Joanna Jedrasik


University of Lodz


Why West fears Russian model of power and governance


We all know how stereotypes work. Sometimes they cause no harm. But usually they cause situations, which are poltically inapropriate. Key to good bilateral or multirateral relations lies in understanding. Understanding that is created during long years of getting to know each other’s culture, language, history. Sometimes historical animosities are hard to overcome, but this should be goal not only for governments, but also for us, young people, who in few years’ time are going to build this relations.

As I said, key to good bilateral realtions lays in knowledge. Why west fears Russian model of government and Russian politics? Why do we constantly fear, what can come from east? Is it lack of democracy, this western type of democracy that is constantly put in favour? Or this so called autocracy and regime that functions in Russia? During this short analyssis I will try to find answers to that. From western point of wiev naturally.

In my studies, I tried to understand how it is possible for such enormous nation to be so subjected to one person, to tsar, party or president. As Jurij Afanasjew said, the key to knowing Russia is to know its authority. And to do this, we have to, even very shortly, take a brief look at the history of russian authority.

Within the Russian context, according to Stephen Lee, autocracy meant an undiminshed exercise of the power of the sovereign. The Tsar was an absolute monarch in several senses. Political power came form God and the sovereignity was a trust that came from Him. What’s more, this power was undivided and indivisible [Lee S. J., Russia and the USSR, Routlege, NY 2006, p. 2]. On the other hand, Tsar carried a great burden – his task was to make sure, that his poeple lead good lives. What’s more – the autocrat had the support of the Otrhodox Church.

Not every Tsar had the same amount of power of course, it varied. The general pattern was wheter dominance like during the rule of Ivan III, Ivan the Terrible, Michael Roomanov, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Alexander I or weak rulers such as Peter II, Peter III and Paul.

Although Russian autocracy didn’t have a political philosopher, there were many theories that tried to explain how it all works. The most important person that tried to do this was Konstantin Pobedonostsev. He based his political thought on the supposition that “man is by nature bad, lazy, vicious, selfish and ignorant. Russians he considered particulary flawed, as inetrtness and laziness are generally characteristic of the slavonic nature” [Ibidem]. The worst thing he assumed came in 19th century, was liberal democracy. He said that Russia’s role was to protect itself from this trend and the only way to achieve this is to maintain the autocracy as the only valid form of government. To ensure this, Pobedonotsev exerted all the influence on three last Romanovs. Of these, the least autocratic was Alexander II who tried to inroduce changes in Russia by many reforms. During his last years of rule however, he retreated into more reactionary policy, partly because of growth of Populist revolutionary movements. He was eventually asassinated in 1881 by People’s Will and his son, Alexander III, in fear turned to Pobedonostsev theories and started to withdraw all changes that his father tried to implement. Nicolas II also articulated Pobedonostsev’s ideas and resisted demands for constitutional reform.

By 1905 Russia had been through recession and has lost the war with Japan. Economic crisis and situation after the war lead to a compromise – in 1905 new constitution was granted. Things went even worse after I WW. Royal authority was damaged. As both ideology and institution, autocracy came to an end with the Revolution of March 1917 [Ibidem, p. 3]

Ten years later Stalin came to power and elevated the role of leadership on whole new level. He also personalised it in the form of dictatorship. This soon converted into a Stalinist personality cult, one of the most extreme in twientieth century. It also justified the use of coercion and the development of repressive organs and the interference of the leadership in all political decisions.

As Richard Sakwa once said, „the presidency is at the same time the most powerful and the most controversial political institution in contemporary Russia” [Sakwa R., Presidential Power. The struggle for Hegemony, Oxford 2005, p. 19]. The matter of power and governance, this “russian way” is the main problem in multilateral relations between Russia and West. This “managed democracy” first implemented by Vladimir Putin, who created in some ways system of “hegemonic presidency” that west and European Union can’t understand. The presidency became hegemonic in many ways – it is a core of the institutonal arrangements, governance, seeks to dominate and control political processes. In Russia, country with weak civil society, forces the presidency appeared to achieve dual hegemony. The presidency and Putin came to represent the aspirations of the great mass of people.

