Study of politics in the time of major political changes is both a blessing and a curse, especially if one’s project is devoted to Russian politics. Vladimir Gel’man began Finland Distinguished Professorship at the Aleksanteri Institute in 2012, soon after the wave of anti-regime political protests, which swept Russia during the elections. After that, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, aggravating conflict with the West, and repressive turn in domestic politics, dramatically shifted the landscape of research on Russian politics.
Below you can read the Face of the Month interview by Anna-Maria Salmi, published in Aleksanteri News 3/2012 (p.2) – a lot has certainly happened since then!
“In many parts of the world, Russia is perceived now as a source of instability and multiple threats, and discussions on the “new Cold War” turned into a mainstream of Western media. On the one hand, there is a high policy and societal demand on analyses of ongoing political developments in Russia. On the other hand, many recent changes were so unpredictable and their consequences so unintended that many analyses are at risk to be outdated even before publication”, says Vladimir in 2016, and gives a telling example: “I finished the manuscript of my book, Authoritarian Russia: Analyzing Post-Soviet Regime Changes just one day before the end of Yanukovych’s rule in Ukraine, I got comments of reviewers just hours before the crash of Malaysian Boeing over Donbass, and received proofs of the volume exactly at the day when leader of the Russian opposition Boris Nemtsov was shot dead nearby the Kremlin. Still, the book has not lost its relevance.”
That being said, he would not consider ongoing political processes in Russia as a complete deviation from its post-Soviet political trajectory. Recent changes are a rather logical extension of authoritarian tendencies in Russia since the Soviet collapse. Thus, a scholarly analysis of Russian politics and governance in comparative perspective is still relevant.
“Indeed, present-day Russia is a kind of El Dorado for experts on the study of clientelism, corruption, and institutional decay as can be read in our forthcoming volume Authoritarian Modernization in Russia: Ideas, Institutions, and Policies. Russian realities offer a rich evidence for both testing of existing theories and development of new approaches. The articles in the volume seek answers to important questions such as why did Russia opt for authoritarian governance after the Soviet collapse, what are the mechanisms of political governance maintaining this project and why, despite so many shortcomings and flaws, has this project remained attractive in the eyes of a large proportion of the Russian elite and ordinary citizens. ”
To Vladimir Gel’man and his team, questions of the logic and mechanisms of the authoritarian governance in Russia and its effects on Russia’s politics, economy, and society appear crucial. “Comprehensive analysis of these issues require systematic collective research efforts. Our aim is to promote these issues on the research agenda and encourage further discussions among specialists in the field”.