Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Law and Informal PracticesThe Post-Communist Experience$

Denis J. Galligan and Marina Kurkchiyan

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780199259366

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199259366.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use.  Subscriber: null; date: 17 September 2019

Russian Attitudes towards the Rule of Law: An Analysis of Survey Data

Russian Attitudes towards the Rule of Law: An Analysis of Survey Data

Chapter:
(p.77) 5 Russian Attitudes towards the Rule of Law: An Analysis of Survey Data
Source:
Law and Informal Practices
Author(s):

James L. Gibson

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199259366.003.0005

Abstract and Keywords

Disrespect for the rule of law is considered one of the defining characteristics of Russian political culture. As with many depictions of Russian political culture, little accurate data exist to substantiate this thesis. Drawing on social science survey evidence, this chapter examines the question of whether (and to what degree) ordinary Russians are sympathetic to the rule of law in principle. It demonstrates that the lawlessness of contemporary Russia cannot be explained by the attitudes of ordinary Russians to the rule of law as a normative value. In terms of their individual values, as opposed to their collective behaviour, Russians are not very different in any important way from other Europeans.

Keywords:   rule of law, Russian political culture, lawlessness, Russia

…many [Soviet] citizens appreciated how the law could protect personal rights and stand in the way of injustices perpetrated by public officials. But few Soviets were willing to place abstract principles of legality ahead of satisfaction of their own views of what was morally correct. For most Soviet citizens the law remained an instrument, if not for their masters, then one that could serve their own views of morality and justice. This popular conception of the instrumentality of law remained as the legacy of a decades-long expedient approach to law on the part of state officials, what Feofanov and other Soviet observers described as ‘legal nihilism’.

(P. H. Solomon, ‘Legality in Soviet Political Culture’)

It is often asserted that one of the defining characteristics of Russian political culture is its abiding disrespect for the rule of law. Russians are commonly depicted as being willing to ignore or manipulate law to achieve their individual goals (be they legal or illegal). This ‘legal nihilism’ is sometimes described as an enduring attribute of Russian culture, dating back hundreds of years. Some observers conclude that this disregard for the rule of law is an important impediment to the consolidation of Russia's attempted democratic transition.

As with many depictions of Russian political culture, little accurate data exist to substantiate this thesis. The purpose of this chapter is therefore to bring systematic social science survey evidence to bear on the question of whether (and to what degree) ordinary Russians are sympathetic to the rule of law in principle. I begin by explicating the concept ‘rule of law’ and developing empirical measures of one of its significant aspects: the rule of law as a normative (p.78) value. I draw upon a panel survey of a nationally representative sample of Russians, with face-to-face interviews conducted in 1996, 1998, and 2000. I use these indicators to determine whether ordinary Russians in fact think of law in universalistie terms or whether they believe that law is an institution worthy of being manipulated in unprincipled ways. Because it is always difficult to judge whether the Russian glass is ‘half full or half empty’, I also adduce comparative data from other countries, allowing a more systematic evaluation of the Russian results. In addition, I take advantage of available panel data to investigate whether Russians have changed their attitudes towards the normative value of the rule of law over the decade of the 1990s.

Beyond these important descriptive tasks, this chapter also ascertains which groups of Russians are likely to express support or opposition to the universalistic application of the rule of law. In addition to considering whether attitudes to the rule of law vary according to major demographic groups in Russia (e.g. young versus old), I examine the relationship between legal attitudes and more general support for democratic institutions and processes. I conclude by speculating about the relationship between attitudes favourable towards the rule of law and the further democratization of Russia and Russian political culture.

The Meaning and Importance of the Rule of Law

What is the meaning of the ‘rule of law’? The essential element in my understanding of this construct is universalism—that is, that law ought to be universally heeded, obeyed, and complied with. To the extent that law generates an undesirable outcome, law ought to be changed through established procedures, rather than manipulated or ignored. Thus, willingness to abide by the law is pivotal to the concept.

