Why Russia Finds Democracy so Hard - Putin and the Legacy of the 1917 Revolution

 October 27, 2017  - by Derek Fraser, Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria

 This paper was presented during the  conference "1917 and Today - Putin Russia and the Legacy of Revolution"

Those of us who live in well-established democracies tend to forget how difficult it is, and how long it takes, to achieve relatively stable democratic institutions and practices. It took the French over eighty years after their Revolution to reach this state of affairs. Of the European countries that emerged from the First World War with democratic systems, a large number in Central and Southern Europe succumbed, in the course of the next twenty years, to dictatorship, often precipitated by political or economic crises.

Russia has little democratic experience to fall back on. Instead, what is remarkable about Russian history is the strength of the tradition that the Russians had inherited from 250 years of Mongol rule, - that of a strong state ruled by an all-powerful sovereign as a means of mustering the resources of the country for war.[i]

By the time of Peter the Great at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Russia had none of the limits to the powers of the monarch that existed at that time in Western Europe even in absolutist monarchies: the Church was nothing more than a government department, the nobles were reduced to functionaries, national and regional assemblies had atrophied, cities were not autonomous.[ii] Peter also increased the repression and strengthened the secret police. Peter’s Russia has been described as a police state.

The basic elements of Peter’s absolutist monarchy lasted until the Revolution in 1917. The two major reforms of 1861: the emancipation of the serfs and the supervised local assemblies, did not diminish the Tsar’s powers.  Neither did the parliamentary assembly, the Duma, conceded after the defeat by Japan in 1905.

The repressive Tsarist regime following the defeat of Napoleon spawned the Russian revolutionary movement. The revolutionaries wanted to destroy the aristocratic, slave-holding Russia and establish a new and more just society. The repression that followed the defeat of the Decembrist revolt of 1825 produced in due course further revolutionaries.

The radical intelligentsia that emerged were not democrats. Indeed, they were not influenced to any significant extent by Western ideas. Instead, they were, like Tsarist officials, hostile to pluralism, liberalism, or common law. They had no concept of human rights and a constitutional government.  They shared the traditional Russian idea that the rights of the individual had to be subordinated, to one degree or another, to those of society[iii] [iv]

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Europe's Challenging Times: Unity, Diversity, Populism - Call for papers ECSA-C, May 2018, Toronto

August 18, 2017

Call for Papers/Panels/Workshops

12th Biennial Conference of the European Community Studies Association-Canada, Toronto, 9-11 May 2018


In the words of former German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, “after two World Wars and during the Cold War, European integration was a no-brainer. But the shared understanding that unity delivers peace, prosperity, and democracy has been weakened over time by persistent crises, and it could now be lost completely unless it is reinforced by a forward-looking message.” The question now remains, how is the European Union meeting contemporary challenges to maintain its “Unity in Diversity”?

The project of European integration has always had, as its primary goal, the security of peace and stability on the European continent. Through close economic, and later political cooperation, the states of Europe have moved to replace the destructive nationalisms of the early 20th century with a shared understanding of the importance of unity and cooperation. And yet, the rise of new nationalisms, reflected in the election of populist leaders as well as in Brexit and rising Euro-scepticism, are undermining the stability of the European project and threatening a return to the inward-looking, nationalist, and exclusionary politics of the early 20th century. These challenges threaten the project of integration, and as states attempt to salvage the core projects, may also threaten many of the advancements that Europe has made in terms of gender and racial equality, combatting social exclusion and poverty and advancing social and human rights.

The 12th Biennial European Community Studies Association Conference will take up the questions of unity, diversity and populism to interrogate the ways in which the European Union, member states and citizens are responding to the challenges arising from a changing global reality.

We wish to address the ways in which Europe promotes and undermines both unity and diversity through its policies, its interactions on the global stage, and its institutional organization. Topics might include citizenship, economics, cultural policies, democratic empowerment, gender and racial equality, freedom of movement, learning, active citizenship, minority rights and the refugee crisis, and the EU’s impact on its periphery and the world, including enlargement, foreign, security and trade policy. We will explore the role of EU institutions, but also member state governments, political, cultural and economic forces, and integration dynamics. Our objective is to provide a balanced assessment and analytical understanding of the EU’s specific contributions (or lack thereof) to unity and diversity broadly understood. To this end, we welcome the submission of papers and panels on any topic related to the EU.

This two and a half day conference will bring together scholars and practitioners from variety of disciplines and backgrounds and will include plenary sessions, keynote speakers, a professional development day for graduate students, panels, and workshops. Come and celebrate Europe Day with us in Toronto!  

We welcome submissions for individual papers, panels (3-4 papers) and workshops (approximately 12 papers) in either English or French.  Please send proposals to:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Deadline for submissions is December 1, 2017.

Review of Russian European and Russian Affairs (RERA) - call for submissions

July 4th, 2017

The Review of European and Russian Affairs (RERA) is inviting scholars to submit  articles and book/literature reviews related to  the European Union,  its Member States, the states of the former Soviet Union, and Central and Eastern Europe. The journal is interdisciplinary with a focus on the social sciences, policy studies, law, and international affairs. The goals of the journal are to provide an accessible forum for research and to promote high standards of scholarship. RERA is an open-access journal, which means that all published papers are available to users free of charge. The journal welcomes submissions from established researchers, young scholars, and advanced graduate students. The journal is also accessible through several academic databases and resources.

 For more information about RERA, please contact Jennifer Diamond at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Opportunity to build a better Canada - a call to apply for Governor in Council (GIC) positions

May, 2017

"The Government of Canada has developed a new more transparent process for Governor in Council (GIC) appointments. Among the major changes to the process is the public posting of available positions, for which all interested and qualified candidates may apply.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), which is the federal research funding agency that promotes and supports postsecondary-based research and research training in the humanities and social sciences and strategically supports world-leading initiatives that reflect a commitment to ensuring a better future for Canada and the world.

The members of SSHRC's governing Council are distinguished representatives from the academic, not-for-profit, public and private sectors appointed by the Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister, following a formal selection process led by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. The announcement for positions on SSHRC's governing Council has been posted recently (https://www.appointments-nominations.gc.ca/). SSHRC is inviting organization to announce the attached on web sites or share it with various networks.


New two-year interdisciplinary MA Stream in Holocaust Studies

January 9, 2017 - by Dr. Charlotte Schallié, University of Victoria

The Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of Victoria is now accepting applications for the new two-year interdisciplinary MA Stream in Holocaust Studies.

Students benefit from seminar-sized classes, a newly-designed set of foundation courses, and a dual focus on academic and professionalization skills in our disciplines. Our Holocaust Studies Stream offers a thesis and a non-thesis option and includes a required practicum in Canada or in Europe as well as exchange opportunities in Berlin and Budapest.

Interlinking scholarship with community-based field research—in effect drawing on the strengths of both academic research and experiential learning—our graduate stream will provide individual learners with key competencies designed to prepare them for a career in education, public history, museum and/or archival work, human rights education, journalism, public advocacy, and law. Our program will also provide students with a solid interdisciplinary foundation for further PhD studies in Holocaust Studies, Genocide Studies, or Human Rights and Equity Studies.

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