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Political Culture

"Gorbachev Factor"

The term political culture usually refers to certain values, perceptions of history, and fundamental political beliefs shared by a majority of the population. The question, which is often asked in connection with Russias recent Communist experience, is, to what extent does Russian political culture hinder or help the transition to democracy? The seventy-four-year long Communist period itself carried on, in changed forms, Russias prerevolutionary authoritarian tradition. How has the experience of centuries of authoritarian rule affected the Russian political culture? 

At one extreme of responses to this question there is a view that treats Russian political culture as immature and unprepared for democracy. It argues that the historical experience has created a society in which ideas such as freedom, self-government, and rule of law are not ingrained in the collective consciousness. But there is also a positive view, which stresses the more recent experience of the Russian people and the impact of factors such as urbanization, rising educational levels, and opening up to the outside world. These are taken to have created a changed political culture and a people much more determined to stand up for democratic values. This has been further strengthened by the experiences of the period since the late 1980s, during which popular opinion and action changed an entire system.

Where does the truth lie? Is Russian political culture supportive of democratic values, or are the legacies of the autocratic experience likely to pervert the cause of democracy in Russia? To what extent does Russias past weigh upon its present?

To begin with, it is useful to identify some of the most basic characteristics of the Russian traditional political culture, particularly those more enduring values that are not easily destroyed by revolutions and other major social and political upheavals. Many of them have to do with the traditional way of life of the people determined by the geographical, environmental, and climatic factors prevailing in the country. What were the important facts of life in Russia that shaped the mentality of Russians and affected their social and political behavior?

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Russian Political Culture


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