It is common to imbue the concept rule of law with both procedural and substantive aspects. For instance, Mathews defines the rule of law as an institution designed to protect certain basic rights (the freedom of speech, person, and movement), and which is also intended to limit state power. But he also understands rule of law in more procedural terms when he asserts that it is ‘a weapon against the growth of state authoritarianism and an inhibition on state power’.1 Similarly, Mohammed neatly breaks down the rule of law into different components. The concept implies that:

  • Law is sovereign over all authority, therefore it is government under the law;

  • Law must be clear and certain in its content and accessible and predictable for the subject;

  • Law must be general in its application;

  • (p.79) There is an independent judiciary charged with the interpretation and application of the law to which every aggrieved citizen must have a right of access;

  • The law must have procedural and ethical content.2

‘Rule of law’ is a concept typically applied to the state. For instance, Skapska defines rule of law as ‘the legal control of anyone who wields power…the strict observance of formal law by the authorities’. For rule of law to prevail, there must be the ‘subordination of all political authorities and state officials to the law, setting limitations to their power, guaranteeing civil rights and liberties and principles of due process. The stress, next to the division of powers, [should be] put on the independence of the judiciary, on the non-political character of the courts, and on the judicial control of governmental decisions.’3 But the referent for the rule of law need not be limited to the state; instead, the concept refers to both the citizen and the state. Just as the authorities ought to be constrained by legality in a law-based regime, individual citizens must respect the rule of law in their own behaviour.

The antithesis of universalism is particularism, based typically either on expedience or on the substitution of some sort of moral judgement for legality. Some may feel that law should be set aside (or bent) in favour of solving problems quickly or efficiently, while others may be unwilling to accept legal outcomes that, by some standards, are ‘unjust’.4 To the extent that people are willing to follow the law only if it satisfies some external criterion, the rule of law is compromised. Adherence to the rule of law is essential in democracies. As Lipset notes:

Where power is arbitrary, personal, and unpredictable, the citizenry will not know how to behave; it will fear that any action could produce an unforeseen risk. Essentially, the rule of law means: (1) that people and institutions will be treated equally by the institutions administering the law—the courts, the police, and the civil service; and (2), that people and institutions can predict with reasonable certainty the consequences of their actions, at least as far as the state is concerned.5

Authoritarian regimes are notorious for their antipathy to the rule of law. Solomon asserts: ‘Soviet officials and politicians were not used to subordinating their interests to law. Many of them treated the law as an instrument to be (p.80) embraced when useful and ignored when expedient. In short, their actions reflected the syndrome know as “legal nihilism”.’6

I must acknowledge, however, that freedom is often lost under the guise of law; and not all authoritarian governments necessarily reject the rule of law. As Krygier reminds us: ‘There was, after all, a Nazi jurisprudence, and it was a horrible sight.’7 Much of the early Nazi attacks on German Jews were accomplished under the authority of law. Only few governments today would repudiate the rule of law openly, since the rule of law is a powerful and seemingly universal means of legitimizing authority. But legality can serve tyrants as well as democrats.

Nor do violations of the rule of law necessarily go against the perceived self-interests of the majority. For instance, Solomon points to instances in the former Soviet Union in which ordinary citizens demanded that the authorities dispense with the rule of law in dealing with suspects in notorious criminal cases.8 There were many instances in which ‘people's justice’ had little to do with the rule of law.

Thus, I contend that the rule of law is a continuum bounded by universalism and particularism. Though the concept is usually applied to the state, it is equally apposite to the behaviour of individual citizens. Further, though rule of law is necessary for democratic government, it certainly is not sufficient. The rule of law may be enlisted by both dictatorial minorities and tyrannical majorities. Finally, rule of law has meaning as an attribute of institutions, of cultures, and of the belief systems of ordinary citizens.

Attitudes towards the rule of law constitute an important element of a country's political culture. When we speak of corruption, for instance, as antithetical to the rule of law, we often are referring to a set of norms and expectations about whether corrupt behaviour is acceptable within a polity. This refers to ‘ways of doing business’, which are in part institutionally determined, but in larger part cultural. Diamond concurs, noting that the consolidation of democratic reform, is only possible when

political competitors…come to regard democracy (and the laws, procedures and institutions it specifies) as the ‘only game in town’, the only viable framework for governing the society and advancing their own interests. At the mass level, there must be a broad normative and behavioural consensus—one that cuts across class, ethnic, nationality and other cleavages—on the legitimacy of the constitutional system, however poor or unsatisfying its performance may be at any point in time.9

Thus, we can speak of a rule of law in terms of both formal institutions and a rule of law culture. Without a culture that rejects the sublimation of law to other (p.81) more pressing objectives, the institutions of government under law cannot effectively function. Thus, my purpose in this research is to examine the value orientations within Russian rule of law culture. I pay little attention to institutions; my focus is instead on the normative attitudes of ordinary Russians.

Earlier Research on Russian Attitudes Towards the Rule of Law

Many are sceptical about whether ordinary Russians extend much respect to the concept of the rule of law. For instance, Hoffmann complains that ‘some core elements of the Soviet polity are lingering or even thriving in post-Soviet Russia’ and includes on his list of shortcomings ‘an inability or unwillingness to distinguish between rule by law and the rule of law’.10 Unfortunately, however, most evidence on the nature of Russian attitudes to the rule of law is more anecdotal than scientific.

