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Svetlana Levanova, gr. 512

                  Democracy as I See It Exercised in Russia


      Life has changed  entirely  in  Russia  since  the  beginning  of  the
nineties, when democracy as the state’s  policy  was  introduced.  Not  only
lifestyles, fashions and technologies were changed  but  also  there  was  a
turnover in people’s mentality.
      We, the generation, which  was  born  in  the  70ies  –  early  80ies,
witnessed a great fracture in the whole system of life. We  experienced  the
break in our minds, viewpoints and attitudes, but we are the  generation  to
build up new Russia from its cornerstone.
      Russia today is a  materialistic  society.  Sociologists  say  that  a
materialistic society is one in which material  possessions  are  important.
People are  concerned  about  financial  well-being  and  security  or  even
physical  survival.  Various  hardships,  first  of  all  economic,  coerced
Russians into fighting  for  survival,  caring  only  about  most  essential
things for life. Such democratic values as, say, inalienable rights are  not
relevant for discussion among those who  do  not  have  money  to  buy  some
bread. If someone takes advantage of the right of speech and  enjoys  it  to
the full, if this person states his or  her  disagreement  with  the  boss’s
point of view on some subject, he or she will be fired immediately and  join
the army of the unemployed. The unemployed in Russia differ  from  those  in
the USA who can live off welfare  and  sometimes  be  quite  satisfied  with
their actual status. In Russia unemployment is synonymous with  poverty  and
      As soon as the new state policy was introduced it  began  to  cause  a
shift in values. Not much changed in universal values such as  family,  work
or leisure, whereas  the  newly  borrowed  democratic  ideas  were  somewhat
perverted. Due to the cultural factor, peculiarities of Russia’s  historical
development  and  current  economic  situation  people  adopted   democratic
principles and customized  every  item  on  the  list  to  their  needs  and
cultural level.
      One can sometimes hear an opinion that we live in a  democracy  so  we
are free to do whatever we want, meaning that democracy entitles  people  to
unlimited liberties. This erroneous proposition finds its root in  political
ignorance. Sovereigns have always governed the Russian  people;  first  they
were  czars  then  communist  tyrants.  Most  of   them   were   charismatic
personalities able  to  keep  the  whole  country  under  their  iron  hand.
Totalitarian  regime  implied  regimentation  of  every  aspect   of   life.
Ideology, economy  and  even  people’s  everyday  routine  were  supervised.
Russians were deprived of the opportunity to judge, make personal  decisions
and express their grievances. It resulted in political passiveness and  lack
of any interest in political procedures.
      In early nineties census data displays a great leap  of  interest  and
involvement among Russians. It was normal that  people  spent  leisure  time
watching TV programs about politicians or live broadcasts from  rallies  and
conventions. But then without tangible  benefits  from  the  new  government
their enthusiasm soon ceased. Irrespective of the time spent at the TV  sets
Russians didn’t grasp the principles of democracy. Having  been  brought  up
and educated in a  totalitarian  society,  which  rejected  the  culture  of
democracy, they only acquired the concept  of  freedom.  Unfortunately  they
were unaware of what accompanies freedom - competence and responsibility.
      We  may  ask  why  Russians  are  discouraged  from  participating  in
political procedures and asserting their rights as citizens of a  democracy.
All plausible answers  are  interconnected  and  knitted  into  a  seemingly
perpetual cycle.
      One of the most essential concepts of democracy is the idea of  rights
and duties. For instance, no state, no law should impinge upon the right  of
speech and the right to assemble.  But  in  fact  in  Russia  there  are  no
special mechanisms that would help its citizens form initiative  groups  and
alliances in order to be heard by the government. That’s  where  passiveness
and incompetence begins.
      A diversity of all possible political  parties  should  represent  the
needs of the population, both majorities and minorities. As we  plunge  into
Russian reality we can find out that all the variety  is  a  mere  illusion.
Political arena in Russia reminds of a  theater  with  a  single  actor  who
appears on the stage under different names.
      It  is  necessary  to  regulate  normal  functioning   of   democratic
institutions, but the question is what to begin with. Probably it should  be
democratic culture or loyal but competitive opposition  or  mechanisms  that
would help people stand upon their rights.
      Russia is not yet ready for democracy. A country should  have  certain
cultural, political and economic background as prerequisites for  democracy.
Culturally Russians are influenced by the doctrine of  Orthodox  Church  and
long-term pressure of authoritarian regime. Tradition is inculcated  in  the
Russian mind, which  makes  the  nation  almost  unsusceptible  to  changes.
Political and civic consciousness is not well  developed.  So  this  country
should be ruled in a different way. It doesn’t mean that  Russia  is  behind
the time or democracy is too far ahead to be exercised in  such  a  country.
This  nation  unlike  any  other  in  the  world   is   so   very   special,
contradictory, so contrary to logic that we have to find very special  means
to manage it.


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