government sectors; a small but growing middle class of mostly young, urban small business people and traders; and the great majority of Russians in the working class and rural areas who struggled to maintain a decent standard of living. Retired people, soldiers, farmers, and those on fixed incomes comprised the 25-30 percent of the Russian population living in poverty, defined in 1998 as having an income under $32 per month. Beggars, usually elderly women, could be seen outside churches and subway stations, and homeless teenagers, abandoned by unemployed or alcoholic parents, roamed the city streets. In 1996 Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov Luzhkov ordered thousands of the city's homeless population, many of whom had flocked to the capital in search of jobs and apartments, rounded up and deported.

While Russia's economic crisis consigned over a quarter of the population to poverty, it also limited the government's ability to provide relief to its most destitute citizens. Modest pensions were sufficient during the Soviet era, when food and rents were highly subsidized, but $20 per month did not go far in a Moscow that was now more expensive than New York. The state's inability to collect taxes meant that only minimal public support could be provided for medical care, education, orphanages, and homeless shelters. Many regions in Siberia, northern Russia, and the Russian Far East had received subsidized food and fuel under the Soviet regime and high wages for their work in sensitive defense factories. Now these regions, virtually abandoned by Moscow, had to endure brutal winters without adequate supplies of hot water or food. The International Monetary Fund and other Western economic institutions aggravated the situation by insisting on government cost-cutting measures as a condition of assistance to Russia. This policy caused a great deal of resentment, generated support for the communists and nationalists who blamed the West for Russia's troubles, and complicated Russia's efforts to build a viable democracy.





Russia had no prior experience with democracy, and so had to build it from scratch after the collapse of the USSR. Russia's leaders were faced with the multiple tasks of rebuilding the state apparatus, reinventing a sense of Russian nationhood, and restoring feelings of pride and confidence in government at the same time they were transforming the economy. On balance, the Russian Federation has a record of mixed progress toward the establishment of formal democracy. Two rounds of reasonably fair parliamentary elections and one presidential contest have been held under conditions of universal suffrage. Citizens of Russia now enjoy formal constitutional guarantees, including free speech, a free press, freedom of religion and movement, and equality of the sexes. The police and military appear to be under civilian control, a single-party monopoly has given way to multiparty competition, and individuals have the right to form various political, cultural, and social organizations free from government control.

Despite these remarkable achievements, Russia is distinctly different from the more fully consolidated representative democracies. Russia is what Notre Dame political scientist Guillermo O'Donnell in an article in the Journal of Democracy ( 1994) calls a "delegative democracy"--formally democratic because of free and fair elections, but with strong and often arbitrary presidential leadership, combined with ineffective legislative and judicial institutions and a weak civic culture. The Russian state is too weak to exercise an effective rule of law throughout the territory of the Russian Federation. Like many newer democracies, Russia has achieved the first, formal stage of democratization, but has made only marginal progress toward "deepening" its democracy by encouraging greater citizen participation and entrenching democratic attitudes and practices throughout society.

In Russia's super-presidential political system, much depends on the personality and leadership ability of the chief executive. As President, Yeltsin played a vital role in Russia's transition from communist dictatorship, but his poor health, his often contradictory pronouncements, his sometimes questionable decisions, and his tendency to abuse alcohol weakened his authority and hindered the full consolidation of democracy. Born in 1931 in the village of Butka, Sverdlovsk oblast, Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin was a bright student but also something of a troublemaker who often challenged his teachers. He was expelled from school in the seventh grade, but later finished high school with excellent marks. Yeltsin attended the Ural Kirov Technical College, studying engineering and construction. For recreation he played tennis and coached girls' volleyball. While serving as chief engineer of a factory in his native Sverdlovsk, Yeltsin spent a full year learning each of the twelve major trades practiced in the plant. He joined the Communist Party in 1961 and moved rapidly through the ranks. He was appointed First Secretary of Sverdlovsk oblast in 1976 and served in that position until his transfer to Moscow in 1985.

Politics in Russia's brief post-communist history has been marked by recurrent and occasionally violent conflict between the executive and legislative branches of government. Yeltsin's direct election as Russia's first democratic President, the early cooperative relationship established between the presidency and the Russian Supreme Soviet, and Yeltsin's commitment to judicial reform and a market economy augured well for the development of democratic institutions in the post-communist era. However, Yeltsin's actions in the wake of the August 1991 coup did little to strengthen nascent democratic institutions. For example, he resisted calls for new elections to formalize his authority in this radically changed environment. A commitment to radical economic reform and fear of opposition from the remaining Nomenklatura were used to justify Yeltsin's assumption of unified executive powers, including the right to rule by decree through 1992. The President's advisors, led by First Deputy Prime Minister Gennadi Burbulis and Deputy Prime Minister for Economics Yegor Gaidar, implemented a program of shock therapy based on Western neoliberal economic theory. The reformers expected ordinary Russians to endure a brief period of painful transition before the full benefits of the new market economy would be realized. As the transitional period dragged on into the twenty-first century, many people became impoverished while a few grew immensely wealthy. Russians soon became disgusted with the ineffectiveness, corruption, and indifference of their new democratic government.

