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Can Russia Modernise? An economist’s perspective

By Blog Admin, on 20 March 2014

ICan Russia Modernise Thumbnailn her 2013 book Can Russia Modernise? Alena Ledeneva picked out key types of networks that make up Sistema:  Russia’s complex, ambiguous and sometimes surprisingly effective systems of informal governance. In the last contribution to a ‘mini-symposium’  Theocharis Grigoriadis assesses the book’s arguments from an economist’s perspective, suggesting that Ledeneva understands the durability of sistema as a series of trade-offs that reduce collective welfare. 

In her seminal book on informal politics and governance in post-Soviet Russia, Can Russia Modernise? Sistema, Power Networks, and Informal Governance , Alena Ledeneva puts forward a theory of networked governance that relativises the significance of formalised vertical structures and hierarchical decision-making for understanding Russian politics.

 Ledeneva’s theory makes a unique contribution to political science and sociology and deals with following themes in relation to Russian politics and society:

  1. Continuities of power networks under central planning and capitalism;
  2. Sistema as a form of networked governance in authoritarian regimes;
  3. The transformation of the St. Petersburg circle into the inner sistema of Russian politics;
  4. The prospects for societal modernisation under Putin.

 While blat networks in socialism facilitated the provision of consumer goods circumventing the formal absence of marketplaces, power networks in post-socialism involved the provision of public goods such as security, justice, and healthcare. The author suggests that market transitions in the former Soviet Union preserved more elements from the economic organization of central planning than we might want to admit, both in terms of people in power and economic practices.

 As Ledeneva argues, the analysis of informal networks matters, because it is essential to trace the effects of friendships and close relationships on ministerial appointments, judicial decisions and corporate deals. The identification of their existence per se has major theoretical significance, but does not explain current developments in Russian politics. Ledeneva suggests that while continuities in networked governance between socialism and post-socialism exist, what differentiates Putin’s Russia is the even wider spread of informal rules and even higher informational asymmetry between those insider and those outsider a power network. In this sense, Putin’s sistema is at least partially – if not fully – a reversion to the Soviet status quo ante.

 The Russian sistema is a set of public and private networks that manages public wealth and delivers public goods, thus determining the magnitude of its members’ rent-seeking strategies. While the sistema combines both public and private elements in its enforcement strategies, the hierarchical predominance of public over private interests and institutions is indisputable.

This is how, according to Ledeneva, Putin’s sistema has redefined the Russian public domain. (more…)

New anti-gay laws are a lightening rod for the Putin regime

By Blog Admin, on 19 July 2013

Gay Pride

Photo: Valya Egorshin via Flikr (CC-BY-2.0)

By banning ‘homosexual propaganda’, protecting ‘religious feeling’ and reining in ‘foreign agents’, Vladimir Putin is seeking to entrench Russian traditional values against Western liberalism.  LGBT activists may now need to rethink their tactics, writes Richard Mole.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to tighten his political grip at the expense of the country’s nascent civil society is continuing apace. Following the bill last summer requiring NGOs which receive foreign funding and engage in ‘political activity’ to register as ‘foreign agents’, on 30 June Putin signed into law a bill banning the spreading of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’.

 The bill, which passed in the Russian Duma by 436 votes to 0 (with one abstention), levies fines of 5,000 roubles (£100) on individuals who disseminate information about ‘non-traditional sexual orientations’ among minors or promote ‘the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional relationships’.

The fine is increased to 100,000 roubles (£2,000) if individuals discuss gay-related issues in a positive or neutral manner in the media or on the Internet, and rises to one million roubles (£20,000) for organisations. The inclusion of the phrase ‘among minors’ ensures that practically any public LGBT event will violate the law; just in case, anti-gay protestors at last month’s Gay Pride in St Petersburg were encouraged to bring their children with them to ensure that the law did indeed apply.

 Activists have argued that the ‘homosexual propaganda’ law legitimises discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals in Russia, citing the cases of two gay men murdered in separate incidents in May. Critics have sought to establish a causal link between the new anti-gay law and anti-gay feeling in Russia. However, this overestimates Putin’s ability to mould public opinion – his anti-Westernism has, after all, failed to dent Russians’ generally positive feelings towards the EU –  and underestimates the pre-existing intolerance towards lesbians and gay men left over from the Soviet period. (more…)

Capturing St Petersburg street life

By Blog Admin, on 5 December 2012

Richard Morgan’s photographic response to the ‘Petersburg text’ of Russian literature reflects on the recurrring characters who populate the spaces of the city.

It was hard not to be deliberate in the most ‘intentional’ of cities, as Dostoevsky’s underground man described it. But then again, accidents and exceptions were hard to come by, so I had to manufacture them. There are obvious regularities to a city and a day’s walk is usually enough to notice some of them. I don’t know why, but there is a probability to urban chance. Some things you see today will happen again tomorrow.

St Petersburg’s repeatability lends itself to juxtaposition. Contrast happens every second on Nevsky Prospect. It is so predictable you can lie in wait. Moments of tension rapidly take place, rolling over and over in a never-ending series of visual jokes.

 

‘Eye contact on Nevskii prospekt’, Richard Morgan, May 2011

 

(more…)

LGBT rights under attack in Russia

By Blog Admin, on 24 October 2012

Putin Medvedev Berlin gay pride poster

Poster at Berlin Gay Pride/CSD event, July 2012

Anti-LGBT legislation in St Petersburg is having unforeseen consequences and mobilising Russia’s ‘gay diasporas’ overseas, argues Richard Mole

Almost 20 years after it was decriminalised, homosexuality in Russia is coming under renewed attack.  In March St Petersburg became the fourth Russian city to adopt legislation banning ‘homosexual propaganda’. While commentators argued that the vagueness of the law, which bans ‘public action aimed at propagandising sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism among minors’, would make it difficult to bring successful prosecutions against transgressors, LGBT rights activist Nikolay Alexeyev was convicted in May for breaching the law by picketing St Petersburg City Hall with a banner, which read ‘Homosexuality is not a perversion’.

 Alexeyev’s insistence that there were no minors present at the City Hall can be taken as proof, if proof were needed, that the law was not motivated by a desire to protect Russian children or Russian society but is the latest in a series of legislative measures used by the state to intimidate political opponents and generate an atmosphere of legal disquiet. Were activists to go ahead and hold meetings or rallies which were subsequently attacked, police could use the law to justify not intervening to protect activists, as the events could be deemed ‘homosexual propaganda’ –  a criminal offence. (more…)