Some preliminary work has been done in the direction of providing quantitative measurement of the importance of normative expectations about the rule of law in Russian political culture. For instance. Miller, White, and Heywood report that most Russians believe that their government should be subservient to the Russian Constitutional Court. They asked a sample of Russians: ‘If the government wanted to take action but the constitutional court [sic] said it violated the constitution, who should have the final say? The government because it represents the people; or the court, because it is necessary to defend the constitution?’ Excluding those with no opinion, 77 per cent of the respondents sided with the Constitutional Court (a figure slightly higher than that of a comparable Czech sample). Conversely, only 27 per cent agreed that ‘A strong leader who has the trust of the people should not be restricted by law.’11 There is little in these data to suggest widespread contempt for the rule of law in Russia at the normative level.

Russian Attitudes Iowards the Rule of Law

In order to investigate how ordinary Russians judge the rule of law, a three-wave panel survey was conducted over the period from 1996 to 2000. In this survey a sample of 2,000 Russians was interviewed, face-to-face, up to three times (1996, 1998, and 2000). Approximately 1,400 respondents completed all interviews. Appendix 5.1 provides additional detail about the structure of the surveys. The (p.82) most important aspect of the design is that it allows me to draw inferences about the views of the entire Russian population on the basis of this sample.

Few people endorse the idea that citizens ought to be treated unequally by the institutions administering the law, or that law ought to be uncertain and unpredictable. Thus, while scholars of the rule of law certainly put their fingers on an important problem of the violation of the rule of law, from a normative point of view it is likely that virtually no one endorses arbitrary deviations from the rule of law. (This is similar to Fukuyama's idea that history has ended because there is a worldwide consensus that law ought not to be arbitrary.) Thus, I assume that there is widespread agreement about the normative value of certain aspects of the rule of law, but, in accord with my empirical objectives, I focus on the subdimensions of the concept that generate disagreement among people.

In order to measure attitudes towards the rule of law, people were asked to give their views of four propositions. They responded using a five-point Likert response set ranging from ‘agree strongly’ through ‘uncertain’ to ‘disagree strongly’. Each of the propositions was meant to juxtapose the rule of law with some other cherished value, in effect asking the respondents to make a choice about whether to disregard the law or to follow it even when it is costly to do so. The first and second items referred to compliance even when people disagree with the law; the third and fourth items posed a conflict between the rule of law and expedience. The statements were:

  • It is not necessary to obey a law you consider unjust.

  • If you don't agree with a law, it is all right to break it.

  • The government should have some ability to bend the law in order to solve pressing social and political problems.

  • The law should be flexible enough for the people to use it to achieve their own goals.

The responses are reported in Table 5.1.

The survey was successful at differentiating the Russian population in the sense that there is considerable variability in the responses to each statement. I find the greatest agreement (roughly three out of four people in each survey) that the law should not be broken because of disagreement with it, followed by the proposition concerning following unjust laws. Russians are slightly more inclined to accept iexibility when it comes to law, although roughly half assert that laws ought to be universally followed. It is important to note that opposition to the rule of law (as opposed to uncertainty about it12) is confined to a relatively (p.83)

Table 5.1 Attitudes towards the rule of law in Russia, 1996–2000

Responses to the propositions (%)

Meana

Standard deviation

No. of respondents

Propositions

Agree

Uncertain

Disagree

1996

It is not necessary to obey a law you consider unjust.

21.6

22.5

55.9

3.40

1.00

1,392

If you don't agree with a law, it is all right to break it.

10.4

16.3

73.4

3.74

0.87

1,387

The government should have some ability to bend the law in order to solve pressing social and political problems.

24.4

26.4

49.2

3.28

0.96

1,395

The law should be flexible enough for the people to use it to achieve their own goals.

27.7

21.0

51.3

3.31

1.08

1,393

1998

It is not necessary to obey a law you consider unjust.

20.6

19.7

59.7

3.47

0.97

1,320

If you don't agree with a law, it is all right to break it.

10.1

15.1

74.7

3.78

0.85

1,319

The government should have some ability to bend the law in order to solve pressing social and political problems.

29.2

22.7

48.2

3.21

1.07

1,319

The law should be flexible enough for the people to use it to achieve their own goals.

31.4

17.8

50.7

3.27

1.11

1,322

2000

It is not necessary to obey a law you consider unjust.