After the downfall of Soviet Union, Russia became, at best, a weak democratic regime, where social interests gained direct access to the state. The country’s leaderhip was weak and devoted itself largely to personal enrichment. When Putin came into power, he certainlly tried to restore the order, strenghten constitutional state and improve the quality of governance. This is when the problems began. Europe couldn’t understand why Russia needed someone like Vladimir Putin. Someone, who without blinking sends army to Chechnya, who openly speaks about Russia’s military power and, in some ways, goes back to tsarist ideal of Great Russia. I think that this is the main problem in multirateral relations – this lack of understanding of Russia’s model of authority.

Russia under president Putin started to rebuild its position as the regional superpower and began redefining its role in the world [Piek³o J., Russia Today: Neo-imperialism and Crisis – the Polish perspective, Analyses and Opinions, The institute of Public Affairs, March 2009,]. The presidency sought to free itself from societal pressures. The Russian presidency took on the features of the tsarist or Soviet systems, with the weak prime ministers, a minimal separation of powers, with politics concentrated on the person of the leader. Regime in post-Communist Russia is not like traditional authoritarianism and the regime could not insulate itself from aspects of modern, liberal democratic politics such as media criticism, parilamentary discussion and the electoral cycle. As Sakwa writes: “The regime looked in two directions at once: forward to democracy, international integration, and less bureaucratized and genuinely market economy; and backward to many features of the past that it inherited, perpetuated, and reinforced – bureaucratic arbitrariness in politics and economy, a contemptous attitude to the citizenry, knee-jerk antiwesternism, patron-client relations, byzantine court politics, and widespread corruption”. [ Sakwa R., op. cit., p. 30]

According to Jan Pieklo, from The Institute of Public Affairs, “the last years Russia became an authoritarian neo-imperial country with a state controlled media, dying NGO sector and marginalised, oppressed opposition. The journalists who tried to investigate the cases of corruption and state crimes were killed by unknown assassins in mysterious circumstances, and the oligarchs opposing the regime had to flee the country or were arrested and then sent to a penal colony (as was the case with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the founder of Yukos oil company).” [Piekło J., op. cit.]

Lack of democracy, question of Russian authority, war in Chechnya, attempts to keep Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia „inside”. All of these make Western media constantly write about “"Russian threat". If we also take a matter of Russian monopoly over gas, we have a perfect recipe for a situation, in which such enormous country can be seen as one who can not be really trusted. Let’s face it. Europe fears Russia. Not only because we can not understand it, but also because it gives us reasons to do so. Numbers don’t lie. In 2004 the International Gallup Organization carried a poll concerning anti-Russian sentiment in Europe. It found that the negative feelings for Russia are very strong – the percentage is given as follows:

62% in Finland, 57% in Norway, 42% in the Czech Republic and Switzerland, 37% in Germany, 32% in Denmark and Poland, and 23% in Estonia []. Russia’s image in western media is another matter. There are hundreds of articles concerning such matters as locking up successful businessmen, using gas taps, murdering dissidents (Litvinienko case) and forbidding peaceful protests (like the ones organised by Garri Kasparov on december 2008). All of this creates an image of anti-democratic and dangerous country.

In my opinion, what causes this kind of negative relations is fact, that after the collapse of Soviet Union, Russia and Europe missed many significant opportunities to develop a long-standing, functional relationship and now all animosities stand in way to normalizing multirateral relations. Can anything really be done? As Anna Matveeva writes, “Attitudes matter as Russia is at a crossroads. It can go either towards increased modernisation or militarisation. It can build pragmatic, but solid relations with the west, or it can indulge in spoiling the international game and setting up anti-western alliances. It is the responsibility of the western intelligentsia to see that stereotypes create enemies and not to miss their chance to prevent a new division of Europe.” [Matveeva A., Battling Russophobia,]