Grigory Hakimov is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
He holds his BA in Political Science and History from Tufts University. Grigory’s dissertation project focuses on election monitoring activism in Russia.
His research interests include civil society, contentious politics, and elections in authoritarian regimes and post-communist countries.
The Concept of “Grazhdanskoe Obschestvo” in Russian Presidential Discourse: Between Space of Experience and Horizon of Expectation
The development of civil society in post-Soviet Russia has been explained via analysis of protests and social movements (Robertson 2011; Greene 2014; Gabowitsch 2016), state-sponsored organizations (Richter 2009; Hemment 2015), or non-government organizations (Salamon et al 2015; Skokova et al 2018). This paper aims to complement the existing research by introducing a conceptual history theoretical framework (Koselleck 2002, Koselleck 2004). This theory of multilevel temporalities of political concepts allows me to explain both diachronic changes in Putin’s conceptualizations of “grazhdanskoe obschestvo” (civil society) and the synchronic coexistence of the term’s various meanings. The paper examines how Vladimir Putin’s conceptualization of civil society is articulated in dialogue with Russia’s Imperial and Soviet past as well as the post-Soviet experience. This historical contextualization introduces additional concepts such as “civic unity” (“grazhdanskoe edinstvo”), “community” (“soobschestvo”), “the public” (“obschestvennost”), and “the people” (“narod”) that tie the meaning of “civil society” with its state-centric interpretations and disavows its grassroots connotations. At the same time, Putin explores the neoliberal definition of civil society as a “third sector” (“tretii sektor”) and reduces the meaning of “civic participation” to “social participation” including the welfare functions of the “socially-oriented” NGOs. I demonstrate how Putin’s rhetoric places “grazhdanskoe obschestvo” into the “space of experience” (historical contextualization and reproduction of past semantic structures) and “horizon of expectation” (the country’s future development). This conceptual analysis contributes to a more complex understanding of the relations between the state and civil society in contemporary Russia and other authoritarian regimes.