Democracy Derailed in Russia: The Failure of Open Politics

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Although Russia experienced dramatic political breakthroughs in the late 1980s and early 1990s after shedding the shackles of Soviet rule, it subsequently failed to continue progressing toward democracy. M. Steven Fish offers an explanation for the direction of regime change in post-Soviet Russia, relying on cross-national comparative analysis as well as on in-depth field research in Russia. Fish demonstrates that Russia's failure to democratize has three causes: too much economic reliance on oil, too little economic liberalization, and too weak a national legislature.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"M. Steven Fish's book, Democracy Derailed in Russia, offers a lively, original account of the failure of democratization in post-Soviet Russia. Fish uses a wide-angled comparative lens to identify the factors explaining the emergence of oligarchic capitalism and an increasingly closed polity in Russia. The findings are provocative and will stimulate considerable debate." Thomas Remington, Emory University

"By carefully comparing Russia's experience with that of other new democracies, M. Steven Fish has zeroed in on the factors that have impeded Russia's democratic development. Especially original and stimulating is the discussion of oil in Russia and the comparisons drawn with other petro-states throughout the world. Even scholars who disagree with Fish's analysis will want to engage it." Jeffrey Kopstein, University of Toronto

"Building on a decade and a half of intensive research on post-communist democratic transition and Russian politics, M. Steven Fish presents a thought-provoking analysis of the trajectory of regime change in post-Soviet Russia. Fish argues that the time has come to declare Russia's post-communist democratic experiment a failure: Russia under Putin is now an authoritarian regime. But he insists that many widespread explanations for democratic failure in Russia are simply wrong.(continued underneath)

Russia did not fail because of its Orthodox religious culture, its multi-ethnicity, its Leninist legacies, or its decision to implement radical economic reform. Rather, in comparative perspective, Russia's authoritarianism today can be traced largely to three factors: its dependence on raw material exports, the stateas continuing control over most economic resources, and superpresidentialism. Fish's book will become a standard reference in the fields of Russian and post-Communist politics, and a must read for those interested in comparative democratization in general." Stephen Hanson, University of Washington

"Why has the global wave of democratization produced so many semi democracies" that are perched precariously between authoritarian and fully democratic politics? By drawing on the details of Russian political and economic evolution and by placing the Russian experience in comparative perspective, M. Steven Fish provides a compelling answer that spans the two dominant approaches in comparative politics to explaining regime trajectories—the political economy of reform and the design of political institutions. For Fish, Russian democracy has been compromised by too much oil, too little economic reform, and too weak a legislature. It is an answer that promises to travel well." Valerie Bunce, Cornell University

"This is an important work, and should be read both by Russia specialists and those interested in comparative democratization. It is very well written and its presentation is easy to follow, making it amenable for undergraduate course use as well. With this book, Fish has raised the bar for future work on Russian politics." - Perspectives on Politics, Paul Kubicek, Oakland University

"Fish's Democracy Derailed is still one of the most creative and analytically insightful books published to date on Russia's post-communist political development. There is no doubt that Fish's conclusions will play a prominent role in debates about democratization and post-communist politics for years to come." - Leah Gilbert, Ph.D. student in Government at Georgetown University

"...this is a good piece of empirical work on contemporary Russia politics. Provocative in style, the book can be recommended for discussion by upper-level undergraduates and postgraduates studying Russian politics, comparative democratization, and the politics of transformation in the former communist world. Many themes in the book provide a good springboard for class discussions. There is an excellent bibliography and the author points readers in the direction of opposing views."
—David Lane, University of Cambridge, Slavic and East European Journal

Foreign Affairs
Fish argues that the time has come to explain why Russia has not made it to democracy — why it is in fact wobbling uncertainly in the opposite direction. Rather than rely on impressions, no matter how well grounded historically or experientially, he attempts to unravel the mystery by using statistical studies of many countries (in particular, postcommunist ones) to identify what accounts for Russia's retarded state. Out of the mix, he emphasizes three factors as the primary culprits: lagging economic reform, the curse of resource wealth, and a disempowered legislature. He discounts the importance of the Soviet legacy, ethnic diversity, public intolerance, and the Orthodox Church. Fish acknowledges that (statistical) linear regression analysis risks brushing over critical particularities and discontinuities, and as compensation he offers a clean analytic design, with carefully specified criteria, much well-exploited data, a basis for prediction, and a fair future test for proving him right or wrong.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

M. Steven Fish is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California -Berkeley. In 2000–1 he was a Fulbright fellow and Visiting Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the European University at St. Petersburg. He is the author of Democracy from Scratch: Opposition and Regime in the New Russian Revolution (Princeton University Press, 1995) and a co-author of Postcommunism and the Theory of Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2001). He has published articles in Comparative Political Studies, East European Constitutional Review, East European Politics and Societies, Europe-Asia Studies, Journal of Democracy, Post-Soviet Affairs, Slavic Review, World Politics and numerous edited volumes.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction; 2. Some concepts and how they apply to Russia; 3. Symptoms of the failure of democracy; 4. The Russian condition in global perspective; 5. The structural problem: grease and glitter; 6. The policy problem: economic statism; 7. The institutional problem: superpresidentialism; 8. Can democracy get back on track?

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