The 87th NZ issue is somewhat unusual. Its contents, for the most part, consist of reflections on some of the most hotly discussed processes of the year just gone, the main topics of the day, so to speak. When appearing under the same cover as “topical” articles, even those of its pieces that are related to more remote social, political and cultural events, acquire a slightly different context, thus making different parts of the issue echo one another, often quite unpredictably. With this in mind, to call this NZ issue “thematic” would be a fair (if somewhat exaggerated) statement. The theme in question (to use a rather tentative definition) is democracy in the present-day world: what is it? What does this notion really mean today? How does it work in different national and historical contexts?
The first section (“There Is Such a Party...”) focuses on “party building” in contemporary Russia, studying the situation with the use of a single example, that of the ruling “United Russia” party, or “the power party”. The British political scientist Sarah Whitmore (using the 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia as an example) analyses the mechanism by which Putin's regime operates, as well as the role of the election process in this mechanism. The political scientist Alexey Makarkin describes the essential component of the present-day power system, “United Russia” (which he calls “a tool party”); Alexander Kynev (“«The Power Party» as a Party”) concludes the section with an article where Russia's established party system is viewed against the background of other party systems, some developing, others losing their significance.
While the pieces of the first section are linked to particular political events in Russia, Alexander Kustarev in his regular column, Political Imaginary, considers a comparison – fairly widespread these days – between “democracy” and “meritocracy” (the latter seemingly “more just” and more appropriate in the present-day sociopolitical climate).
As far as the phenomenon itself is concerned, a fascinating reflection on democracy's future prospects can be found in Pierre Rosanvallon's “Democracy of Appropriation” (this is a translation of the final chapter of his 2008 book “Democratic Legitimacy: Impartiality, Reflexivity, Proximity”).
Going back to the classical definition of a democratic state based on the principle of the division of powers and, at the same time, restricting ourselves to the state of affairs in Russia today, we notice that one of the most vulnerable “powers” in this respect is judicial. The present-day situation in Russian courts is depicted in an interview with Vadim Klyuvgant, a well-known lawyer. It takes a quotation – a quite typical one – as its title: “Lawyer's Work Is Oppositional, not Least Because He Enforces the Law”.
Traumatic experience, the ways of working through it characteristic for the Soviet past, and the way they work now constitute the subject of a number of other sections of this NZ issue. One of them, titled “Traumatic Experiences and Ways of Working with the Past”, has several articles on the perception and the representation of tragic events in the history of the USSR. First of all, a piece by Oksana Sarkisova and Olga Shevchenko talks about how the memory of the 1962 Novocherkassk massacre works, and how it is connected to the city's inhabitants' family photographs. Tatyana Voronina analyses the images of the Siege of Leningrad created in Soviet historiography, while the German researcher Miriam Sprau considers normalisation mechanisms and practices aimed at reintegrating former Gulag prisoners into the Soviet society in the 1950s–1960s. This section is joined by a short research piece by Vadim Mikhailin and Galina Belyaeva, published under Culture of Politics section, which concentrates on the construction of the image of “our man” in Soviet posters, exposing the themes of “the memory of the pre-Soviet past” and “utopian notions of the Soviet future” as very closely interwoven.
The way vital sociocultural problems are perceived and interpreted by public conscience, the media and political rhetoric is the subject of two of this issue's articles. The Chinese TV journalist Huey Su Phan provides an overview of the Hong Kong press after the reunification of the former British colony with China. Leonid Storch, a culture expert working in Thailand, in his turn, brings the reader back to Russian affairs: his article is about the anti-Western rhetoric used in the discussions around the Pussy Riot case.
Our Case Study section presents two historical essays. Sergey Panarin tracks down the fate of Garibaldi's persona in Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet public conscience. Olga Demidova reconstructs the reaction of the Russian émigré press to the “Savinkov trial”.
This issue's regular columnists are Ilya Kalinin (Daily Political Economy) and Alexey Levinson (Sociological Lyrics); other regular features include the Russian Intellectual Journals’ Review (Vyacheslav Morozov) and the New Books section with reviews of new books on history, sociology and political science.