A healthy democracy embodies the idea of competition among political parties for votes and offices. However, this competition must take place according to certain rules, including loyalty to the basic system and renouncing violence as a means to achieve one's goals. Yeltsin's commitment to radical shock therapy and his tendency to exclude those politicians not committed to his program from the governing process thrust Parliament into the role of a confrontational opposition body. The Speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, had been closely allied with Yeltsin during the August Coup. In 1992-1993, though, Khasbulatov quickly became disillusioned with Yeltsin's reforms and rammed through a series of amendments designed to transform Russia into a parliamentary system. The institution of the presidency would be transformed into a mere figurehead. For his part, Yeltsin frequently ignored legislation passed by the Parliament, issuing decrees that were in turn ignored by Parliament and by Russia's regions. Regional leaders were both drawn into the struggle between President and Parliament, and were able to enhance their autonomy by encouraging central authorities to bid competitively for their support. This resulted in a peculiar form of unequal federalism, in which the more resource-rich and influential regions acquired special status through "treaties" negotiated with the President.

As tensions mounted between the President and Parliament in 1993, Yeltsin engineered a referendum on the President and the government's policies, which was held in April. Four questions were posed to voters in the referendum: Did they have confidence in Yeltsin as president? Did they support his economic and social policies? Should early elections be called for the presidency? Should early elections be called for the legislature? The administration asked Russians to vote yes, yes, no, and yes;

in effect, they were forcing voters to choose between the two institutions. Although Yeltsin "won" on all four questions, encouraging him to press ahead with a new constitution more favorable to strong presidential rule, the subsequent use of undemocratic methods to preserve Russia's new democracy generated deep cynicism among the public.

The question of a new constitution had been on the agenda since the collapse of the USSR. Russia was still using the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) Constitution from 1978, greatly amended but clearly inadequate in a radically changed environment of transition toward democracy and a market economy. At least four different constitutional versions had been debated during summer 1993. The conflict over what form a new Russian constitution would take left the country deeply divided. On one side were the advocates of market reform-Yeltsin's close advisors and the democrats in Parliament who supported President Yeltsin, centralized presidential power, and close cooperation with the West. On the other side were Yeltsin's critics in Parliament, primarily the communists, agrarians, and conservative nationalists, led by Speaker Khasbulatov and supported by Yeltsin's own Vice President, the former Army hero Aleksandr Rutskoi. This group vigorously criticized the human costs of reform and opposed the Western-oriented foreign policy pursued by Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev. Yeltsin's poor health and drinking problems also encouraged opposition. In essence, a sort of "dual power" reminiscent of 1917 emerged in Moscow. Several constitutional variants were advanced during 1993 as the conflict between the President and Parliament heated up.

Faced with intractable opposition, Yeltsin dissolved Parliament on September 21, 1993, and called for new elections in December. The conservative-nationalist members of Parliament refused to accept Yeltsin's decision. Rutskoi, Khasbulatov, and a melange of communists and fascists barricaded themselves in the Parliament building, the so-called White House on the banks of the Moscow River. Armed with light weapons and waving the Soviet flag, the parliamentary rebels appealed to the country to rise up against this "anti-constitutional coup." Moscow officials turned off electricity and phone service to the White House to ratchet up the pressure. On October 3 the conservatives attacked the neighboring Moscow mayoral offices and marched on the Ostankino (national radio and television) studios. Yeltsin responded by sending heavy tanks to shell the rebels into submission, leaving the white marble edifice blackened and smoking and the rebels in jail.

Muscovites, and the rest of the country, were dismayed by this fac tional violence, which resulted in over one hundred deaths, and were disgusted with politicians on both sides. Public confidence in Russia's political structure, particularly the presidency, was seriously eroded. Public opinion surveys conducted by British and Russian political scientists Richard Rose and Vladimir Tikhomirov in 1993 and 1995 ( Trends in the New Russia Barometer, 1992-1995, University of Strathclyde, 1995) found Russians to be increasingly critical of presidential power. When asked whether Parliament should be able to veto presidential actions, those answering "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree" increased from 50 percent in 1993 to 64 percent in 1995. However, the Russian public distrusted most governmental institutions. Surveys conducted by Richard Rose in 1995 found that parliament was the least trusted institution in Russia--only 4 percent of the public trusted Parliament. Six percent trusted the government, meaning then Prime Minister Chemomyrdin and his cabinet, and 8 percent trusted the President. In contrast, 47 percent listed the Orthodox Church as the most trusted institution; the armed forces and mass media were second and third, at 24 and 21 percent, respectively.

Popular disillusionment with the course of Russian democracy was reflected in the December 1993 elections, in which Yeltsin's version of the constitution was put to a vote and 450 members of the new Russian Parliament (the Duma, or lower house, with the Federation Council, the upper chamber) were elected. Turnout was 54.8 percent, and of those voting 58.4 percent approved the draft constitution. This means that only 31 percent, or less than a third of eligible voters, voted in favor. In addition, a large percentage of Russian voters cast their ballots for conservative-nationalist parties. Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which was neither liberal nor democratic, received the largest share of the party list vote, at 26.2 percent, and gained a total of 64 seats in the Duma. All told, the LDP, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and the Agrarian Party received just over 43 percent of the vote. Russia's complicated electoral system, however, enabled democratic parties (Yabloko and Russia's Choice) and independents to win over 50 percent of total Duma seats. The Russian people, like Russia's politicians, were deeply divided over the preferred course their country should take.

Federalism was a controversial political question in post-communist Russia, as it was in the newly independent United States over two centuries ago. In 1990-1991 various territories within Russia had conducted a "War of Laws" with Moscow, resisting directives from the capital and sserting sovereignty over their population and natural resources. At that time Yeltsin had urged the regions to take as much sovereignty as they could handle, since decentralization strengthened his hand while weakening Gorbachev's position. Once Russia became independent, Yeltsin sought to reestablish Moscow's authority through a new Union Treaty with the eighty-nine constituent territories. Two--Chechnya and Tatarstan--refused to sign the treaty when it was promulgated early in 1992. Other provinces (the nonethnic oblasts) unilaterally sought a higher status within the new federation by declaring themselves "republics." These oblasts, or regions, of which there were fifty, resented being assigned a secondary place in the federation, behind the twenty-one ethnically based republics.