21.1

20.7

58.2

3.44

0.98

1,394

If you don't agree with a law, it is all right to break it.

8.6

14.1

77.3

3.80

0.80

1,385

The government should have some ability to bend the law in order to solve pressing social and political problems.

28.8

21.7

49.5

3.25

1.04

1,396

The law should be flexible enough for the people to use it to achieve their own goals.

28.0

16.6

55.4

3.31

1.09

1,394

(a) This shows an average score of the responses on a scale from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). The higher the score, the stronger the approval of the principle of the rule of law.

(p.84) small minority of the Russian population. Only one in four respondents, for instance, supports the idea that their government ought to be able to bend the law in order to solve pressing social problems.

Generally, the data in Table 5.1 indicate a fairly high normative status of the rule of law among Russians. In these propositions we have given Russians good reasons for setting the law aside, but few actually do so. Thus, at least from the point of view of this aspect of Russian political culture, these data provide no evidence that ‘legal nihilism’ is widespread.

Cross-National Perspectives

The 1996–2000 panel in Russia shows that positive responses to survey questions about the normative value of the rule of law outnumber negative responses by well over two to one. I have argued that these figures are indicative of a culture reasonably supportive to the idea of social order based on the principles of the rule of law. But since comparable cross-national data are available, it is useful to compare the Russians to west Europeans and Americans. In 1995 our Survey of Legal Values was conducted in seven countries, including Russia.13 Six indicators measuring attitudes to the rule of law were included. As in the panel survey, an alternative value is juxtaposed against the value of following the law (note that three propositions in the 1995 survey are identical to those in the panel survey). In Table 5.2 I report the responses to each of the items for each country. Table 5.3 summarizes the cross-national differences, based on a normalized index of verbal support for the rule of law.

The clearest conclusion from these data is that the Americans exhibit an unusual degree of belief in the normative value of the rule of law. The mean score is the highest in Table 5.3, and the individual responses in Table 5.2 strongly underscore this finding. For instance, consider the fourth proposition in Table 5.2—‘Sometimes it might be better to ignore the law and solve problems immediately rather than wait for a legal solution’. An overwhelming majority of Americans disagreed with this statement, whereas only 26.4 per cent of the Russians and only 30.4 per cent of the French did. Indeed, on four of the six propositions the Americans express the greatest support for the rule of law.

The Russians, however, are not distinctive in their rejection of the obligatory character of the rule of law. Indeed, in terms of the average responses shown in Table 5.3, they are slightly more positive about it than the Hungarians or, notably, the French. There can be no doubt that Russians place less value on the rule of law concept than Americans do, but when they are compared with attitudes recorded by surveys in other European countries, they do not stand out as unusual. (p.85)

Table 5.2 Cross-national comparison of attitudes towards the rule of law, 1995

Responses to the propositions (%)

Meana

Standard deviation

No. of respondents

Countries

Agree

Uncertain

Disagree

The government should have some ability to bend the law in order to solve pressing social and political problems.

Bulgaria

18.4

26.4

55.3

3.61

1.27

1,188

France

50.5

13.2

36.2

2.84

1.42

756

Hungary

77,4

14.3

8.3

2.06

0.92

784

Poland

40.1

23.0

36.9

3.02

1.32

816

Russia

28.6

28.6

42.8

3.19

1.04

759

Spain

29.4

17.5

53.1

3.41

1.20

770

United States

31.2

10.0

58.8

3.42

1.14

808

The government should always have to respect the rights and property of each person, even when the government is fighting crime.

Bulgaria

10.5

11.9

77.6

4.18

1.14

1,193

France

9.4

8.3

82.3

4.14

1.03

762

Hungary

6.1

8.8

85.1

4.23

0.87

784

Poland

4.7

10.0

85.3

4.38

0.88

817

Russia

4.7

11.6

83.7

4.03

0.76

766

Spain

16.5

21.3

62.3

3.59

1.02

771

United States

10.9

6.8

82.3

3.93

0.90

808

It is not necessary to obey a law you consider unjust.

Bulgaria

25.1

26.4

48.5

3.31

1.33

1,192

France

25.2

14.2

60.6

3.52

1.30

759

Hungary

25.4

16.9

57.7

3.44

1.24

782

Poland

27.7

17.8

54.5

3.43

1.33

816

Russia

24.1

25.6

50.3

3.28

1.00

767

Spain

28.0

17.8

54.2

3.31

1.07

768

United States

13.1

6.2

80.7

3.84

0.90

807

Sometimes it is better to ignore law and solve problems immediately rather than wait for a legal solution.

