Russia and democracy: analysis by Mark Harris

«Вместе победим!» ('Together we shall win!'). Russian Legislative elections: 2011. Source: National Post (

As someone who is half-Russian, counts Russian as her first language, but who has never set foot in Russia (only to Ukraine), I often find myself torn between a ‘Western’ and a ‘Russian’ logic. This is not something I could analyse: for better or worse, sociology does not give you the tools to rationalise your own self; in Marx’ expression, I am unable to see underneath my own feet. I seem to understand both, to some extent, but when they clash (and they quite often do), a cognitive dissonance ensues.

Good analyses of Russian affairs by Western authors are few and far between. This is why I was so impressed by Mark Harris’ brief but excellent analysis of Russian attitude to democracy, in the context of the recent elections in Russia that took place on 4 Dec 2011 and have not finished yet. Harrison’s argument cuts through a usual misunderstanding and a clash in the basic meanings taken for granted by people on both sides of Europe. His analysis also touches on the issue of translation – not only linguistic, but also cultural. In a nutshell: before judging, we need to make sure we are aware what exactly it is that the two sides understand when they use the same term, in this case – democracy and the terminology surrounding it. As Harris argues, and the Russian, Bulgarian, and English sections of my brain all agree, democracy does not necessarily mean the same thing in the different [national, cultural, and political] languages.

Mark Harrison writes about economics, public policy, and international affairs. He is a Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick and a research fellow of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.

Categories: Rethinking The World, The Idle Ethnographer

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