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The Contrast between American and Russian Political Cultures: Enlightenment and Despotism

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Introduction

The Contrast between American and Russian Political Cultures: Enlightenment and Despotism Unlike the pluralist tradition in the US, Russian political culture was imprisoned by totalitarian Communism. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost'(openness) - accompanying the 'pererstroika' reconstruction initiative - enabled open discussion of public issues for the first time, with the introduction of the free press.. Russia had long consisted of a culture of regimental participation, whereas the USA has always encouraged voluntary participation. Despite this, civic-participation in America has declined. In Russia the opposite has happened.(Participate America,2004) In America, educational opportunities increased in the 1960's. This increased political participation giving marginal groups opportunities. On college campuses, students had the opportunity to voice their dissent through CND, women's rights groups and anti-Vietnam protest groups. In Russia, the biggest educational change came with the corrupt Brezhnev government, where secondary education steadily increased. This fact was reflected in the workplace and dissent movement. Dissent was beginning to slowly emerge by the 1960's because people were questioning the legitimacy of the Soviet system.(Gerber, 2000) Rejecting the rigid beliefs of the Stalin generation, this generation became more liberal-democratic, and began criticising the government. This is rather like what happened in the US. A parallel that can be made is that the poorer war generations in both countries were more conformist. The younger, better-off generations were more likely to be dissenters - therefore more politically active. ...read more.

Middle

One such right, is 'freedom of information'-an important scrutinisation tool in liberal democracies. Unfortunately, this is problematic in Russia. Putin has proposed a strategy to topple opposition. It is not as extreme as the CPSU's monopoly-censored journalism. However, Putin's vow to "control" and "make opposition media impossible" indicates a worrying direction. If Bush were to have and publicise such intentions, the constitutional statute of 'the freedom of the press' would act against him. Most rights reforms took place from 1920-1960 in the USA. In Russia however it was not until the 1990's. The Women's Democratic Initiative campaigned on issues like domestic violence, employment, sexual discrimination,& political inclusion. Only three women were ever in the CPSU, as opposed to the thousands among Republicans and Democrats. The freedom of speech granted to Russians is exactly what the Americans have as a constitutional principle. But this could be threatened by Putin's despotic behaviour, as well as the rather questionable 1993 constitution. A history of brutality has left the Russians with scarred memories. According to recent polls, 'power' to the Russians is associated with military force and physical coercion. To the Americans, power means legitimate authority,status,knowledge and wealth. Legitimate authority, a democratic principle, is granted through free-elections and the implementation of the general will, something that is relatively new to Russians. ...read more.

Conclusion

Stalin's constitution introduced direct elections by secret ballot and universal suffrage but prohibited opposition parties. Russia, unlike America,lacks the 'Enlightenment' ideas about freedom and the representation of rights and interests; essential to democratic society. This possibly explains the low civic-participation. Only a bare majority voted for the 1993 constitution. To add to his worries, President Putin has to put up with ethnic tension in Chechnya and terrorist attacks. Both administrations then have similar obstacles. President W Bush, ever since the 9/11 attacks, has used the war on terror to win over public opinion. An example of the impact of events on public opinion is the fluctuating stability in Iraq. Public opinion in Russia however seems to rest mainly on Putin's strong stance against inter-ethnic violence. To avoid further problems a'Law of Political Parties' was passed against any group undermining state security. Likewise, Bush introduced the Patriot Act to curb terrorism. In both political cultures then, the success of campaigns rest largely on security. In conclusion both political cultures show similarities despite their evolutionary positions in terms of democratic development, notably because of the inevitable baggage that accompanies a capitalist society. However, unlike the US, Russia lacks a precise separation of powers, a progressive Federal system and a coherent and practical constitution. All that is left therefore, is a rather embryonic democracy. ...read more.

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