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9 E. Eur. Const. Rev. 65 (2000)
Russia and the Strong State Ideal

handle is hein.journals/eeurcr9 and id is 65 raw text is: Pufin's'lhird way

Russia and the Strong State Ideal
Thomas F Remington

ails to strengthen the state have become
widespread in Russia. Liberals and conserva-
tives alike take it for granted that Russia's
statehood was weakened by the unsuccessful reforms
of the 1990s and that the restoration of state strength
must now take high priority. Certainly this was a
theme of Vladimir Putin's public statements in the
run-up to the March presidential election. As we read
in Putin's address, Russia on the Threshold of the
Millennium, posted to the government's web site in
December, Russia needs strong state power and must
have it. (Available in English at www.pravitelstvo.
gov.ru/english/statVP engll.html.) Few Russians
would disagree.
It is scarcely surprising when a Russian leader
calls for a strong state, any more than when a conser-
vative candidate for office in the United States calls for
restoring traditional family values. In an earlier era,
unsentimental journalists in America referred to such
campaign boilerplate as bomfoggery, because of the
frequency with which candidates (notably Nelson
Rockefeller) liked to expatiate on the theme of the
brotherhood of man and fatherhood of God
[BOMFOG]. In Russia, the phrase strong state
represents an analogously cliched appeal to conserva-
tive values. Noteworthy, nevertheless, is Putin's
treatment of the idea. The position he takes gives a
new twist to the rhetoric of state strength in Russia.
Whether Putin himself actually believes these ideas is
another matter (after all, an article posted to a web site
is probably targeted to a particular segment of the
society). But his article, like other recent statements by
Russian leaders and thinkers, does reveal a new way of
conceiving state strength.
In the article, Putin immediately qualifies his call
for a strong state by adding that this is not a call for a
totalitarian system. History convincingly testifies that

all dictatorships and authoritarian systems of govern-
ment are transient. Only democratic systems are not
transient. For all their defects, humanity has not
thought up anything better. A strong state power in
Russia means a democratic, law-governed, effective
federal state. Putin argues that Russians have come to
appreciate the blessings of democracy, of a state bound
by law, and of personal and political freedom. Yet
people are troubled by the obvious weakening of state
power. The society wants to see the restoration of a
directing and regulating role for the state to the degree
necessary, proceeding from the traditions and current
situation of the country (italics added). Putin, at least
in his public pronouncements, is refusing to treat state
strength as a sacred value. Rather, he calls for a state
that is only as strong as is necessary and consistent with
democratic freedoms. This moderately liberal position
may not sound radical or original to Western ears, but
it is a significant shift in emphasis for Russian
discourse. Moreover, it is a conception that has
become widely shared among the political elite.
Putin's treatment of the strong-state theme differs
from earlier models of state strength in Russian
thought by virtue of its insistence on law, democracy,
and freedom. In Russia's political tradition, the
cultural stereotypes of the strong state have often been
apologias for absolutism. But the Russian tradition
contains both dominant and counterpoint motifs,
often comprising antipodal pairs of values, such as
centralized power and fraternal equality, or the hierar-
chical and martial ideals associated with the fatherland
versus the nurturing, communal elements associated
with the rodina (motherland). One of the longest-
running themes in Russian political culture has been
the model of dual Russia. As Robert Tucker has
shown, images of the relationship of state and society
in Russian thought have often pictured rulers and


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