The Future of Liberal Democracy in Russia


Ivan Katchanovski


A summary of the article published in Obschestvennye Nauki i Sovremennost, 2, 1995, 52-56.


         The October 1993 events and the December 1993 elections raise a question about prospects for liberal democracy in Russia. Many liberal politicians in Russia maintained that liberal democracy gained decisive victory as a result of the October 1993 events.

        One can argue that fundamental changes in the value orientations of  the main actors have not occurred. Authoritarian values presented by such organizations as the Russian Communist Workers Party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the Liberal Democratic Party have remained strong. In the case of free elections, the authoritarian parties would receive significant weight in parliament.

        This happened in the December 1993 elections. The success of the Liberal Democratic Party led by an extreme antiliberal, Zhirinovsky, has confirmed the influence of authoritarianism. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation and its ally, the Agrarian Party, also have received a significant share of votes. Liberal democrats from Russia's Choice have suffered a significant defeat.

        Charismatic leaders currently play a significant role in Russia. The success of the Liberal Democratic Party is to a great extent due to a charismatic figure, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. He has widely used political demagogy and appeal to emotions instead of rational arguments. Presently, liberal democrats in Russia are dependent on Yeltsin's presidential status and personal charisma. Yeltsin's charisma has begun to weaken as his actions, especially in the economic sphere, have failed to bring the results which he promised. The strong dependency on personality of Yeltsin can endanger Russian liberal-democratic reforms. Liberal politicians lack charisma, and their organizations are too weak to become dominant in Russian politics in the near future.

        Many liberal politicians, both in Russia and in the West, continue to orient their actions toward president Yeltsin believing that democracy in Russia could be secured by a strong presidential power. However, such power can be used to destroy democracy. The 1996 presidential elections can bring a challenge to liberal reforms and democracy from authoritarian and charismatic politicians.           

        Presently, Russian democracy rests on the balance of power between liberal democrats on the one hand and authoritarian nationalists and communists on the other. The latter can use both democratic and undemocratic means in their political struggle. In such a situation, liberal democrats face the dilemma of  choosing between democratic or authoritarian reform paths.  

        Lack of  legitimacy is another problem of Russian democracy. Copying Western liberal and democratic constitutions and other laws alone could not establish the rule of law when people do not consider them as legitimate. The political conflict between the president, parliament and vice-president -- which was resolved by anti-constitutional means in October 1993 -- is an example of the weak legitimacy of the rule of law and the democratic form of government.     

        The prospects for stable liberal and democratic order in Russia depend on liberalization and rationalization of values. In present Russia, authoritarian values are strong, and charismatic leaders are influential. The rule of law lacks legitimacy. Liberal democrats are divided and dependent on Yeltsin’s status and favor.