This project examines the relations between the individual and the state in Russia, from the viewpoint of individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Through a series of qualitative in-depth interviews with ordinary people, as well as NGO representatives in Murmansk Oblast, the Republic of Karelia and St Petersburg, project participants investigate citizens' views on the Russian state, their experience with it and strategies towards it, particularly in the fields of education, health and welfare. They further explore how Russians employ civil society in their interaction with the state, e.g. through labour unions.

The hypothesis is that there is a counterpart at the individual level to the duality at the system level between a 'normative state' of rule of law and an 'administrative regime' of informal relations. Whereas the 'normative state' rests on, and incorporates, the idea of 'citizens' exercising 'svoboda' (the Western, rational and 'responsible' freedom), the 'administrative regime' is all about intra-elite loyalties and squabbles, reducing ordinary people to mere 'subjects' left to their own devices in the struggle to have their 'volya' (the Russian, 'irrational' freedom unrestricted).

How do ordinary Russians handle their encounters with the state, individually and through civil society? Do they approach it as the 'normative state' or the 'administrative regime'? Are they 'citizens' or 'subjects'? To what extent do they experience freedom, as either 'svoboda' or 'volya'? In which situations do they typically resort to informal relations? Which images of Russia are invoked in these encounters? And what does all this tell us about the prospects for good governance in Russia? As a basis for the interview investigation, overviews of the formal rights that citizens and NGOs enjoy in Russian legislation will be provided.

Project period: 2014-2017


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  • Research Council of Norway (NORRUSS Programme)