Bulgaria

32.3

30.7

37.1

3.08

1.26

1,184

France

50.8

18.8

30.4

2.73

1.31

762

Hungary

34.1

23.4

42.5

3.13

1.16

783

Poland

27.4

26.7

45.9

3.28

1.22

813

Russia

34.3

39.4

26.4

2.90

0.90

759

Spain

35.3

15.8

49.0

3.18

1.10

768

United States

21.7

7.6

70.7

3.60

1.00

806

If you don't agree with a law, it is all right to break it.

Bulgaria

15.3

19.1

65.7

3.83

1.26

1,184

France

22.2

14.6

63.2

3.66

1.23

753

Hungary

10.1

11.5

78.4

4.00

1.00

783

Poland

18.8

19.1

62.1

3.70

1.21

817

Russia

13.6

20.1

66.3

3.66

0.90

762

Spain

12.4

17.3

70.3

3.72

0.91

767

United States

4.7

2.3

93.0

4.17

0.70

809

It's all right to get round law as long as you don't actually break it.

Bulgaria

40.5

26.3

33.2

2.90

1.28

1,188

France

51.4

14.8

33.8

2.83

1.27

757

Hungary

36.9

24.7

38.4

3.05

1.18

784

Poland

49.8

18.4

31.8

2.74

1.33

815

Russia

36.2

28.8

35.0

2.98

0.96

760

Spain

39.1

22.8

38.2

3.00

1.00

768

United States

29.0

10.2

60.8

3.42

1.07

807

(a) This shows the average score of the responses on a scale from 1 (agree strongly) to 5 (disagree strongly). The higher the score, the stronger the approval of the principle of the rule of law.

(p.86)

Table 5.3. Supportive responses in various countries to propositions on the rule of law, 1995

Country

Index of supportive responses to the propositionsa

Standard deviation

No. of responses

Bulgaria

62.7

19.6

826

Francey

57.2

18.6

762

Hungary

57.9

14.0

784

Poland

60.6

17.9

819

Russia

58.6

13.4

766

Spain

59.3

13.8

773

United States

68.2

12.9

810

(a) The index represents the average of positive responses to the rule of law propositions, scaled so that 0 indicates the complete rejection of the rule of law on all items and 100 indicates strong endorsement of each rule of law statement.

Changes in Russian Attitudes Towards the Rule of Law During the 1990s

Much transpired in Russian political life during the four years of the panel, so it is impossible to provide any sort of detailed analysis of the events that might have shaped Russian attitudes towards the value of the rule of law in that time. (p.87) Moreover, establishing causal relationships between events and opinions would be even more difficult. Nonetheless, these data also allow investigation of the question of whether Russian attitudes towards the rule of law are changing. Several scenarios are possible. It is possible that sympathy for the rule of law declined as Russians learned that disregard for law can lead to enormous economic gains.

A quite different scenario is also possible. Perhaps a feeling of revulsion about the behaviour of the oligarchs in relation to law has encouraged ordinary Russians to think more positively about the value of it. Perhaps Russians see law as one of the few institutions that ought to protect them from the excesses of Russian elites. If so, then opinion about the rule of law may have become more positive over the course of the 1990s, or at least may not have declined.

The data in Table 5.1 (above) concerning attitudes towards the rule of law in the 1996–2000 panel survey imply a considerable degree of stability. As noted, the average number of statements endorsed varies trivially over the course of the panel survey. Of course, aggregate level stability says little about micro-level attitude change, but at least in terms of the population as a whole, declared sympathy for the rule of law does not seem to be waning over the last portion of the 1990s.

Table 5.4 provides more direct evidence on individual attitude change. It reports how the survey respondents answered our questions at each point in the panel survey. For instance, the first column compares the responses of Russians in 1996 with their responses in 1998, using a simple measure of change in the number of propositions endorsed.14 In those two years most Russians (62.2 per cent) either did not change or changed very little in their attitudes towards the rule of law, although 18.3 per cent became more negative towards it and 19.5 per cent became more positive.

The most interesting comparison in Table 5.4 is change over the period 1996–2000, shown in the last column. The conclusion is that stasis dominates,

Table 5.4. Changes in the attitude of Russians towards the rule of law, 1996–2000

Difference in number of propositions endorsed (%)

Change in attitudes

1996–1998

1998–2000

1996–2000

Less support of rule of law

18.3

16.4

15.9

No change

62.2

64.6

64.9

More support of rule of law

19.5

19.0

19.2

TOTAL

100.0

100.0

100.0

No. of respondents

1,319

1,320

1,392

(p.88) with nearly two-thirds of the respondents not changing in their attitudes towards the rule of law. Most importantly, over the course of the period from. 1996 to 2000 more Russians (19.2 per cent) became supportive to the idea of the rule of law than those (15.9 per cent) who became disillusioned. There is thus very little evidence in these data of an erosion of the value of the principle of law among ordinary Russians.

