The political legacy

Masters and MBAs

What was the legacy of the Soviet Union on newly established democracies? How the political history influenced their development and formation of political culture? Discuss in the case of upcoming elections in Ukraine; and in one or both of the following countries: Georgia, Russia

We will answer this question in two sections, looking firstly at the case of Ukraine and secondly at the case of Russia. The first section contains three parts. We will begin this investigation by looking at the political legacy of the Soviet Union and its effects upon the political development of the Ukraine. We will look at the immediate post-Soviet politics in Ukraine in the first part before moving on to discuss the issue of corruption and its wide-ranging effects in both Ukraine and Russia. We will then move on to discuss the effects of the Orange Revolution and recent political developments in Ukraine in the third and final part of the first section. In the second section we will look at the case of Russia and examine the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the first part. In the second part of Section two we will look at the continued Soviet legacy in rural Russian politics and amongst the Russian political elites. In the third part we examine the struggles of Boris Yeltsin during his time in office and in the final part we examine the prospects of Russia's political future. We will conclude that the Soviet political legacy has had and continues to have an enormous impact upon the development of political culture in both countries.

Let us begin by analysing the legacy of the Soviet era on the newly established democracy in Ukraine. Ukraine declared itself a sovereign state on 16 July 1990, but this declaration only marked the beginning of a battle with the Soviet Union for Ukrainian independence. The Soviet Communists were still desperately trying to hold the Soviet Union together and for this reason hardliners attempted a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev. The coup failed and in its aftermath the Ukraine held a referendum and Presidential elections. "The final act in the drama of Ukraine's independence was the December 1, 1991, referendum. Even the nationalists did not expect such a resounding vote of support; indeed, many feared that the population might actually vote against independence"[1]. The referendum was supported by over ninety per cent of the population and on December 8 the political leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus brought the Soviet Union to its official end, creating the Commonwealth of Independent States in its place. Immediately the legacy of the Soviet Union played a large role in the development of the Ukrainian political system and the Ukrainian constitution reflected this. The constitution was described at the time as "something akin to a French-type political system, with a strong President and strong legislature. Ukrainian elites are aware of the dangers of Kravchuk's inclinations toward authoritarian rule"[2]. The framers of the Ukrainian constitution were faced with the problem of making sure the office of President was not too powerful, whilst at the same time having to recognise the immense popularity and strength that the Presidential office would wield under Kravchuk. "As one member of the working group on the constitution put it to me, 'how do we keep him from becoming a king'? But they also appreciate that the realities of political life are such that his domineering presence, like that of Yeltsin in Russia, and the absence of effective political institutions, make some form of strong executive rule virtually inevitable"[3]. With this mind the Ukrainian constitution set up the Ukrainian Republic, a semi-presidential system similar to that of the United States with a separate executive, legislative and judicial branch. The President is the Head of State and is elected every five years. "The president and prime minister effectively constitute a dual executive in a semi-presidential regime. The relationship between these two institutional actors is profoundly affected by the third key institutional player, parliament"[4]. In this sense we can see that the constitution and new semi-presidential democracy in Ukraine was a direct reaction to the immediate past and attempted to guard against the type of authoritarian rule common in the Soviet Union.

However, the newly established democracy in Ukraine was not free from Soviet influence or from the legacy of the Soviet Union, far from it. "Ukraine proclaimed its independence, precipitating the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Former Communist Party officials, recast as national patriots, led the new state. In the first years of independence, corruption became widespread--but remained minor compared to the rampant criminality that spread during the mid-1990s"[5]. This was a problem that was not unique to Ukraine and was shared by all the former Soviet countries.