In the December 1993 Constitution each of the eighty-nine units was granted two seats in the upper chamber of Parliament, the Federation Council. But through a series of individually negotiated treaties Moscow has granted special privileges to certain regions that are denied to others, and the resentment of disadvantaged regions has complicated national unity and legitimacy. For instance, one major concession to the country's non-Russian ethnic groups was the retention of the twenty-one autonomous republics, which were granted higher status within the Russian Federation. These autonomous republics were allowed constitutions (rather than legal charters), and their native languages were guaranteed coequal status with Russian. These provisions were enough to cause resentment among Russians in the nonethnic oblasts (regions) and krais (territories), but were often insufficient to placate the country's minority ethnic groups. One republic, Chechnya, attempted to secede from the Russian Federation, resulting in a bloody civil war during 1994-1996.

Chechnya is a small republic of mostly Turkic Moslem peoples located in the Caucasus Mountains in southern Russia. Chechens had fought bitterly against nineteenth-century Russian conquerors. After the Soviet collapse the Chechen-Ingush republic divided into its respective parts and Chechnya asserted its independence from Russia. Moscow tolerated the situation for three years, but a combination of circumstances--popular resentment of the powerful Chechen mafia, the importance of oil pipelines and rail links running through the republic, and Yeltsin's need to reassert central control over more recalcitrant members of the federation--led to an invasion by Russian armed forces in December 1994. Yeltsin may also have resented the fact that his chief rival in Parliament, Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, was an ethnic Chechen. The Russian armed forces were poorly trained and inadequately equipped, but they did manage to destroy the capital, Grozny, inflicting heavy casualties on the civilian population. Chechen guerrillas, aided by Islamic volunteers from Afghanistan, Iran, and elsewhere, fought back fiercely. The violence continued until presidential candidate Aleksandr Lebed negotiated a ceasefire in August 1996. Yeltsin had appointed Lebed to head the National Security Council after the tough-talking general placed third in the first round of the 1996 presidential elections. Yeltsin needed Lebed's 15 percent of the voters to defeat Communist Party candidate Gennadii Zyuganov in the second electoral round. Shortly after brokering the Chechnya cease-fire, Lebed was sacked by Yeltsin. Shortly thereafter Lebed ran for and was elected governor of the Siberian province of Krasnoyarsk.

Although many of Russia's regions have pressed for greater autonomy, Chechnya is the only one whose demands have been violently suppressed. Two republics in north and central Russia--Tatarstan and Sakha (formerly Yakutia) are more representative of how Moscow and the regions have interacted. The Tatar republic also declared independence in 1991, under pressure from a strong nationalist movement, and refused to sign the Federal Treaty in March 1992. Just over 40 percent of the population is ethnic Tatar, Moslem descendants of the Mongols who invaded Russia in the thirteenth century, and about half is ethnic Russian. The major issues in Tatarstan's drive for more autonomy have been the language issue (would Tatar or Russian be the official language, or would they have equal status?), citizenship (could republic residents hold Tatar citizenship in addition to citizenship in the Russian Federation?), and the nature of the relationship between Kazan and Moscow. Tatarstan exports oil and has a relatively strong industrial base, and the Tatar leadership wanted maximum control over oil revenues and taxes. The President of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev, used the support of both Tatar nationalists and Russians to negotiate a compromise with Moscow in 1994 providing equal status to both major languages, dual citizenship, and extensive republic control over its economy.

Like Tatarstan, approximately half of Sakha's (formerly Yakutia) population is comprised of Russians sent to work the gold and diamond mines, and the natural gas wells and coal mines, in this huge northern territory. About 40 percent are ethnic Yakuts, a people closely related to Alaskan Inuits. For residents of Sakha, the major issue was control over the region's vast natural wealth. Nationalism was not very strong among the Yakuts; there were relatively few Yakut intellectuals, and many had been assimilated to Russian customs. Instead, the dispute with Moscow was more economic. Sakha signed the Federal Treaty, but President Mikhail Nikolaev negotiated a treaty giving the republic considerable authority to exploit its natural resources. For example, in the late 1990s Sakha was negotiating directly with South Korea to develop natural gas pipelines that would run from north-central Siberia southward to Korea and Japan.

A second problem with Russian federalism is that the center has not ensured that federal units will not abuse their authority in the area of civil rights and liberties. This is similar to what happened in the American South during the first half of the twentieth century; the result is pockets of authoritarianism. Initially, Yeltsin had appointed the regional governors, under decree powers granted to him by Parliament. However, all Russia's governors had stood for popular election by early 1997, and their greater independence from Moscow made it possible for some to continue to rule in the style of Soviet-era Party bosses. In the tradition of the imperial "Inspector General," satirized in Nikolai Gogol's brilliant novel, Yeltsin has appointed "presidential representatives" to serve as his eyes and ears in the republics. As one might imagine, these envoys are greatly resented by local politicians who do not want their behavior reported back to Moscow. Many would prefer to rule as feudal lords, unconstrained by central authorities, regional legislatures, or public opinion. Criminals have found the lax controls in the regions ideal for business. Some have even stood for election to local and regional councils in order to secure immunity from prosecution! In short, Russia's developing federalism limits potential authoritarian abuses by Moscow but creates new opportunities for regional obstacles to democratic consolidation.

