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Teaching Russia’s “tandemocracy”. Janet Elise Johnson Brooklyn College, CUNY Johnson@brooklyn.cuny.edu. Two contentious--and one tough-- topics to teach. regime type executive-parliamentary relations gender . Outcomes: Knowledge and practice.

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teaching russia s tandemocracy

Teaching Russia’s “tandemocracy”

Janet Elise Johnson

Brooklyn College, CUNY


two contentious and one tough topics to teach
Two contentious--and one tough-- topics to teach
  • regime type
  • executive-parliamentary relations
  • gender
outcomes knowledge and practice
Outcomes: Knowledge and practice
  • gain familiarity with some current scholarly debates about current events
  • have a model for how to integrate theory with the “facts”
  • some useful resources
1 regime type start with some democracy theory
1.regime type: start with some democracy theory
  • Schmitter and Karl (1991) “What Democracy Is….and Is Not” (introduce during unit on Britain to define democracy)
    • “a system of governance in which rules are held accountable for their actions in the public realm by citizens, acting indirectly through the competition and cooperation of their elected representatives.”
    • more than just elections: also civil society, civil and political rights
and theory about hybrids
and theory about hybrids
  • Diamond (2002) “Thinking about hybrid regimes” (read during Russia unit)
    • combining democratic and authoritarian elements, usually the procedures of democracy, but not a more comprehensive democracy; not full political and civil rights, limited civil society
    • “Elections are free when the legal barriers to entry into the political arena are low, when there is substantial freedom for candidates and supporters of different political parties to campaign and solicit votes, and when voters experience little or no coercion in exercising their electoral choices.”
compare of russia s situation to definitions from theory
compare of Russia’s situation to definitions from theory
  • procedures of democracy
    • is there accountability? (no institutional mechanism)
    • are elections competitive, that is, free, fair, inclusive, and meaningful? (fraud, dominant party that creates loyal opposition and manipulates the real opposition out of the game through election rules and coercion)
  • goals of democracy (constitutional liberalism)
    • is civil society unfettered? (paternalistic control through selective enforcement of 2006 NGO law and funding obedient NGOs; channeling/inhibiting protest)
    • is the media free? (public control of TV and most national newspapers)
    • do people have meaningful civil and political rights? (only in unimportant contexts)
also compare to countries
Also compare to countries
  • less democratic than Britain, Mexico, and even Nigeria
    • e.g. the creation of loyal opposition parties (Just Russia) has parallels to Mexico’s PRI and Nigeria under Abacha and Babndiga (but more skillful in Russia!)
  • less authoritarian than Iran and China
    • media in Russia not censored directly as in China
some helpful media
Some helpful media
  • have students compare Soviet and Putin national anthems (same music) to set the stage
  • Frontline PBS (illustrates suppression of dissent)
    • 2007 prodemocracy march before the 2008 presidential elections
    • http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/blog/2007/12/russia_a_winter.html#
  • 2002 song “Man like Putin” used again in 2008 elections (demonstrates the cult of Putin)
    • English language version and Russian with subtitles on Youtube
    • background info http://www.pbs.org/soundtracks/stories/putin/
from hybrid to soft authoritarianism
from hybrid to “soft authoritarianism”?
  • for example, Kesselman 2010 (DeBardeleben), label Russia a “developing democracy,” still a “hybrid”
  • but the scholarly debate is moving toward “soft authoritarianism”
  • no consensus on definition: not quite authoritarian
    • opposition is legally allowed to operate, but can’t challenge power
    • not outright censorship of speech or suppression of civil society, but little space for meaningful free speech or critique of regime
additional resources
  • Freedom House Nation in Transit Reports
  • Slavic Review fall 2009 forum on “Managing Political Society in Russia”
    • abstracts online at http://www.slavicreview.illinois.edu/indexes/vol68/index.html#_Number_3,_Fall
  • other key theory:
    • Fareed Zakaria 1997 “Rise of Illberal Democracy” in Foreign Affairs
  • readable argument about Russia’s consolidation
    • Kotkin, Stephen. 2008. Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse 1970-2000. New York: Oxford University Press. (Updated edition)
2 executive parliamentary relations
2. Executive-parliamentary relations
  • teach the various powers of the Presidency, Prime minister, and Federal Assembly
  • highlighting especially the limited ways that the Duma has oversight over the Pres
    • disbanded if disapprove of PM candidate three times
    • can be dissolved in Duma issues two votes of no confidence
introduce definitions
Introduce definitions
  • presidential system: system of government in which the chief executive is elected in a national ballot and is independent of the legislative branch
  • parliamentary: system of government in which the chief executive is answerable to the legislature and may be dismissed by it.
  • semipresidential: a form of government in which presidents are more than just figureheads but are ultimately subordinate to the parliament
    • a mix between presidential and parliamentary system, but president dominates
    • both president and parliament are directly elected (and then parliament then chooses the PM)
    • problem of cohabitation which changes the distribution of power in favor of the PM
    • no fusion of power in the legislature (note that cabinet members can’t serves as MPs)

