Of course, any
direct parallels with the past are superficial or even misleading.
Putin rules by modern methods, using democratic processes and
institutions. He is strongly against a return to the Soviet system
and is committed to economic and judicial reforms. His political
style verges on autocratic, but his strong social support among
ordinary Russians and his genuine efforts to consolidate society
give “Putinism” a democratic face.
As a professed
“gradualist,” Putin realizes that, in light of Russia’s historical
legacies, it is not to be expected that the necessary institutional
framework for good governance can be brought about overnight.
Political traditions, customs, and forms of political behavior
(e.g., paternalism, collectivism, and patronage networks) will in
all probability continue for a long time. Putin understands that
attempts to cancel them by decree are doomed to fail.
today’s demand for a strong leader and the current power
centralization reflect the weakness and ineffectiveness of the
institutions of democracy in Russia. The institutions of a broad
civil society – the press, political parties, free associations and
others – are not yet well developed. The rule of law has not been
In part, these
weaknesses are a legacy of the Soviet police state of Putin’s early
career, when the Communist Party had a monopoly on power. In part,
they are a hangover from Yeltsin’s years, when the attempts at
reformulating the relations between the state and society brought
into being civic and media structures, which were taken over by
corporatist actors and exploited as instruments of furthering clan
and corporatist interests, rather than the public good.
situation, the state, as it happened on more than one occasion
before in Russian history, has to take on social and political
functions that in mature democracies are performed by the
institutions of civil society. State intervention is capable of
solving major political problems and directing vital national
efforts, but it can also delay the “coming of age” of public
institutions of a fully fledged society.