Catherine Guisan.Rethinking Russian Democratization Through the “Politics of Resurrection”


Some Europeanists have turned to the concept of resurrection to study political change in the European Union (Council of European Studies, 2014). This concept offers a helpful entry point also to study Russian democratization. This presentation defines resurrection in two ways: as the “lost treasure” of a usable political past for currents democratization politics (Arendt), and as personal and collective processes of self-transformation (Tolstoi). It discusses one instance of “lost treasure”, which contemporary Russian scholars are unearthing: the quasi-republicanism of the medieval cities of Novgorod and Pskov; and it analyzes several processes of personal and collective resurrection in the 1950s, in the 1980s-1990s and early 21st century in the Soviet Union and Russia. It also reviews possibilities for a third thaw. The empirical data comes from primary and secondary sources: author interviews and ethnographic observation in 2013 and 2015, memoirs, cultural history, and comparative politics.

Western political scientists ask themselves whether the transition from the Soviet Union to Russia constitutes a case of failed democratization, and whether the analytical instruments developed for democratic transition studies are appropriate to study Russia. Evidence does not provide a fully conclusive answer to the first question, and scholars tend to respond to the second question affirmatively when they examine it. This presentation argues for a longer-term view of democratic transitions, which eschews simplistic binary contrasts between democracy and the lack thereof, and takes the notion of usable pasts and bottom up political initiatives more seriously.