In this week’s roundup, Nikolai Kulbaka argues that Soviet nostalgia is mostly a male phenomenon; sociologists Aleksei Levinson and Lyubov Borusyak compare Vladimir Putin to past Russian leaders; Vladimir Buldakov explains why the concept of the revolution was mythologized in Russia; and Grigory Golosov discusses Russia’s authoritarianism. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at


Economist Nikolai Kulbaka observed that Soviet nostalgia is less common among women than among men. Photo: Vasily Fedoseyev / TASS. 


Vedomosti: Great Male Socialism: Why Women Are Less Nostalgic About the Soviet Union

  • Author: economist Nikolai Kulbaka.
  • Kulbaka writes that while analyzing statements of nostalgia about the Soviet Union online, he noticed that the people who make them are mostly male, regardless of what social group they belong to or how much success they have achieved in life. Thus he concludes that the Soviet Union was a man’s world.  
  • Soviet history clearly shows that its system practically ignored the existence of women. The Soviet Union, with its superb production of tanks and airplanes, was a place directed mostly at unmarried young males.  
  • In terms of emancipation, however, the Soviet Union was ahead of its time: women worked everywhere—from mine shafts to public transport.  
  • Soviet art, for all its realism, did not show this. Artists usually focused on the joy of labor, youth and beauty.  Soviet films about women were either comedies or melodramas.  
  • Soviet women often had to endure a lack of personal hygiene goods, low-quality shoes and a meager choice of clothes. Domestic duties often fell to women who, as a rule, would also work full-time. Women made up the vast of majority of the infamous Soviet queues.  
  • In the meantime, men conquered the world, fought in wars and had careers. The ideal Soviet world had no women or children, just strong men doing all the hard work. The author calls this system Great Male Socialism, which did not recognize women, their opinions, their needs or their interests.  
  • All of this explains why the yearning for a return to the Soviet period is essentially a male phenomenon.

Ведомости, Великий мужской социализм, Николай Кульбака, 7 марта 2017.


InLiberty: Vladimir Putin and Other Sovereigns

  • Authors: sociologists Aleksei Levinson and Lyubov Borusyak.
  • The social upheavals caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union largely disoriented the Russian public. As a result, people sought symbolic reunion and symbolic solidarity with the president as the focal point of this process.
  • Based on public opinion surveys regarding various Russian leaders, Levinson and Borusyak note that Vladimir Putin will occupy a notable place in the Russian history.
  • During Putin’s presidency, both Gorbachev’s perestroika and Yeltsin’s reforms of the 1990s were largely discredited in the public mind, as democratic reforms were rolled back. Against this background, Putin is presented as a savior who “raised Russia from its knees.”
  • Putin’s presidency is also oftentimes compared with the Brezhnev period, which 48 percent of Russians view favorably as a stable and prosperous time (people tend not to remember the shortages or the Afghan war). But the authors argue that in fact the two periods have nothing in common.
  • Brezhnev’s personality cult was inflated to hide the real rulers of the country inside his close circle.
  • Khrushchev is viewed favorably only by one in four respondents.
  • Putin is also often associated with Stalin: public views of the latter have been steadily improving during Putin’s presidency. A common factor is the cult of personality; however, the authors note that in the case of Putin, the positive public attitude is based more on his charisma.
  • A real personality cult suggests a certain distance between the public and the leader. In the case of Stalin, the cult also included fear. None of these elements are observed in public views of Putin.
  • Finally, there are certain parallels between Putin and the Russian tsars, as the president’s policies have an imperial element to them; supreme power in both instances is viewed as sacred, or in other words not conferred by earthly institutions.
  • If one is to compare Putin with any Russian tsar, it would be Emperor Alexander III, known for his reactionary politics and his words that Russia has only two faithful allies—its army and its navy.
  • The authors conclude that Putin’s 80 plus percent rating says a lot about the leader, but it also reveals the state of the public mind. Russia is going through a historic period when more than ever the people need a symbolic integration and a leader who would personify it. 

InLiberty, Владимир Путин и другие суверены, Алексей Левинсон, Любовь Борусяк, 7 марта 2017 г.


RBC: From Utopia to Catastrophe: How Russia Fell for Revolution

  • Author: Vladimir Buldakov, chief research fellow of the Institute of Russian History at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
  • Following Karl Marx’s theory, revolutions were viewed as drivers of progress—the improvement of people’s welfare based on a more efficient economy. However, over time, the idea of progress became a morally utopian category, while revolutions were mythologized.
  • Buldakov argues that revolution as an intention is a utopia, while revolution as a reality is a humanitarian catastrophe that becomes a myth serving to justify human suffering.
  • At the core of the greatest revolutions is people’s impatience with the sovereign (power holder), especially if the latter failed to live up to public expectations.
  • Buldakov contends that revolutions do not lead to breakthroughs; the only way forward is the slow advancement of human beings as the creators of their own future. Revolution, as Pitirim Sorokin noted, is a state when “not only the animal, but also the fool awakens inside mankind.”
  • While the French Revolution was predetermined by Renaissance ideas, the Russian intelligentsia borrowed and idealized the French experiment, which had a major influence on 19th century Russian culture.
  • The scary idea of the “Russian revolt, both senseless and ruthless” was thus substituted by a luminous image of the revolution (all its horrors were consciously forgotten).
  • As some Russian writers acknowledged after the fact, they were too quick to call it a “great revolution,” while in fact the February Revolution was and remains a revolution of “unfulfilled dreams” as it didn’t bring the expected progress.
  • Today’s Russia is, in a sense, the heir to those dreams.

РБК, От утопии к катастрофе: как Россия прельстилась революцией, Владимир Булдаков, 9 марта 2017 г. The Crutches of Power. What Is Propping Up Today’s Authoritarianism?  

  • Author: Grigory Golosov, political scientist, professor of the European University in St. Petersburg.
  • The path from authoritarianism to democracy is complex, but there are roughly two options: a coup d’état or the usurpation of power by a leader who initially acquired it through by democratic means.  
  • Golosov argues that Russia can still make the transition to democracy, but economic, social and political obstacles should be accounted for. The problem with Russia is that these obstacles are not simply intertwined—they support and stimulate each other.  
  • There are two economic conditions that benefit authoritarianism—rapid growth and steady decline. In Russia the illusion exists that a fall in oil prices leads to political unrest. This assumption has recently proved to be inaccurate. Also, economic crises rapidly perpetuate social inequality.
  • A widely spread myth claimed that under an authoritarian regime the people sacrifice their political freedoms in return for better standards of living. Golosov disagrees because the more social inequality there is, the lower the chance that the transition to democracy will be successful.  
  • He cites two reasons to support his argument: 1) social inequality increases the dependence of a large part of society on government handouts; 2) people who do not receive handouts have neither the opportunity nor the desire to be involved in politics as they are caught up with the more pressing problem of survival.
  • To block the inevitable public discontent, authoritarian rulers use various tools, one of which is to wage open war on corruption, which is a good way to show the people that you’re on their side.  
  • But in most cases autocrats fail to monopolize the fight against corruption. Opposition leaders can level these same accusations against members of the government, as Aleksei Navalny recently did to Dmitry Medvedev.  
  • Another tool is mobilization of patriotic sentiment, most effectively employed through foreign policy. However, this tool may be expensive, yielding negative economic results. The crisis thus may deteriorate, and as historical experience shows, the way out of such a stalemate can be catastrophic., Костыли власти. На чем держится современный авторитаризм, Григорий Голосов, 6 марта 2017 г.


Nathan Andrews helped compile this week's roundup.