chapter  11
25 Pages

The descriptive and substantive representation of ethnic minorities in the Russian parliament


National parliaments provide one of the most important arenas for representation in both democratic and authoritarian political systems. In modern times, both liberal democracies and communist regimes have advocated the representation of historically disadvantaged groups: women, ethnic minorities, the disabled. Nonetheless, the impact of such descriptive representation on what governments actually do (their substantive representation) remains an area of controversy. In the scholarly research and public discourse of liberal democracies, the normative desirability and empirical reality of more descriptively representative institutions is hotly contested; while in authoritarian systems, societies can be represented in a symbolic or descriptive sense, but there is no institutional incentive that compels their dictators to remain responsive to the wishes of the represented when they arise (Pitkin, 1967; Przeworski, et al., 1999, p. 4) The experience of Russia’s communist past and post-communist transition provides an opportunity to explore how the alternation of political regime types can affect both descriptive and substantive parliamentary representation. The Soviet system produced high levels of descriptive representation for historically disadvantaged groups, especially ethnic minorities. However, the controlled nature of political representation limited its substantive effects. In post-Soviet Russia, many national minorities have continued to enjoy high levels of representation. This is primarily a consequence of the ethno-federal structure that was inherited from the Soviet Union. Yet, this outcome has not been uniform across all ethnicities, and the overall trend indicates a decline from the levels of overrepresentation that were experienced during the Soviet period. Furthermore, the substantive representation of minority interests remains limited. The findings of this chapter suggest that this is a result of the constrained nature of electoral competition in post-Soviet Russia. Based on an analysis of minorities’ legislation introduced since the mid 1990s, it reaches the tentative conclusion that the influence of national minorities in the legislative work of State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, was greatest in the 1990s when elections were at their most competitive.