|London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom)
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The weakness of civil society in post-Soviet Russia has been widely discussed and is generally attributed to combinations of historical and cultural factors and authoritarian repression. This thesis adopts a conceptualization of civil society, drawn in part from social movement theory, which emphasizes the nature of interaction between citizens and the state. A series of three case studies traces the genesis and development of civic organizations and protest movements in Russia, involving human, housing and property rights, in order to discern how Russian citizens perceive their relationship with the state and form (or do not form) strategies for collective action. In the first case, the NGO Public Verdict finds success in defending individual citizens from law enforcement abuses but is incapable of affecting systemic change. In the second case, local protests over housing-related issues evolve into sustained movements but are unable to coalesce in the face of a state that prefers ad hoc policymaking. And lastly, spontaneous protests over proposed limits on the import of used cars from Japan grow into one of Russia's only sustained grass-roots social movements, capable of forcing the state into concessions and gaining a seat at the policy table. These studies are analyzed in the context of the political economy of Russia during the presidency of Vladimir Putin, during which the elite consolidated authoritarian rule while disengaging from the public and public policymaking. The difficulties Russians face in mobilizing, then, are seen as stemming from the privatization of power and the highly individualized nature of state-society relations. But when the state departs from its disengagement and acts in a way that allows Russian citizens to generate and maintain a perception of themselves as an aggrieved group, the latter prove capable of mounting and sustaining an organized response in defense of their rights and interests.