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SPP 275

Author: James L Gibson
Description: In this paper, I have tried to assess whether Russian intolerance constitutes a threat to the fledgling Russian democracy. I have discovered that:<br /><br /> -- Intolerance of fascists is quite widespread, while intolerance of communists is not nearly so common.<br /> -- Intolerance of the far right-wing group has changed little since 1992, while intolerance of communists seems to have dissipated somewhat.<br /> -- When compared to Western Europeans, Russians are more intolerant, but when compared with Central and Eastern Europeans,Russians may even be slightly more tolerant.<br /><br /> Thus, while there is still great cause for gloom about the levels of intolerance in Russian society, there are also a few glimmers of hope.<br /> I have also considered four attributes of Russian intolerance in hopes of making some inferences about whether the intolerance we observe in public opinion surveys has any real consequences for public policy and the distribution of freedom in society. The analyses indicate:<br /><br /> -- Intolerance is certainly not dispersed over the political map; instead, there is widespread agreement that fascists are an appropriate target for political repression. The data suggest (but do not demonstrate) that there are many potential victims of Russian intolerance.<br /> -- On the other hand, intolerance does not seem to be embedded in a deeper anti-democratic belief system. Generally speaking, democrats and anti-democrats are about equally likely to be intolerant. Because these intolerant attitudes are not well integrated, they are potentially manipulable toward a more democratic direction.<br /> -- But those who are intolerant are more likely to believe they are in the majority in Russia than those who are tolerant. This may empower Russian intolerance.<br /> -- And political elites -- at least so-called "opinion leaders" -- are unlikely to serve as a firebreak if a firestorm of mass intolerance were to ignite. Unlike leaders in many polities, Russian opinion leaders are no more or less likely to put up with their political foes. <br /><br /> Thus, the general conclusion of this research must be that many, but clearly not all, Russians have not yet learned that democracy requires "putting up with" their political enemies. Is Russian intolerance an impediment to the consolidation of democracy in Russia? Taking one step away from the data, I fear that intolerance is in fact a significant political problem for Russia. My view is not so much that the Russian mass public will mobilize against the political rights of fascists and communists, but is rather that intolerance generally impedes the development of the idea of a "loyal opposition." Many Russians have not yet come to the view that political disagreements can be vast and bitter, without necessarily invoking intolerance and repression. <br /><br /> Unfortunately, the presence of so much intolerance in the Russian political culture provides an incentive for political leaders to attempt to delegitimize their opponents by characterizing them as beyond the range of legitimate competition and disagreement. This is a tactic used in all political systems, democratic and non, and it is unclear why it sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails. But it is clear that intolerance of fascists is important for groups that do not proclaim themselves to be fascists. To the extent that groups are sometimes labeled "fascists" by their foes (e.g., the LDP), they can be displaced outside the political mainstream, and ultimately subjected to political repression. Intolerance of fascists and communists therefore must be of some concern for all political interests, democrats included. Russian democratization can only succeed if all parties are allowed to compete for political power according to the rules of the democratic game. It can only succeed if the Russian people become more tolerant of political differences.

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CSPP School of Government & Public Policy U. of Strathclyde Glasgow G1 1XQ Scotland