Perhaps one would not expect change in Russian attitudes to occur late in the democratization process. Perhaps the most interesting change is from the early days of democratization to the contemporary period. Though no panel data exist allowing me to assess micro-level change, a survey we conducted in 1992 in Russia used one of the same propositions employed in the panel survey, and thus provides a useful comparison.15 Table 5.5 reports the responses to the proposition ‘It is not necessary to obey a law you consider unjust’ in all five surveys.

The data in Table 5.5 clearly do not support the hypothesis that the idea of the rule of law has become less attractive over the period from 1992 to 2000; the mean score of the responses to this proposition, measured on a scale from 1 to 5, increases from 3.18 in 1992 to 3.44 in 2000. Indeed, the evidence is that, if anything, the normative importance of law is increasing over the period, albeit not greatly. Russians, by a margin of more than two to one, assert that laws ought to be followed, even if one considers them to be unjust.

The evidence adduced here supports several conclusions. First, ordinary Russians express fairly high regard for the principle of the rule of law when they are asked about its value, even when it conflicts with other cherished values. Secondly, evaluations of the worth of the rule of law in Russia are not as enthusiastic as in the United States, but are roughly equivalent to attitudes in western Europe. Finally, Russian attitudes towards the rule of law have not

Table 5.5 Changes in Russians’ responses to the proposition ‘It is not necessary to obey law if you consider it unjust’, 1992–2000 (%)

Responses to the proposition

1992

1995

1996

1998

2000

Disagree

45.6

50.3

55.9

59.7

58.2

Agree

29.8

24.1

21.6

20.6

21.1

Meana

3.18

3.28

3.40

3.47

3.44

Standard deviation

1.08

1.00

1.00

0.97

0.98

No. of respondents

2,523

767

1,392

1,320

1,394

(a) This shows the average score of the responses on a scale from 1 (agree strongly) to 5 (disagree strongly). The higher the score, rhe stronger rhe approval of the principle of the rule of law.

(p.89) eroded over the course of the turbulent 1990s, but instead seem to have become slightly more positive.

Who Supports the Rule of Law in Russia?

The next question I must consider is whether individual attitudes to the rule of law are distributed unevenly throughout Russian society. To what degree do Russians differ across society in their attitudes towards law? The independent variables I employed are those that have been commonly found to be influential predictors of attitudes in Russia.16 The variables I consider are: (1) gender; (2) level of education; (3) social class (as indicated by the possession of consumer goods); (4) age; and (5) urban residence. I confine the analysis to the contemporary survey data (2000).

Together, these five variables account for a paltry amount of variation in attitudes towards the value of the rule of law. The strongest predictor is level of education, with better-educated Russians tending to express higher evaluations of the rule of law, although not greatly so. There is also a very slight correlation with age, with older Russians tending to assign less importance to the principle.

These data are interesting because they indicate that sharp social cleavages in attitudes towards law do not exist in Russia. Instead, there is a certain uniformity in how ordinary people feel law should be ideally treated in a society. Universalism in the understanding of how law should be applied is just as common in the countryside as it is in the cities, and it is nearly as common among the old as it is among the young. Thus, divisions in opinion about the rule of law are unlikely to be of much political significance in contemporary Russia.

The final issue to address in this analysis is whether there is any correlation in the data between positive attitudes to the rule of law and support for democratic institutions and processes. I conceptualize support for democratic institutions and processes as a multidimensional syndrome of attitudes—ranging from political tolerance to support for a multi-party system.17 I hypothesize that those who favour the universalistic application of the law are more likely to be those who support democratic institutions and processes more generally.18

In contrast to the demographic prediction, positive attitudes to the rule of law are moderately related to positive attitudes towards democratic institutions. The interpretation of these data is that attitudes towards the rule of law are an (p.90) integral part of democratic belief systems in Russia. Those who favour a rule-based system both for their political leaders and for themselves are more likely to give their voice to a multi-party system and democratic values, rather than to wish to establish law and order through strong authoritarian leadership. Among contemporary Russians, rule of law and democratic institutions and processes seem to go hand in hand, which is encouraging indeed for those who desire a more democratic future for Russia. Were those supportive of reform not also supportive of the rule of law, the prospects of dictatorship in Russia would be stronger.

