This special section of Demokratizatsiya was inspired by the research project “Network Governance: A Tool for Understanding Russian Policy-Making?” funded by the Research Council of Norway (NORRUSS program, 2013-2016). The project sought to examine how Russian state and non-state actors collaborate to make decisions or, at least, implement current policies with regard to three social issues - migration, drugs/HIV and child protection. Empirically, the project was designed as multi-sited and was carried out at the federal, regional and local levels (particularly, in the cities of St. Petersburg and Samara). The articles presented here cover some, but not all, of the research cases and include some contributors who were not project participants.
Our interest in the collaboration of state and non-state actors in Russia was stimulated by the controversial post-Soviet transformations in the sphere – from the deterioration of the state after the collapse of the USSR to the current strong state dominance over civil society and business combined with consultative mechanisms. The effects of the changes in Russia’s legislation regulating non-state actors showed the heterogeneity of the Russian third sector. Since November 2012, the context of this collaboration has been also dramatically changed due to the adoption of the notorious law on “foreign agents,” which made the work of many Russian [End Page 139] NGOs more difficult or even absolutely impossible. In a time when some NGOs were deprived of almost all resources, others were encouraged by the government to participate in decision-making and received additional opportunities for development. The Russian state manifests a great desire for civil society’s participation in solving social issues, but in reality critical actors from the third sector face barriers to participation in an open dialog with officials. In this context, Russia confronts new policy-making challenges with an institutional heritage that seemingly may be conducive to the development of a Russian variety of network governance.
Identifying a unified theoretical framework, which can explain the pattern of interaction between state and civil society in Russia today, is a challenging task. Theories of civil society, democratization frameworks, and concepts of the third sector are able to reveal only some aspects of such interaction, which may differ across policy fields. In the articles published here, we are testing a network governance approach as one of the possible analytical frames for analyzing the interaction between state and non-state actors. The analytical tools offered by the network governance perspective have been developed for Western settings.1 Applying them to the analysis of Russian policy-making requires careful attention to the Russian context. The trajectories followed by Russia’s state bodies, businesses, professional associations and voluntary groups are quite different from those in the West, and the circumstances under which policy networks develop differ. While classic definitions of network governance presume collaboration among state and non-state actors on more or less equal terms, in the Russian context policy-making takes place against the background of deep-seated legacies, one of them being the mix of formal and inefficient hierarchy with real-life problem-solving networks within state socialist modes of policy-making. The project explored to what extent non-state actors on various levels are included and endowed with power within these networks. The main research question was related to the functions and roles that are delegated to non-state actors in a period of increasing state dominance.
The pages that follow include three empirically based articles. The research sought to go beyond explicit transformations of the regime towards an authoritarian model of governance because the actual consequences of legal and political changes may be ambiguous, unpredictable, and not always negative for the non-state actors. By communicating with [End Page 140] NGOs and other non-state actors and observing state-society interactions at various sites of interaction, the researchers tried to identify implicit, hidden, and unobvious ways available for NGOs to cooperate with the much more influential state actors. Trying to avoid simplification of the problem and findings, the contributors took into account such factors as the Soviet heritage of non-state activism, and the specific functionality of informal networks in...