Federal constitutions can only provide the basic outlines of power sharing. Practice and judicial rulings over time more clearly delineate the respective spheres of authority. In new democracies that adopt federalism, an extended period of adjustment is to be expected. Russia's experience with federalism has been chaotic in part because of a long tradition of highly centralized authority (notwithstanding the formal appurtenances of federalism during the Soviet period) and a deeply divided political culture. Many regions are benefiting from Moscow's subsidies, while refusing to send tax receipts to the central government. This contributes to the federal government's budget deficit and complicates the government's ability to pay for education, health care, pensions, and unemployment benefits.

Judicial reform was also an important component of Russia's democ ratization. Courts in the Soviet period had little power and were often manipulated by Communist Party and government officials. In postcommunist Russia the court system was reorganized on Western principles of the rule of law, including subordination of all governmental institutions to the Russian Constitution and legal protections for civil rights and liberties. A three-tiered structure of courts was established, at the national, regional, and local levels, and the concept of a trial by jury was introduced. Previously, cases had been decided by a professional judge and two lay assessors. A Supreme Court was to serve as the final court of appeal for civil, criminal, and military cases, while a commercial court would deal with economic disputes. A Constitutional Court was created to adjudicate disputes between the executive and the legislature and between Moscow and the provinces, and to ensure constitutional protection of citizens' rights.

The Constitutional Court was designed as an impartial arbiter of constitutional questions, similar to the U.S. Supreme Court (although it is actually modeled more closely on the German Constitutional Court). In 1993 the Constitutional Court became politicized when its Chief Justice, Valerii Zorkin, condemned Yeltsin's dissolution of Parliament as unconstitutional and supported Khasbulatov and Rutskoi. Zorkin was dismissed by the President (this was itself an unconstitutional action), and the Court was not reconstituted until 1995. Since that time the Court has gradually rebuilt its reputation as a respected legal arbiter, resolving disputes among various branches of the national government, delineating the powers of regional authorities, and ruling that President Yeltsin was ineligible to run for reelection in the year 2000. In 1996 the Constitutional Court ruled on a number of cases involving presidential authority, parliamentary immunity, federalism, and citizenship issues, but according to the U.S. State Department has had difficulty enforcing its decisions. Judicial independence is continuing to evolve slowly, but the courts' authority has been constrained by inadequate funding and uncooperative government executives. (For a breakdown of Russia's judicial branch, see Figure 9.1.)

Presidential systems embody an "invitation to struggle" between executive and legislature. Political scientist Juan Linz, in The Failure of Presidential Democracy ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), has argued persuasively that for this and other reasons, presidential regimes are ill suited for new democracies. The principle of territorial representation on which legislatures are based gives them a social and political composition quite different than that of presidents. Legislatures, partic ularly bicameral ones with a regionally based upper chamber, are disproportionately representative of small towns and rural areas, and rural populations tend to be conservative. Presidential supporters, on the other hand, tend to be concentrated more in the capital and in large urban areas, and are more reform-oriented.

The 1996 Russian presidential campaign and the two rounds of elections ( Russia uses runoff elections if a candidate does not receive an absolute majority on the first ballot) made it clear that Russian politics was highly polarized. Ten names were on the first ballot, but the real contest was between President Yeltsin and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who represented reformism and anti-reformism, respectively. Yeltsin placed first with 35.3 percent of the vote, Zyuganov was a close second with 32 percent, and Lebed received 14.5 percent. Much of the Russian media, alarmed by the possibility of renewed censorship under communist rule, characterized their runoff election as a choice between democracy and dictatorship. Yeltsin's American campaign advisors counseled a polarizing strategy, while campaign leaflets and television ads suggested that a communist victory would return the country to the worst excesses of Stalinism. Yeltsin won the second round of balloting with 53.8 percent to Zyuganov's 40.3 percent; turnout was a healthy 68.8 percent. Five percent of the electorate voted against both candidates.

In 1996-1997Russia's legislative-executive relations moved toward a vague semblance of normality. The presence of a majority opposition in the Duma and the adoption of numerous laws by Parliament narrowed Yeltsin's ability to rule through presidential decree. In October 1997 a potential crisis in the form of a parliamentary vote of no confidence was averted by compromise on both sides. Opposition from the communists and Yabloko over the budget and tax code late in the year forced the government to compromise on key parts of its legislation. In 1998 and 1999 legislators continued to challenge the President by advancing motions for his impeachment. Very little was accomplished in this atmosphere of vitriolic confrontation.

New democracies need to have an adequately functioning state. The Soviet state was extremely powerful and thoroughly penetrated Soviet society; by contrast, the Russian state is extremely weak and exercises at best questionable authority over much of its vast territory. Large and diverse democracies must often resort to federalism as a means of dealing with potential "state" problems--that is, ensuring the government really has the authority to make and enforce laws. Implicit in the idea of a federal constitution is the recognition of and acquiescence to different regional identities. Ideally, concessions to regional identities should make it easier to build national consensus. This does not always work, though. Canada's many concessions of the French-speaking Quebecois have not dampened the enthusiasm of Quebec nationalists for independence.

There is one factor that favors Russia's democratic consolidation. Unlike many other new democracies, Russia does not have a politically powerful military. In South America and Spain, for example, powerful military officers influenced the pace and agenda of democratic transitions. The former Soviet regime, by contrast, kept tight political control over the military. Since democratization began, political control over the military has loosened. However, the Russian military has demonstrated a reluctance to get involved in politics. Military involvement in the transition has been sporadic and small-scale, limited primarily to the defense of the White House during the August 1991 coup and in assaulting the White House in October 1993. In each case military leaders were reluctant participants in essentially civilian conflicts.

