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Maslanov D.V. - President and Russians: foreign view of the attitude of the population of post-Soviet Russia towards its presidents

(Published in «SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences» ¹4, 2015)

The research of the political development of the countries with the transitional type pf democracy or democratic transitions, hold a special place in the world political science. With the start of the third wave of democratization, many authors attempted to understand the new criteria and the results of the change of political regimes in the countries that have shed the shackles of authoritarianism, including the post-Soviet Russia. The “transitology” is based on the blueprint of “democratic transition” (authoritarianism-transition-democracy), in which the democracy a priori becomes the better form of governing, and studying the transitional regimes most often manifests in the search for “perversions” or “abnormalities” of the optimal, i.e. liberal, Westerly version of democracy. In Russian science the transition researchers have formed a number of concepts regarding the Russian political reality; for example, “nomenclature democracy”, “destructive democracy”, “regional authoritarian regime” or “Russian hybrid”, and others [1, 7, 8, 11, 21]. These concepts vary from one another by the assortment of structures and characteristics attributed to the regime, but all of them converge on the fact that in Russian there is a system of power that cannot be called a version of a successful democratization.

The important question for “transitology” is the question about the influence of one or another institution upon the formation or strengthening of democracy, including discussion about the advantages and flaws of the presidential, parliamentary, and mix model. In Russia, the form of governing is the presidential-parliamentary republic, a local version of which is often referred to by science as “superpresidentialism” – a system, in which the president possesses extraordinary authority, which impede a successful “democratic transition” [5, 3-20]. At the same time, it is impossible for the population of the country not to have a certain attitude towards the forming institutions of power, president, and socio-political reality. The nuances of the public opinion of the developing Russian democracy did not escape the attention of the foreign sociological researches. As a result, based on the example of little-studied surveys of public opinion conducted by foreign authors, an attempt is made in this article to show their view upon the population’s perception of the office and persona of the president, and what effect did the “strong persona” had on the development of the country’s political system. This article examines the research conducted in cooperation with the Russian Institute of Sociology RAS (T. Colton, V. Zimmerman, M. McFaul, H. Hale; The Russian Election Studies series – RES), surveys by the Pew Research Center, and others that analyze the mood of the Russian population towards the political system and state institutions. The timeframe of the post-Soviet Russia defined in this work falls on the period between the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the end of the second presidential term of Vladimir Putin in 2008.

Many foreign authors who study the influence of the presidents upon the political development of the countries refer to Guillermo O’Donnell, author of the term “delegative democracy”, who defines and explains many traits of the system that has formed in Russia. According to O’Donnell, in “delegative democracy” the president is viewed as the embodiment of the nation; the main keeper and holder of its interests. His policy can vaguely resemble the pre-election promises; moreover, he places himself above all political parties and group interests. But delegative democracy is no stranger to democratic tradition, and the elections form the assortment of people who can govern the state according to their reason for a period of several years. The pinnacle of this system is the president, who bears the responsibility for all successes or failures of the government, becoming either an idol or the fall person [6]. This description is given by the researcher for political regimes establishing in Latin America and post-Communist nations in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It is noteworthy that this concept also holds true for post-Soviet Russia.

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