In rural Russia democratic reformers have failed to make significant inroads and this has compounded the problem as the old power elites use their position to adapt to the new political environment with remarkable success and ease. "Another generalisation that emerges from the research presented in this volume is that older elites have proven to be more successful in adapting to the new rules of the political game ushered in by reform than their 'democratic' opposition"[6]. However, whilst many of the old power elites have changed and adapted to a significant extent they also have continued to exercise their power in ways recognisable during the Soviet era. Political corruption was a consistent feature of Soviet politics and continued to surface regularly in post-Soviet countries. "Signs of political corruption in the sense of the use of public position for personal advantage are unavoidable in post-Communist Russia. During his period in office Yeltsin launched several campaigns against corruption and made repeated claims about its corrosive impact on government. In the run up to the recent Duma elections the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, inaugurated yet another drive to root out serious crime and corruption using what has become characteristically robust language to express the nature of the threats they pose to society"[7]. As Levin and Satarov point out, the effects of political corruption are highly detrimental to the development and credibility of newly established democracies. "Political goals deviate from the tasks of national development and are directed at securing political power for the benefit of selected oligarchic private groups. As a consequence, trust of authority declines and ordinary people become more and more alienated from society. As a result, good intentions of the authorities are neither credible nor rewarded"[8]. The Ukraine was certainly not immune from this type of political corruption and under President Kuchma; elected in 1994 some cases of rampant corruption were brought to the attention of the world. "The greediest of the crew was Pavlo Lazarenko, who, in June 2004, was convicted in U.S. District Court of fraud, conspiracy to launder money, money laundering, and transportation of stolen property"[9]. We can see therefore that the Soviet legacy of corruption moved almost totally unhindered into the newly established democracies and that it impacted largely upon the political cultures in Ukraine and Russia.

Let us now move on to discuss the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. As we have seen the immediate post-Soviet history of Ukraine was affected to a large extent by the political legacy of the Soviet Union. However, a new movement of pro-Western Ukrainians was emerging, arguing for greater economic liberalization and greater political freedom from their former Soviet masters. "It was this turbulent period that saw the metamorphosis of Yushchenko from colorless central banker into charismatic opposition leader. In December 1999, pressure from Western donor countries seeking deeper economic reforms resulted in his appointment as prime minister. As chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine in the 1990s, Yushchenko had tamed rampant inflation and introduced responsible fiscal controls"[10]. The Soviet elites were not all pleased with the success of Yushchenko, despite his popularity with the Ukrainian people and was promptly dismissed as Prime Minister. This created the basic conditions that would eventually lead to the Orange Revolution, because of the two-term limit imposed upon President Kuchma, Yushchenko emerged as a popular opposition leader for President in the 2004 Presidential elections. The Soviet elite chose Viktor Yanukovich as the establishment candidate for the election, but also realized that Yanukovich's troublesome personal history and his close association to an unpopular government made Yushchenko almost unbeatable in the election. For this reason, the Ukrainian elite decided to use electoral fraud, voter intimidation and large-scale corruption during the Presidential run-off between the two candidates. In response to these tactics the people took to the streets of Kiev from November 2004 until January 2005, demonstrating on a daily basis against the fraudulent Presidential election and the opposition movement also initiated general strikes in response to the election. The Supreme Court of Ukraine ordered a re-running of the election on December 26 2004 and Yushchencko won the election. He was sworn into office as President on 23 January 2005 and therefore the Orange Revolution succeeded in its attempt to remove corrupt Soviet influence from Ukrainian politics. We can see therefore that former Soviet countries have been able to actively remove Soviet influence upon the development of the political system and the Orange Revolution is a prime example of this. However, the recent political history of the Ukraine indicates that Yushchenko's rival in the election of 2004, Viktor Yanukovich will probably become the next President of Ukraine. Yushchenko's popularity, once so high in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution has plummeted and it looks likely he will not be even to secure a place in the Presidential run-off in 2010. As we will see in the case of Russia, this begs the question of whether Soviet influence and authoritarian leadership may be making a return in Ukraine. The answer to this questions remains to be seen, but it is clear that the legacy of the Soviet Union continues to exert a strong influence inside the Ukraine.