There is political activism among certain segments of the army, but these actions are targeted largely toward meeting the most basic needs of officers and soldiers--for housing, decent pay, and so forth. And some disgruntled military leaders have threatened political action against the Yeltsin government unless their demands for better treatment of the armed forces are met. One activist army officer and member of the Duma, General Lev Rokhlin, created the Movement in Support of the Army, Defense Industry and Military Sciences to lobby the government for increased military funding and better treatment of officers and enlisted men. Curiously, Rokhlin was killed in summer 1998, apparently by his wife. But Russia's officer corps is fragmented, and its ability successfully to challenge the civilian leadership is questionable. Moreover, the Rose and Tikhomirov surveys indicate that while the military remains one of the most trusted institutions in society, only 12 percent of Russians would favor military rule as an alternative to the Yeltsin government.




New political institutions can be designed relatively quickly during a democratic transition. Political culture may be equally important in democratic consolidation, yet it is far less subject to conscious reconstruction. Political culture is defined as the attitudes, values, and beliefs of a population about government, politics, and fellow citizens. Just as every country has a unique culture (art, music, literature, social customs), each country also has its own distinct political culture. American political culture, for example, was influenced by the ideas of British political thinkers and the frontier experience. Americans tend to be strongly individualistic, believe in the rule of law and equal treatment for everyone, join interest groups in large numbers, oppose government interference in the economy and in people's private lives, and are extremely religious. Russian political culture, by contrast, has often been characterized as authoritarian. Russians, supposedly due to their long tradition of repressive government, are unfamiliar with or indifferent to the rule of law, favor a strong role for government in the economy (instead of private enterprise), don't join groups and political parties, and are collective-minded rather than individualistic. Is this portrayal accurate?

Political scientists generally use public opinion surveys to gain insights into a country's political culture. Surprisingly, surveys conducted in post-communist Russia have found that overall there is a high degree of support for basic democratic ideas. For the most part, the Russian public favor individual rights like freedom of speech, the right to form political associations, and freedom of press and religion. Russians are tolerant of most groups (with the notable exceptions of homosexuals and fascists), value the right to vote in free and fair elections, and want their country to develop a political system based on the rule of law. One study found that Russians living in and around Moscow were not much different from West Europeans in their commitment to democratic rights.

Of course, Moscow is the capital of Russia, and Muscovites are more educated and more politically sophisticated than people in the provinces. Voting results from the parliamentary and presidential elections have shown the existence of a "red belt" of support for the Communist Party, Agrarians, the Liberal Democratic Party, and other nationalists in the rural areas of southern Russia and in the Far East. These voters are less democratic in their orientation. In addition, most Russians tend to favor a stronger role for government in the economy, probably a residual of the communist welfare state mentality. For example, 64 percent of respondents to one 1994 survey by the Russian Institute of Public Opinion said that a guaranteed education and social security were in their opinion the most important human right. Nearly half (49 percent) said a wellpaying job was the most important, while one-third said a guaranteed minimum standard of living was. Only 18 percent listed freedom of speech as the most important right; 9 percent said the right to elect public officials was most important to them. ( Yuri Levada, Democratic Disorder and Russian Public Opinion Trends in VCIOM Surveys, 1991-95, University of Strathclyde, 1995).

The problem is that the average Russian does not believe that he or she can influence the government in any meaningful way. A 1998 survey by the Russian Bureau of Applied Sociological Research ( Nezavisimaya gazeta, August 6, 1998) found that fully 60 percent of people did not think they could influence public affairs by voting. Only 23 percent of the respondents thought they could influence politics through elections. Russians have a very low opinion of their government. They view it as corrupt and unresponsive, even if it is far more democratic than during the Soviet period. People are concerned with the weakness of governmental authority--the government is unable to stop crime, improve the economy, or deal effectively with the social problems discussed earlier in this chapter.

Much of the blame for this disgust with Russia's government rests with Russia's new leaders, who failed to manage either the political or the economic transition successfully. During democratic transitions in Spain and Latin America, influential elites worked out "pacts" or agreements among themselves that set ground rules for everyone to follow. In Russia, however, no comparable types of arrangements were concluded. Negotiated pacts on the future of various major groups (business elites, military, police, and others formerly in privileged positions) are important because they reduce uncertainty and make a painful transition easier. In the absence of pacts, democratic transitions can easily become what political scientists call a zero-sum game, where one side's gain is always a loss for the other side. This clearly happened in the immediate post-Soviet period. President Yeltsin and his reformist team, Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais, approached politics from a confrontational standpoint. Their opponents, the former Soviet Party and government bureaucrats, were perceived not as a loyal opposition, but rather as enemies. Those who did not support the administration's economic reform program were excluded from any meaningful participation. The administration's Western-oriented foreign policy contributed an additional divisive element to Russia's political debates.

One major problem in Russia's transition was the absence of clearly identifiable social or political groups with which the fledging Russian government could form pacts. Authoritarian regimes that tolerate social and political pluralism improve the chances of a successful democratic consolidation, for groups such as trade unions, women's organization, farmers' groups, and civic associations often play a responsible role in democratic transitioning. A complex fabric of social, cultural, and political organizations made democratic transition easier in the cases of Spain, South Korea, and Taiwan. By contrast, the Communist Party's monopolization of political power in the former Soviet Union and repression of all types of independent social groups retarded the development of civil society in Russia.

