Appealing to the Authorities: Public Efforts to Shape the Common Good in Russia
Laura Henry, Assistant Professor of Government, Bowdoin College
Systems of representation and government accountability are poorly developed in post-Soviet Russia in part do to the weakness of interest groups, social movements, and other vehicles of political participation that feature in prominently in democratic governance in the West. This paper argues, however, that scholar’s search for participatory practices analogous to those in the West has obscured other forms of public feedback in Russia, most notably appeals and complaints to state institutions. Complaint-making has a long history dating from the Soviet period and, according to some scholars, helped improve governance by the Communist Party. Lenin himself suggested that it was necessary “to teach the people the immense value of practical complaints, bringing about as they do desirable and serious results.” Theoretically, it is also in the interest of the current Russian government to encourage public complaints in order to assess the implementation of various reforms and to mitigate corruption. This paper surveys avenues for appeals and complaints by the public to assess whether citizens are able to use these points of access to influence policy-making and changing conceptions of the common good in Russia.