Let us now move on to discuss in detail the exact manner in which the Soviet Union impacted upon the political culture of Russia. Dawisha and Parrott delve into Russian history to argue that Russian political culture has consistently been characterised by momentous upheaval. "Without a doubt, the most important historical question for the future of Eurasia is how the legacy of the past will affect Russia's overall international orientation. Due partly to the absence of impassable natural barriers in central Eurasia, Russian history has been marked by a long succession of wars that have threatened the country's existence and have killed millions of inhabitants"[11]. Despite the fact that Dawisha and Parrott offer a sober assessment about the difficulty of maintaining political stability in Russian politics throughout history, they are more optimistic about the ability of the newly established democracies to emerge from the shadows of Russia's murky political history. "Since 1990 Russia has made major strides toward the establishment of representative institutions. The parliamentary elections held in the spring of 1990 marked a significant step toward authentic democracy"[12]. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War there certainly was every reason to be optimistic about the future of Russian political culture. Russia appeared to be embracing democracy and the parliamentary elections of 1990 were hotly contested for the most part with an average of over six candidates competing for each parliamentary seat. In addition to legitimate and representative parliamentary elections, the Presidential elections of 1991 appeared to be moving Russia even further down the path of a liberal democracy, embracing an American-led ideal to which the international community aspires. "Vigorously contested, the balloting marked the first time in Russia's history that its political leader had been chosen by means of popular democratic election, and it gave President Yeltsin an aura of democratic legitimacy that virtually no other politician in the former Soviet Union could match"[13]. Therefore, it would seem that Russian politics in the immediate period after the Cold War was one that was full of progress and one that moved away from the traditional Russian and Soviet model of upheaval and authoritarianism.

Despite the fact that the parliamentary elections of 1990 were open and democratic for the most part, alongside the progress and reform remained much that was familiar in Russian political history. "Some Communist party officials took advantage of rural electoral districts to win 'safe' seats and obstructed the campaigns of reformist candidates"[14]. Whilst Dawisha and Parrott argue that such classic Soviet style corruption was not widespread or important, Helf and Hann argue precisely the opposite. "It would be misleading to conclude simply that the 'democrats' won and the 'nomenklatura' lost, at least in the Russian Republic. In fact, the victories of the opposition, although striking in their novelty, were actually quite isolated and almost entirely limited to cities"[15]. Hahn and Friedgut show that whilst the democratic reformers have had some success in the cities, rural Russia continues to be dominated by the traditional centres of power. Nowhere is the Soviet legacy more apparent than in the office of President itself. Virtually from the moment that President Yeltsin assumed the position of President he was locked in a bitter battle with his legislative opponents. This in itself in not undemocratic, indeed many American Presidents have been thwarted by strong legislatures. However, the response of Yeltsin and his government carried with them more than a hint of Soviet authoritarianism. When in 1993 the deadlock between President and legislature continued to derail his reform programme, Yeltsin declared a 'special Presidential regime' and contemplated dissolving Parliament and declaring a state of emergency. Yeltsin did not do this, instead opting for a referendum on his leadership. This may on the surface seem perfectly democratic, indeed perhaps more democratic than many Western countries. However, one of the central problems between the legislature and the President had been the new Russian constitution. The debate centred upon whether to create a strong parliamentary system dominated by a strong legislature or whether to create a strong Presidential system, authorising a powerful executive to decide and advance the policies of the nation. However, it is probable Yeltsin, in a throwback to the Soviet era wanted to go way beyond this set of alternatives and for this reason did not include constitutional reform in the referendum. "The constitutional draft endorsed by Yeltsin in mid-1993 called for a Presidency so powerful that it could have emasculated the legislature. If this was Yeltsin's real objective rather than a negotiating ploy, its enactment would have dealt a blow to the prospects for establishing constitutional government in Russia"[16]. We cannot be sure of Yeltsin's true motives, but it is highly probable that he at least considered the idea and it shows the ease with which Russian political leaders can lapse back into a Soviet mindset. The new Russian political system had lasted for only two years and already there was considerable debate about whether to abandon the entire project, reverting to an authoritarian type that has dominated Russian political history and culture.