Conclusions and Discussion

The data presented in this chapter allow me to reject the assertion that Russian political culture is characterized by ‘legal nihilism’, at least at the abstract level of normative values. Russians tend to support the idea of rule of law, as applied both to their own behaviour and to the behaviour of the state.

A reasonable response to this finding is to point to the widespread disrespect for the rule of law among so-called ‘new Russians’, those who form the economic and political environment in contemporary Russia. I do not doubt that many of the most prominent Russian elites have been engaged in serious corruption and utter disregard for the law. That the Russian ‘Mafia’ might not support the universal application of law in Russia is perhaps not a profound observation.

At the same time, however, nothing in this analysis supports the view that established practices among the elite are the result of a legal nihilism, favoured by ordinary Russians; the blame for economic corruption in Russia should not be laid at the doorstep of ordinary Russians. What ordinary people want from their political system is often not the same as what they get, and no political scientist would be so naive as to argue that mass preferences inevitably determine the actions of elites or even public policy. I have no doubt that most Russians condemn, rather than endorse, the corrupt schemes of the oligarchs.

But what of the petty corruption in which so many Russians engage on a regular basis, for example bribery of the police? I have no doubt that practices tolerated in Russia would not be tolerated in Western democracies. What people prefer, however, does not always perfectly predict how they behave; other factors, such as need to conform to established practices in order to be socially accepted, influence behaviour as well. What is clear is that, were ordinary people to have their way in contemporary Russia, they would choose to live in a society in which the rule of law prevails.

However, the important consideration for the prospects for democracy in Russia is that those who have a preference for a law-abiding society are those who also place a high value on democratic principles, and not those who feel nostalgic for the strong leadership of the Russian and Soviet past.

My analysis is based upon a panel study of the Russian mass public, initiated in 1996, continued in 1998, and concluded in 2000. The overall focus of the survey was on attitudes towards a wide variety of democratic institutions and processes, including the rule of law. In the first wave face-to-face interviews were completed between 8 May and 13 June 1996, with the overwhelming majority (90 per cent) of the interviews being conducted in May (the period of the run-up to the first round of voting in the Russian presidential election). Non-institutionalized residents of Russia 16 years old and above were eligible to be interviewed. The sample is representative of the entire territory of Russia, and was drawn from 38 Primary Sampling Units (PSUs). At least 42 interviews were conducted in each PSU; no more than 70 interviews were conducted in a single PSU, except for the Moscow and St Petersburg PSUs (128 and 112 interviews, respectively).

Interviews were attempted with 2,442 respondents, math a resulting response rate of 84 per cent. Of the 383 interviews not completed, about half (8.1 per cent of the total) were instances in which we were unable to make any contact with the respondent, and the other half (7, 6 per cent of the total) were refusals.

Individual respondents were selected using the Kish selection method19 and consequently the data are weighted to reflect the size of the household. Local interviewers, trained by project personnel travelling from Moscow, conducted all the interviews. Approximately 15 per cent of the interviews were verified by our field supervisors.

The second wave of the panel was fielded in April 1998, with a response rate of 82.7 per cent. On average, the second interview was conducted 22.8 months after the first. I will refer to these interviews as having been conducted two years apart from each other.

No contact could be made with 13 per cent of the first-wave respondents, the interview could not be completed with another 0.6 per cent, and 3.7 per cent refused to be reinterviewed. By far the most common reason for failing to complete the second interview was inability to contact the respondent (75.1 per cent), and the most common reason for this inability was that the respondent had moved to another place. This second-wave response rate is quite high by comparative standards.

The final wave of the panel survey was conducted from April to June 2000, with the vast majority of the interviews being conducted in May. Interviews were concluded with 1,366 respondents from the original sample of 2,059, for an overall response rate of 66.3 per cent. In 2000 only 4.6 per cent of these 2,059 respondents refused to be interviewed. The overwhelming reason for a failed interview in 2000 was the inability to locate and contact the respondent. A handful of respondents not interviewed in 1998 were included in the 2000 sample. The approximate weighted number of cases for most of the analysis is therefore 1,400.