Russia's post-communist political leaders are deeply divided on political issues and have often behaved irresponsibly. Russia's fragmented political culture is reflected in the party system. Russia's political spectrum in the 1990s was polarized along a single dimension, between supporters and opponents of reform broadly defined. There were no other major issues to bridge the gap that separated Russians of radically differing opinions. This deep divide was apparent in both the 1993 and 1995 Duma elections. Moreover, most Russians cannot identify any philosophy or belief system that could unify the country. The 1998 Bureau of Applied Sociological Research study found only a handful of Russians who thought that communist or socialist ideas could unify Russian society. Only 2.5 percent thought religion was a unifying force, and democracy as an idea was mentioned by just under 6 percent. By far the largest number (35.3 percent) cited reviving Russia as a great world power. Certainly nationalism is a potent unifying force around the world, and promoting Russia as a great power is popular among politicians (there is even a "Great Power" Party led by former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi). But most Russians are too consumed with the arduous tasks of everyday life to become active in either the neo-Nazi skinhead or the more moderate Russian nationalist movements.

Organized political parties are an important part of any successful democracy, but not all parties are democratic in their orientation. In addition, the strength and appeal of parties tells us a great deal about the political belief systems in a country. If a large segment of the population votes for a fascist party, for example, we may conclude that support for fascism is fairly strong. Russia's political spectrum, as viewed through the prism of voter support for parties, is highly fractured. Two of Russia's political parties--the Communist Party-Russian Federation, led by Gennadii Zyuganov, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party--have advocated ideas that call into question their commitment to democratic values. The leaders and supporters of these parties claim that they accept and support Russia's democratic constitutional order. But studies by Western political scientists suggest that Communist and Liberal Democratic Party supporters have at best a weak attachment to democratic norms. In public opinion surveys conducted before the 1996 presidential elections, Russians who intended to vote for Zyuganov or Zhirinovsky for President were somewhat more intolerant of nonRussian ethnic groups than were supporters of President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, or the democrats Gregorii Yavlinsky and Yegor Gaidar. Supporters of these two parties tended to favor state intervention in the economy and held more anti-Western attitudes. More important, supporters of the Communists and Liberal Democrats were significantly more opposed to democratic competition and were far more willing to support an effective leader even if democracy was subverted in the process. For them democracy was not terribly important in and of itself.

Over time, undemocratic parties may come to accept democratic processes, as in the example of Italy's Communist Party. Participation by the Russian Communist Party and the LDP in two rounds of parliamentary elections, and even more important, their electoral success, may have tempered their anti-democratic inclinations. The Communist Party's decision in fall 1997 to abandon a no confidence vote against the government, and the Party's participation in the trilateral commission negotiations on the 1998 budget, may suggest the mainstreaming of Russia's communists. It also bears noting that leaders of the more radical communist factions--Viktor Anpilov of Workers' Russia, Viktor Tyulkin of the Russian Communist Workers' Party, and Anatolii Kryuchkov of the Russian Party of Communists, have accused Zyuganov of selling out to the government, as have more radical elements within his own party.

The Communist Party's superior organization and more effective national network of supporters have also given it an edge over its democratic counterparts. This, together with the loyal support of older Russians nostalgic for the stable communist past, resulted in the communists winning 35 percent (157) of the Duma seats in the 1995 elections. Paradoxically, it seems that Russia's democratic electoral system favors an organization with less than democratic inclinations and history. By contrast, the Liberal Democratic Party has been both the creature and the victim of Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Over time, his nationalist platform has been co-opted by the more moderate parties, while Zhirinovsky's clownlike antics (punching out fellow legislators, posing for magazines in his underwear) have discredited him as an individual politician and have contributed to the weakening of the LDP. This may explain the decline in LDP seats, from 63 (14.2 percent) in 1993 to 51 (11.3 percent) in 1995.

Russia's democratic parties have not fared well in the new democratic environment. Ideological, policy, and personal disputes have kept the democratic movement fractured and divided. Gregorii Yavlinsky's Yabloko Party is attractive to intellectuals and young urbanites, but this party gained only 10 percent of the seats in the 1995 Duma elections. Yavlinsky has preferred criticizing Yeltsin's reform program rather than cooperating with the President. Yeltsin himself has refused to be aligned with any party, although in 1995 he did sanction Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's formation of Our Home Is Russia, a centrist, pro-reform party of the government. Our Home Is Russia was the second largest faction of the four major parties after the 1995 election, with fifty-five seats.

The fact that the 1995 parliamentary elections and the 1996 presidential contest were relatively clean and nonviolent (at least by comparison with the events of fall 1993), and produced a divided government, suggests that political competition in Russia may be evolving in a more moderate direction. The major critics of reform, the communists, will over time be forced toward accommodation with the system or toward extinction. The party's supporters are largely elderly--a 1995 survey by American political scientists found that only 16.3 percent of those intending to vote for Zyuganov in the 1996 presidential elections were under age forty, compared with 45 percent for Yeltsin, 53.2 percent for Gaidar, and 42.9 percent for Yavlinsky. As older voters die off, and younger voters more favorable toward democracy fill the gap, support for the Communist Party is likely to decline.

While Russia's leaders may not be whole-hearted converts to democracy, neither have they been willing to jettison basic democratic principles. When Yeltsin's popularity ratings hit the single digits in early 1996, some of his hard-line advisors, most notably Aleksandr Korzhakov, seriously considered cancelling the elections scheduled for June. Yeltsin's more democratic-minded staff prevailed, but his victory was achieved through a campaign that witnessed the massive use of government money to support Yeltsin (and General Aleksandr Lebed, whose 15 percent showing in the first round siphoned votes from Yeltsin's prime opponent, Communist Party leader Zyuganov), manipulation of state television, and some extraordinarily negative advertising. The crisis atmosphere generated during the presidential campaign, the choice posed in the runoff election between the reformist status quo and a return to some form of communist dictatorship, and serious campaign irregularities suggested that Russia was not yet a "normal" democracy.

