Yaroslavl' Revisited: Assessing Continuity and Change in Russian Political Culture Since 1990 Print

Jeffrey Hahn

Yaroslavl' Revisited: Assessing Continuity and Change in Russian Political Culture Since 1990

February 14, 2005

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to address the following questions. How has support among Russians for democratic values and institutions changed since 1990? Does such support depend on short-term calculations of economic and governmental performance, or does it exist independently of such calculations? And finally, what are the implications of answers to these questions for the prospects for democracy in Russia?

The significance of the first question has become especially relevant since the transfer of presidential power from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin on 1 January, 2000. From the beginning of the democratic experiment in Russia in 1990, Russians were led by Boris Yeltsin, the first popularly elected Russian president. Despite Yeltsin's public commitment to the building of democratic institutions, the system he left to his successor was at best a "delegative" democracy in which an elected chief executive exercised power largely without institutional constraints (O'Donnell, 1994). Most assessments of Yeltsin's impact on democratization and support for democratic values among Russians are quite negative (Huskey, 2001; Shevtsova, 1999). As Archie Brown (Brown, 2003, p.24) writes of this period: "one is forced to conclude that the experience of the 1990s did little to reinforce that strand in Russian political culture supportive of democratic principles."