SOURCE: Kesselman 2007

tandemocracy is pundit jargon for the current form of dual executive
“tandemocracy” is pundit jargon for the current form of dual executive
  • not from the word democracy, but tandem
  • power sharing between Putin and Medvedev since 2008 elections
    • based on a personal agreement
    • terms are not publicly known
  • despite the constitutional right of the pres. to dismiss the PM, Putin seems more powerful, but Medvedev sometimes disagrees

For more information, see “How Russia Works: An Assessment of the Medvedev Putin System.” Russian Analytical Digest No. 49/08 (November 6; www.res.ethz.ch/analysis/rad)

not semi presidential presidential superpresidential or perhaps superexecutivism
not semi-presidential… presidential? superpresidential? or perhaps superexecutivism?


  • huge apparatus of presidential power
  • presidential control of the purse
  • frequent use of presidential decrees
  • almost impossible impeachment of president
  • little legislative oversight
  • little judicial oversight

SOURCE: M. Steven Fish, 2000, "The Executive Deception: Superpresidentialism and the Degradation of Russian Politics," in Sperling, ed., Building the Russian State, pp. 177-191

3 mainstreaming gender
3. mainstreaming gender
  • women in formal politics:
    • Women of Russia party, the first successful all women’s party
    • more women in parliament (and executive power) under Putin than since the end of communism
    • but promotion of siloviki means the promotion of men and a specific type of masculinity
women in politics
Women in politics
  • Interparliamentary Union, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm
3 mainstream gender
3. mainstream gender
  • civil society:
    • women dominated the NGOs that emerged after the collapse
    • the emergence of feminism within women’s studies programs and women’s crisis centers dedicated to ending violence against women
    • example of state paternalism:
      • Putin used oil revenues to support social services, including state agencies providing assistance to victims of domestic violence
      • state-approved NGOs, mostly those that provide social services, receive funding through the Public Chamber

Global Gender Gap

0 to 1 scale: 0=inequality, 1=equality.

[1] World Economic Forum. 2008. “The Global Gender Gap Index 2008 Rankings; Comparisons with 2007 and 2006,” online at http://www.weforum.org/pdf/gendergap/rankings2008.xls (last accessed October 16, 2009).

the woman question has become the man question
The “woman question” has become the “man question”
  • the problems: huge number of deaths of working-age men from respiratory and circulatory diseases and alcohol-related accidents and violence
  • contributing to what the state sees as the “demographic problem,” the rapidly shrinking ethnic-Russian population
social problems today
Social problems today



Population growth rate:-0.484% (2007 est.)

Birth rate:10.92 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)

Death rate:16.04 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)

Net migration rate:0.28 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:total population: 65.87 years male: 59.12 years female: 73.03 years (2007 est.)

putin s masculinity reclamation project
Putin’s “masculinity reclamation project”

“Health like a habit”

Photo by Johnson 2008

Also, “Man like Putin” song

additional resources1
  • women in parliaments database, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm
  • global gender gap reports, http://www.weforum.org/en/Communities/Women%20Leaders%20and%20Gender%20Parity/GenderGapNetwork/index.htm
  • Stop Violence Against Women Russia page, http://www.stopvaw.org/Russian_Federation.html
additional resources on russia in general
  • Russian Analytical Digestwww.res.ethz.ch/analysis/rad
  • Richard Sakwa’s Russia Politics and Society (on google books): key text, includes full 1996 version, and previews the more recent versions (includes maps)
  • JRL Research & Analytical Supplement (online at http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/jrl-ras.cfm): summarizes the recent literature on Russia in layperson language