Yeltsin's commitment to democracy was further compromised by rumors in fall 1997 that he might consider running for a third term in 2000. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii suggested that, since Yeltsin was initially elected under Russia's old constitution, he might not be bound by the two-term limit of the new constitution. Yeltsin later discounted the rumors, which prompted an appeal for a Constitutional Court ruling from members of the Duma. This incident seemed typical of Yeltsin's tendency toward authoritarian maneuvering. This behavior seems to be characteristic of presidents in delegative democracies, who frequently extend their tenure through extraconstitutional means or by securing appointment to another influential position. In late 1998 the Constitutional Court ruled that Yeltsin was ineligible to run for another term. By that point, however, his continued ill health made another four years seem highly improbable.

Russia's problems in consolidating democracy may in part be a func tion of the duration of the totalitarian experience, and in part a function of Russian political culture. The communist experience made transition to a functioning market economy extraordinary difficult and emasculated all possible contenders for political power. When communism collapsed the Yeltsin administration, instead of building consensus and integrating society and the state, pursued a political discourse of conflict and division. Communist and nationalist opposition forces in the Parliament left him little room for compromise. The government's economic and political policies did not discredit supporters of the old order, but instead cemented the division between reformers and reactionaries that had emerged under Gorbachev. With the Parliament under the influence of fundamentally undemocratic forces, constructive interaction between executive and legislature proved difficult to achieve. Russia's painful economic transition, conflict over basic constitutional provisions, and the polarization of Russian society stymied the development of a web of complementary democratic institutions needed for true representative democracy.

The thorough penetration of society by Soviet party-state structures and the extension of this apparatus into all areas of economic, social, and cultural life meant that civil society had been almost completely repressed. Russia still lacks a strong network of social and political organizations capable of involving citizens in civic life. Public opinion surveys conducted in 1995 found that only 1.2 percent of Russians belonged to political parties, 1.6 percent to church groups, 2.4 percent to business associations, and 4.3 percent to professional groups. Although 44 percent belonged to trade unions in 1993, this declined to 33.4 percent in 1995, most likely due to privatization and increasing unemployment. This "atomization" of Russian life inhibits the development of a civic culture so important in sustaining democracy.

While strong and continuous economic growth generates favorable conditions for democratic consolidation, economic crisis can undermine a new democracy. The process of simultaneous economic and political transitioning that led to Russia's economic free-fall exacerbated social stratification, polarized the country's politics, and relegated women to more traditional roles. Russia's transition to a market economy has yielded deep class divisions, rather than the solid middle class that many political theorists argue is critical for democracy. According to the World Bank, in 1993 the highest 20 percent of income earners in Russia received 53.8 percent of all income. The ability of Russia's small political and In new democracies, political movements and parties are needed to integrate social fabrics strained by the transition process. The Soviet Communist Party prohibited all other political groups and any type of political opposition--there were no alternative institutions that could play an important role in consolidating democracy. The Russian Orthodox Church could bring the country together, as the Polish Catholic Church did in the 1980s, but Russian Orthodoxy has a history of supporting or at least tolerating authoritarian governance. The Orthodox clergy's authoritarian streak was manifested in the Church's strong support for Russia's restrictive religious law, enacted in 1997.

Russian political parties have made only modest contributions to democratic consolidation. The problem is, Russians tend to distrust all political parties. Data collected by Richard Rose's New Russia Barometer II survey (Centre for the Study of Public Policy, University of Strathclyde) in 1993 indicated that 93 percent of Russian respondents distrusted parties. Government offices and political parties are justifiably perceived as sinecures for personal gain rather than vehicles for the legitimate fulfillment of societal interests. Identifying with political parties helps citizens in a transitional democracy to develop more coherent belief systems. To the extent that political parties are weak, citizens' political beliefs may prove more susceptible to change in response to volatile economic or social conditions, making them more easily mobilized by political extremists.

Finally, Russia's weak judicial system also hinders the development of civil society and by extension the consolidation of democracy. The ability of interest groups to use the courts to hold public officials accountable, a common tactic of environmental and women's groups in the United States, is very poorly developed in Russia. Other factors have impeded the formation of effective interest groups in Russian society--lack of resources, perceptions of government as unresponsive, and general apathy--but the absence of effective judicial institutions is critical.






The humiliation of the Soviet collapse, the loss of influence in Eastern Europe and the Third World, and the rapid growth of poverty have wounded the national pride of many Russians. The so-called national patriots--groups like Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats and the more extremist Russian National Union, headed by Aleksandr Sterligov, a former KGB officer, are enraged that Russia is no longer a superpower. Many detest the democratic ideals and parliamentary systems of Western Europe and the United States. Highly xenophobic, they fear the influence of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Jewish banks, and other Western organizations on Russia's economy and politics. Zhirinovsky , in his book Last Thrust to the South, argues that Russia's destiny lies east and south, with the Asian and Middle Eastern nations. According to him, it is Russia's historical mission to rule in Asia; Russian troops should wash their boots in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Zhirinovsky was born in Alma Ata, the former capital of Kazakhstan, and exhibits the classic Russian imperial mentality. Not only has he declared his intention to recapture much of the former USSR for Moscow; he also on occasion has threatened to take back Alaska!

