The protests that have occurred in Russia since December have shed light on the country’s burgeoning civil society. At an event at AEI on Thursday, resident scholar Leon Aron alleged that the development of civil society will give rise to a more democratic citizenship.
The principle objective of Russia's grassroots activists, said Aron, is to advance the notion that Russians can and should hold the Kremlin accountable for its actions regardless of the group in power. Leonard Benardo of the Open Society Foundation emphasized that Russian President Vladamir Putin’s “sovereign democracy” has failed and warned that Russian civil society therefore lacks an ideological framework in which to operate.
Bernardo also noted that the degradation of public discourse in Russia demonizes human rights and other civil society groups. Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies raised important questions about the ability of Russian civil society to sustain mobilization and to grow constituencies over time.
Kutchins stressed that the catalyst for change is always difficult to predict, but that Russia’s trajectory suggests that “modernists” will outnumber “traditionalists” in the next several years. Andrew Weiss concluded the event by highlighting the combined role of money and power in impeding Russia’s overall democratization.
The hundreds of thousands of protesters that have flooded Moscow and other cities since Russia’s fraudulent December 4, 2011, parliamentary election have given visibility to the country’s burgeoning civil society. Last summer, Leon Aron and Daniel Vajdic, both of AEI, spent nearly a month traversing Russia and conducted 40 hours of recorded interviews with the leaders and activists of six grassroots organizations.
How do civil society organizations operate in the authoritarian environment of Vladimir Putin’s “sovereign democracy?” To what extent are they able to further their causes despite pervasive corruption and the rule of courts that take their cues from the Kremlin? What are the long-term prospects for civil society in Russia and how will civil society affect the country’s flourishing pro-democracy movement? Leon Aron will explore these issues in his presentation, which will be followed by the panel’s comments and reactions.