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The Democratic Turn in Former Soviet States: Russia and Ukraine



The USSR fell apart in the late 1980s and early 1990s into – at least – fifteen sovereign states, among which Russia (or: Russian Federation) and Ukraine. These newly independent states declared their intention to develop a democratic political system.

What has happened since the early 1990s? What have been stimuli and what were the obstacles on their way to a consolidated democratic system? Have they arrived? What has been the role of political parties? Is Russia a democracy now? Is Ukraine? How does one recognise a democratic system? Have ‘they’ perhaps changed their goals? To what extent have the courses of Ukraine and Russia been different, and why? Does geographical location, does history play a role? What is the role of (bad) luck, of political personalities? (Was Lukashenko, in Belarus, an ‘accident’? Or could that accident easily have happened in Ukraine and/or Russia too?) How important was the rise of world market prices for oil and natural gas and nonferrous metals since the late 1990s? How important was the (in)stability of the formal constitutional setting? These and other issues will be addressed during this course.

Note that students are expected to have read at least the first half of Linz & Stepan’s book (see; Study material) before our first meeting, on September 6.

Methods of instruction

In the first part of the course all students read the same material. Students are required to give short oral presentations or write short papers (800-1000 words) most weeks. To help students get acquainted with the subject, the instructor will do most of the talking during the first meetings, but in due course students will take over. In the second part of the course students are expected to choose a specific theme (and select and study concomitant literature), on which they brief their colleagues either in the form of short oral presentations or papers. An individual final paper (approximately 4000 words) is expected at the conclusion of this second part of the course. Attendance of meetings is required. A more detailed schedule of the course will be presented at our first meeting.


As far as course grading is concerned, course participation, including oral presentations and short papers, counts for 60%, the final paper counts for 40%.

Study material

Part I (obligatory for all):

Linz, Juan J. & Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe, The Johns Hopkins U.P., Baltimore & London 1996.

White, Stephen, Richard Saka & Henry E. Hale (eds.), Developments in Russian Politics 7, Duke University Press, Durham 2010.

Remington, Thomas F., Politics in Russia, Seventh Edition, Longman, Boston etc. 2012.

Åslund, Anders, How Ukraine Became a Market Economy and Democracy, The Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington D.C. 2009.

Part II (Optional):

White, Stephen, Understanding Russian Politics, Cambridge U.P., Cambridge etc. 2011.

Sakwa, Richard, The Crisis of Russian Democracy. The Dual State, Factionalism and the Medvedev Succession, Cambridge U.P., Cambridge etc. 2011.

Oversloot, Hans & Ruben Verheul, “Managing Democracy: Political Parties and the State in Russia”, in: Petr Kopecký (ed.), Political Parties and the State in Post-Communist Europe, Routledge, London and New York 2008, pp. 133-155 (ISBN 978-0-415-43959-6) (reprint of the original article in: The Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics, 22 (2006) 3 (September), pp. 383-405).

Oversloot, Hans, “Reordering the State (without Changing the Constitution): Russia under Putin’s Rule, 2000-2008”, in: Review of Central and East European Law, Vol. 32, 2007, issue I, pp. 41-64.

General reading

Riasanovsky, Nicholas V., & Mark D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, Eight Edition, Oxford U.P., New York & London 2010 (1963).

Magocsi, Paul Robert, A History of Ukraine. The Land and Its Peoples, Second Edition, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Buffalo & London 2010 (1996).

Subtelny, Orest, Ukraine: A History, Fourth Edition, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Buffalo & London 2009 (1988).


Tuesday 13 September till 25 October, 11.00-13.00 hrs. in 1A03 and
Thursday 8 September till 27 October, 11.00-13.00 hrs. SA31 (except 27 Oct. 5B02)