The outrageous claims of Russian extremists masked a deeper problem: How would a non-communist Russia define its place in world politics? The Soviet communist state had a definite mission and identity, namely, the promotion and leadership of world communism. Moscow may have paid only lip-service to this ideal through most of Soviet history, but at least the country had a clear raison d'etre. New Russia suffers from an identity crisis. Some, particularly the democratically minded reformers, want their country to take its place among the modern European nations. Others argue that Russian values and traditions have little in common with Europe or America, that Russia's historical influences came from the East, and that Russia could play a role as a unique bridge between Europe and Asia.

If Soviet foreign policy was shaped by a Marxist-Leninist worldview and the pursuit of military hegemony or dominance, Russian foreign policy in the Yeltsin era has been driven mostly by economic considerations. Russia has borrowed heavily from the IMF, has sought loans and investment from Western and Asian nations, and in general has tried to integrate into the world economy. Russian citizens are free to travel around the world on business, for vacations, or to emigrate. Russia no longer subsidizes radical Third World movements. This turnaround in foreign policy has transformed the United States and Russia from former enemies into partners on many fronts, if not the warmest of allies. However, as successor to the USSR, Russia is owed billions of dollars by Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and others the United States considers "rogue" nations. Moscow's opposition to U.S. air strikes against Iraq and Serbia, and its nuclear power deals with Iran and India have antagonized Washington. The United States is also concerned about Russia's arms sales to the People's Republic of China, which totaled about $6 billion from 1992 to 1998. But for Russian defense firms hard hit by the economic collapse, these weapons deliveries, which include modern Su-27 fighters, are indeed welcome.

A priority of the United States and its NATO allies in Europe was to encourage and support the progress of newly democratizing states in Eastern Europe, to facilitate Russian troop withdrawals from Eastern Europe, to ensure orderly reductions of Russia's massive weapons stores, and to support Russia's new democracy. NATO's Partnership for Peace program was one means of linking the post-communist states to the Western democracies. Military cooperation between Russia and the United States, unthinkable a few years earlier, became commonplace. But some tensions remained. For example, Russian politicians protested loudly NATO's plan to admit Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to membership. All three did become members of NATO in 1999. Russian Duma deputies resisted ratifying the START II agreement, signed in 1993, which would reduce the nuclear stockpiles of both countries to about 3,000 warheads each. They feared this would give the United States a significant advantage in conventional weaponry, although most Russian generals argued that the treaty would benefit Russia as much as it would America. In early 1999, Washington's fears of ballistic missile attack from terrorist states led it to seek a renegotiation of the 1972 ABM Treaty, a proposal that was vigorously opposed by Moscow. Finally, Russian nationalists have criticized NATO's occasional use of force against Serbs to protect Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians in former Yugoslavia.

Yevgeny Primakov, Foreign Minister from 1996 to 1998 and then Prime Minister from 1998 to 1999, was a vocal advocate of restoring Russia's position as a great world power. Trained as a Middle East specialist, Primakov was far more experienced and savvy than his youthful predecessor as Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev. Respected in Western capitals as a tough negotiator, Primakov favored cooperating with the West while remaining determined to protect Russia's national interests. The political climate in Russia at the close of the twentieth century virtually guarantees that Primakov's successors, and Yeltsin's, will need to pursue policies aimed at making Russia once again a powerful world presence.

The major foreign policy concerns for Russia now include the unstable arc along Russia's southern border--the Caucasus, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Russia maintains troops in Georgia and Tajikistan and has defense arrangements with the Central Asian states through the CIS. China is very important in Russian foreign policy, in part because of the money earned from arms sales, but also because China's position in world affairs is growing rapidly. South Korea is investing in the Russian Far East and other areas of the country, and Russian shuttle traders regularly visit Pusan and Seoul to buy up Korean goods for resale in Russia. And in 1997-1998 there was a flurry of Russian-Japanese diplomacy aimed at resolving the long-standing dispute over the Northern Territories and concluding a peace treaty, which could strengthen Russia's position in the Asian-Pacific.

But Russia, for all its pretensions, is no longer taken very seriously in world politics. Europe and Asia may include the Russian Federation as a courtesy in regional meetings, but Russia seldom commands attention or respect. In large part this is because Russia's economy is now comparable to that of the small country of the Netherlands, and the economic collapse has gutted Russia's once-powerful military. In the late Soviet era there were 5 million men under arms; by 1999 the Russian military had been reduced to 1.2 million. In the 1990s draft evasion and desertion were rampant, conscripts suffered from hazing and malnutrition, and many of the best officers had left for the private business sector. Ships rusted in port, and pilots were grounded because of fuel shortages. Perhaps most disturbing from the perspective of Western governments, chaos in the armed forces raised the possibility that Russian nuclear weapons or weapons-grade fuel could fall into the hands of terrorists.

As Russian military sociologists point out, the military reflects larger trends in society. In both, discipline has broken down, suicides are up, corruption is rampant, and there is little confidence in the future. At the end of the twentieth century, Russia was a nation in crisis, economically, militarily, culturally, and politically. Winston Churchill once remarked that the Soviet Union was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. That was during the Stalin era, when we knew very little about the inner workings of this huge, secretive communist state. Now we are deluged with information, albeit much of it contradictory and confusing. The great mystery about Russia today is how a country with so much potential, with a long and remarkable history, with such educated and talented people, and such a wealth of natural resources, could do such an abysmally poor job of constructing a successful economy and a viable democracy.


CHARLES E. ZIEGLER is Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Louisville. He is the author of Foreign Policy and East Asia ( 1993), Environmental Policy in the USSR ( 1987), and dozens of scholarly articles and book chapters.