Notes:

I am deeply indebted to my colleagues and friends—-Polina Kozyreva, Gennady Denisovsky, and Misha Matskovsky—who were responsible for conducting the fieldwork for this project. A portion of the chapter uses data from a collaborative project with Ellen S. Cohn, Susan O. White, and Joseph Sanders, funded by the US National Science foundations and the National Council for Soviet and East European Research. Another portion of the chapter relies on data collected with support from the National Science Foundation (SBR 9423614 and SBR 0096177), the Advanced Research Program, the College of Social Sciences, the Limited Grant-in-Aid programme at the University of Houston, and the USSR Academy of Sciences. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, I am indebted to David kirchner for research assistance on this chapter.

(1) A. S. Mathews, Freedom, State Security and the Rule of Law (Cape Town: Juta, 1986), 269,

(2) I. Mohammed, ‘Preventive Detention and the Rule of Law’, South African Law Journal, 106 (1989), 547–9.

(3) G. Skapska, ‘The Rule of Law from the East Central European Perspective’, Law and Social Inquiry. 15 (Fall 1990), 700.

(4) For earlier research using a similar conceptualization of universalism and particularism, see M. A. Levin, Urban Politics and Criminal Courts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977); J. Q, Wilson, Varieties of Political Behavior: The Management of Law and Order in Light Communities (New York: Basic Books, 1976); J. L. Gibson and A. Gouws, ‘Support tor the Rule of Law in the Emerging South African Democracy’, International Social Science journal, 152 (June 1997), 173–91,

(5) S. M. Lipset, ‘The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited’, 1993 Presidential Address, American Sociological Review, 59/1 (Feb.1994), 14.

(6) P. Solomon, ‘Legality in Soviet Political Culture’, in N. Lampert and G. T. Rittersporn (eds.), Stalinism, Its Nature and Aftermath (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1992), 260.

(7) M. Krygier, ‘Marxism and the Rule of Law; Reflections after the Collapse of Communism’, Law and Social Inquiry, 15 (Fall 1990), 641.

(8) Solomon, ‘Legality in Soviet Political Culture’.

(9) L. J. Diamond, Developing Democracy; Toward Consolidation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 65.

(10) E. P. Hoffmann, ‘Democratic Theories and Authority Patterns in Contemporary Russian Politics’, in H. Eckstein, F. J. Fleron Jr., E. P. Hoffman, and W. M. Reisinger (eds.), Can Democracy Take Root in Post-Soviet Russia? Explorations in State-Society Relations (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & littlefield, 1998), 145.

(11) W. L. Miller, S. White, and P. Heywood, Values and Political Change in Postcommunist Europe (New York: St Martin's Press, 1998), 151–2.

(12) An oft-cited characteristic of Russian responses to survey questions is a fairly high level of ‘don't know’ or ‘uncertain’ responses. Some have argued that this reflects the fact that there is little social pressure in Russia to express views when they do not in fact exisr (quire in contrast to Americans). For analysis of this issue, see J. L. Gibson, ‘Survey Research in the Past and Future USSR: Reflections on the Methodology of Mass Opinion Surveys’, in M. X. Delli Carpini, L. Huddy, and R. Y. Shapiro (eds.), Research in Micropolitics; New Directions in Political psychology, vol, iv (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1994).

(13) This survey, funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Council for Soviet and East European Research, is based on a representative sample of approximately 750 Russians. The team that conducted the 1996–2000 survey (Polina Kozyreva, Gennady Deniskovsy, et al.) also conducted this survey in Russia, using the same methodology.

(14) I have scored the trichotomy as follows; ‘less supportive’ = endorsed two or fewer items at the second time point; ‘no change’ = endorsed the same number of items or one fewer or one more item; ‘more supportive’ = endorsed two or more items at the second time point.

(15) This survey was conducted under my direction using exactly rhe same research team (the Institute of Sociology) and the same methodology. The survey involved 4,300 interviews in a sample representative of the USSR as it was constituted at the end of 1991. We designed the sample so that the Russian subsample was representative of the Russian Republic. The project was funded by the US National Science Foundation,

(l6) e.g. D. Bahry, ‘Society Transformed? Rethinking the Social Roots of Perestroika’, Slavic Review, 52 (1993), 512–54.

(17) See J. L. Gibson, ‘The Resilience of Mass Support for Democratic Institutions and Processes in the Nascent Russian and Ukrainian Democracies’, in V. Tismancanu (ed.), Political Culture and Civil Society in Russia and the New States of Eurasia (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1995).

(18) The measure of support for democratic institutions and processes used in this research is simply a count of the number of democratic responses given to twenty-eight propositions measuring seven distinct stibdirneiisions of the democratic belief system, such as consciousness of rights, support for media independence, and tolerance of dissent.

(19) L. Kish, Survey Sampling (New York: Wiley, 1965), 398–401.