Russian history has been dominated by Tsars during the pre-Soviet era and by authoritarian leaders during the Soviet era itself and such a strong authoritarian trend has not vanished from Russian political history and culture. Indeed, it may currently be stronger than at any time in post-Soviet Russia and President Putin continues to serve as Prime Minister after completing eight years in office. Many commentators in the West believe that "when he steps down as President, he has said he will become Prime Minister. He will probably keep overseeing the 'power ministries'defense, security and foreign affairsby controlling his puppet President and protg, Dmitri Medvedev"[17]. This is certainly not to say that progress had not been made in Russia and that its political history and culture are not changing. As Rosefielde points out, "Russia is more open than at any time since the Bolshevik Revolution. Economic liberty, including the right to own productive assets and engage in private business, has been greatly expanded. People are making headway transforming paper civil rights into realities, and democratic institutions are being built despite the persistence of political authoritarianism"[18]. Despite this progress, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that side by side with this progress was the towering influence exerted by the Soviet legacy, not simply upon Russian political history and culture but also upon the entirety of Russian society. "The dead hand of the past hasn't completely withered. Russia has 'modernised' itself by adopting most of the trappings of the West, but it has not become westernised. Its consumers still aren't completely sovereign, its government isn't democratically responsive to the electorate, and Russian society is blatantly unjust"[19]. The pervasive influence of the Soviet Union upon Russian politics is apparent in modern day Russia and it has shaped the entire development of political culture in that country. The political paradoxes and social cleavages found in Russia today still reflect the basic tension between the Soviet era and those who seek to modernise the country along progressive and democratic lines.

In Conclusion, we have seen that the political legacy of the Soviet Union has exerted an enormous influence upon both the Ukraine and Russia. The political history of both countries has been affected to a large extent by the Soviet Union and the development of political culture in both countries must also be seen in this context. It can appear at times that the Soviet Union has cast an enormous and unending shadow upon the newly established democracies. Firstly we must point out that this is to some extent not surprising. The Soviet Union had exerted an enormous influence not only upon its member countries but also upon the entire world and its influence was never simply going to vanish in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, despite the fact that the Soviet Union was inevitably going to exert a strong influence upon the newly established democracies it is perhaps surprising that it has affected the new democracies to the extent that it has in Ukraine and Russia. Both the Ukraine and Russia have been ravaged by political corruption that has fundamentally undermined the political system and the faith of the people in the power of democratic government. The economic crises in Eastern Europe during the 1990s in combination with a corrupt political system have led many people in Russia to a certain sense of nostalgia for the Soviet era. "The economic hardships of the 1990s coupled with Russia's unfinished reconciliation with its pasta history in which millions were deported, countries occupied, slave labor institutionalized, secret police mobilized, and tens of millions disappearedhave been fertile ground for Soviet and even Stalinist nostalgia"[20]. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine would appear to one of the few exceptions to this Soviet influence upon political development, but even the Orange Revolution can be imperiled by developments in Russia. Putin could become president of Russia once more, if the constitution is changed as many commentators expect and if this were to take place then the era of authoritarian rulers in Eastern Europe may not be at an end. A strong Putin Presidency could lead to an assertive Russian foreign policy, as already witnessed in Georgia that could lead to Ukrainian leaders such as Yanukovich becoming mere political puppets of Russian leaders. Fortunately this is mere speculation at the moment, but the signs are ominous. The influence of the Soviet political legacy continues to cast a long shadow over the newly established democracies in Eastern Europe and are certain to affect the future development of political culture in both Russia and Ukraine.

Bibliography

1. Mawdsley, Evan, The Russian Civil War (2007)

2. Gottfried, Ted, The Stalinist Empire (2002)

3. Lenin, Vladimir, The state and revolution (1993)

4. Huntington, Samuel, The Clash of Civilisations and the remaking of the world order, Foreign Affairs (1997)

5. Strayer, Robert, Why did the Soviet Union collapse?: Understanding Historical Change (1998)

6. Dawisha, Karen, Parrott, Bruce, Russia and the new states of Eurasia: the politics of upheaval (1994)

7. Helf, Gavin, Hahn, Jeffrey, Old Dogs and New Tricks: Party Elites in the Russian Regional Elections of 1990, Slavic Review, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Autumn, 1992), pp. 511-530

