Ekaterina Schulmann is a political scientist specializing in the legislative process in modern Russia, parliamentarism, and decision-making mechanisms in hybrid political regimes.
What do you work on as a Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy?
Scholars and researchers suddenly caught in a historical drama inevitably find not just their plans, but the very perceptions of themselves and their field of work modified, sometimes violently, by the weight and force of circumstances. The fellowship that began in the middle of April 2022 was bound to diverge from the original plan in terms of both timing and substance. Muses tend to be silent when cannons are heard, but intellectual duty calls upon the scholar to act at least as a witness, and whenever possible as an analyst of this dramatic moment in our shared history.
My sphere of research has been law-making, legislative process and parliamentarism, and more broadly, political decision-making process in general, an integral part of which is the process of legislative change. It is my intent to further study the nature of law and legitimacy as reflected in both democratic and non-democratic parliamentary practices.
As channels of communication close, and secrecy, obscurity, and disinformation restrict our sphere of vision, continued monitoring of Russian state’s administrative and legislative activity, an enquiry into the mechanisms of its decision-making, and an attempt to understand its limitations and capabilities becomes key to understanding of the country.
What are the most relevant trends in your field?
The institutions and practices of representative democracy, of which parliament is an integral part, are being put to the test by the realities of the information age, which made the elites and the people visible to one another to a degree never before experienced in political history. An almost universal access to the internet has transformed consumers of content – the “audiences” of past political epochs – into producers of comments and proliferators of opinions. This has led to both an increased desire for participation in decision-making rather than delegation of one’s rights to an elected representative, and to the decline of trust in electoral and parliamentary institutions that universally leads to a lower voters’ turnout, especially among the younger voters. Political science discusses the possible future of parliamentarism and of political representation in general: shall electoral mechanisms be replaced or complimented by new electronic tools of direct democracy? It is possible to preserve the structures of representative democracy by implementing additional instruments of civic participation? How will it affect policies on different levels? Will this increased participation open the gates for some new form of the “tyranny of the masses” led by political manipulators or, the opposite, namely to heal the breach between the governing class and the electorate?
Another topic under debate in comparative political studies is the role of parliaments in non-democracies. Are they merely elements of authoritarian window-dressing, or do they have a political role of their own? How does the agglomeration of interests work in the absence of genuine separation of powers, electoral rotation, and the connection between the voters’ interests and legislative agendas? Do interest groups use parliamentary mechanisms to reach agreements or merely to legitimize those already achieved elsewhere?
How will the Russian invasion into Ukraine affect the Russian political system?
Generally speaking, the development of the Russian political and administrative machine will be driven by three key factors: growing isolation from the Western world and the consequent departure from its political norms and practices; intra-elite infighting for the place in a new political reality between various fractions of the military, secret service, and law-enforcement groups; and the effect of worsening economic conditions on the people’s opinions, political behavior, and protest activity. The current consolidation of public opinion will be used by the system in its search for self-preservation. The borders of the country will probably change, for example. Also, new state unions may arise, solidifying the status quo that the next generation of Russians, including the country’s possible new political leaders, will have to accept.
In terms of legislative developments, the last few months have been marked by a flurry of repressive legislation: most notably, imposing penalties for the spread of any non-official information about the “special military operation”, broader definition of state treason and de-facto criminalization of contacts with foreigners, and further restrictions for “foreign agents.” These initiatives mostly came from the parliamentarians rather than from the government or the president. This is done for the purpose of presenting these political restrictions as some product of common will, an implied demonstration of societal solidarity as represented by the “people’s representatives.” The government has reserved for itself the introduction of economic measures that tend to support “strategic sectors” in the face of sanctions and economic decline.
What insights for your work are you expecting to gain during your fellowship?
The Fellowship presents an unrivaled opportunity both to continue the analysis of Russian legislative developments, together with an inquiry into their political mechanisms. It also offers the possibility to discuss with other experts and public intellectuals the ongoing transformations of both the democratic and non-democratic political models.
Most importantly for my field of study, it allows access to the German parliament and its workers and to the scholars who study the theory and practices of parliamentarism. Consultations with experts and parliamentary members on the nature of legislative procedure in Germany are beneficial both for discovering similarities and differences, possible examples, and best practices.
What makes Berlin and Germany relevant for your work?
The environment of Berlin with its multinational political, media, and academic community, including the many people from post-Soviet space who were recently involved in practical politics or expertise, lends itself to a discussion on the evolution of political institutions, legislation, and practices.
First-hand study of legislative practices of a democratic parliament is key to understanding both the challenges and the advantages of a competitive legislative process. It may further help to devise a mechanism that can prevent the malformation of the legislative process into an instrument of imitative public discussion and misuse of law.
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