8. Hahn, Jeffrey, Friedgut, Theodore, Reforming Post-Soviet Russia: Local power and post-Soviet politics (1994)

9. Rosefielde, Steven, Russia in the 21st Century: the prodigal superpower (2005)

10. Motyl, Alexander, Dilemmas after independence: Ukraine after totalitarianism (1994)

11. Protsyk, Oleh, Troubled Semi-Presidentialism: Stability of the Constitutional System and Cabinet in Ukraine, Europe Asia Studies, Vol. 55, No. 7, (2003), pp.1077-1095

12. Karatnycky, Adrian, Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Foreign Affairs (2005)

13. Kneen, Peter, Political corruption in Russia and the Soviet Legacy, Crime, Law & Social Change, 34 (2000), pp. 349-367

14. Levin, Mark, Satarov, Georgy, Corruption and institutions in Russia, European Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 16, (2000), pp.113-132

15. Mendelson, Sarah, Gerber, Theodore, Soviet Nostalgia: An Impediment to Russian Democratization, The Washington Quarterly, Vol.29, No.1 (2006), pp.83-96

Websites

1.http://74.125.155.132/scholar?q=cache:zeKPOX_c_64J:scholar.google.com/+medvedev+puppet+president&hl=en&as_sdt=2000

[1] Motyl, Alexander, Dilemmas after independence: Ukraine after totalitarianism (1994), pp.49

[2] Motyl, Alexander, Dilemmas after independence: Ukraine after totalitarianism (1994), pp.173

[3] Motyl, Alexander, Dilemmas after independence: Ukraine after totalitarianism (1994), pp.173

[4] Protsyk, Oleh, Troubled Semi-Presidentialism: Stability of the Constitutional System and Cabinet in Ukraine, Europe Asia Studies, Vol. 55, No. 7, (2003), pp., 1078

[5] Karatnycky, Adrian, Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Foreign Affairs (2005), pp.3

[6] Hahn, Jeffrey, Friedgut, Theodore, Reforming Post-Soviet Russia: Local power and post-Soviet politics (1994), pp.274

[7] Kneen, Peter, Political corruption in Russia and the Soviet Legacy, Crime, Law & Social Change, 34 (2000), pp. 349

[8] Levin, Mark, Satarov, Georgy, Corruption and institutions in Russia, European Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 16, (2000), pp.114

[9] Karatnycky, Adrian, Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Foreign Affairs (2005), pp.3

[10] Karatnycky, Adrian, Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Foreign Affairs (2005), pp.4

[11] Dawisha, Karen, Parrott, Bruce, Russia and the new states of Eurasia: the politics of upheaval (1994), pp.25

[12] Dawisha, Karen, Parrott, Bruce, Russia and the new states of Eurasia: the politics of upheaval (1994), pp.126

[13] Dawisha, Karen, Parrott, Bruce, Russia and the new states of Eurasia: the politics of upheaval (1994), pp.126

[14] Dawisha, Karen, Parrott, Bruce, Russia and the new states of Eurasia: the politics of upheaval (1994), pp.126

[15] Helf, Gavin, Hahn, Jeffrey, Old Dogs and New Tricks: Party Elites in the Russian Regional Elections of 1990, Slavic Review, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Autumn, 1992), pp. 511

[16] Dawisha, Karen, Parrott, Bruce, Russia and the new states of Eurasia: the politics of upheaval (1994), pp.128

[17]http://74.125.155.132/scholar?q=cache:zeKPOX_c_64J:scholar.google.com/+medvedev+puppet+president&hl=en&as_sdt=2000

[18] Rosefielde, Steven, Russia in the 21st Century: the prodigal superpower (2005), pp.1-2

[19] Rosefielde, Steven, Russia in the 21st Century: the prodigal superpower (2005), pp.2

[20] Mendelson, Sarah, Gerber, Theodore, Soviet Nostalgia: An Impediment to Russian

Democratization, The Washington Quarterly, Vol.29, No.1 (2006), pp.92

Please be aware that the free essay that you were just reading was not written by us. This essay, and all of the others available to view on the website, were provided to us by students in exchange for services that we offer. This relationship helps our students to get an even better deal while also contributing to the biggest free essay resource in the UK!