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Regular version of the site

Democracy Only Works Where it is Seriously Implemented

Recently the 21st International Political Science Association (IPSA) Congress took place in Santiago. Nina Belyaeva, Head of the HSE Department of Political Analysis and Public Policy, told us how scientific areas are being restructured, democracy is viewed, and a new paradigm of the political science is being formed.

- What was the title of the recent congress?

- Global Discontent. Incidentally, the title was decided upon three years ago, when there were absolutely no signs of the global crisis.

- Is this an annual event?

- The Congress takes place every three years. The next one will be in Madrid.

- How long did the Congress last?

- A week. It would be impossible to hold a longer congress both financially and organizationally. It is already something incredible as it is:to bring together, accommodate, and feed such a huge crowd! 2 500 people, more than 300 workshops! The President of Chile welcomed the Congress. In terms of media coverage it was equal to a G8 meeting:a newspaper was printed every day and official photos were taken. The week also included organizational work and public events like the meeting with the President or with foreign affairs ministers from all over the world, who discussed how the political science helps them in their work.

- What are the prevailing attitudes among the world political science elite?

- The crisis happened. Political scientists understand that there is something wrong with this science if it is unable to predict and analyze such phenomena. A certain restructuring of scientific areas is in process. Critical tasks are on the agenda. All of us left the Congress full of thoughts, thinking about what is worth developing and what is not.

- What workshops were the most popular?

- Those discussing theoretical issues. Some of them attracted as many as 250 people:Often, there was standing room only! One of the most relevant topics was ‘Comprehension of Democracy'. There were many reports on the realization of liberties and how this can be understood. Sharp disputes flared up over the concept of the ‘quality of democracy'.

- What is this?

- Quality of democracy is the measure of how democratic a democracy is. How can it be evaluated? When you have many factors that affect an authority's accessibility for the citizens, which of them is the most important? Would you aggregate them with equal rates of influence or some other way?

Another problem is the leadership issue. Is it possible to examine it not as a psychological phenomenon, but as a social institution? In our department we research the interrelations between institutions and subjects:which of them influences the other more - do subjects of public policy influence institutions, or do institutions influence subjects. Many institutions in Russia are weak and unstable, they work ineffectively. That's why leaders become more important and start adjusting the institutes around themselves. The result is personality politics. The question is how to make the institutions more stable, providing predictability of life and the constant appearance of new opportunities for sustainable development? A whole new set of tools for understanding the situation is arising today, when leadership is approached not as an individual position, but as an institution. In modern public politics only collective leadership is successful, which is considered as the creation of attractive ideas of a view of the future. Those ideas allow us to consolidate the energy of a whole number of supporters who can hold very different positions within the existing institutions. 

Besides that, issues concerning the range of concepts of political science attracted the participants'keen attention.

- What issues, for example?

- For example, concerning the position of the political science among other social sciences. An Italian researcher Mauro Colizo together with his Italian and American colleagues has created an interactive scheme in which he tried to show how conceptual ranges of different social sciences interact and how one concept may be reached through another.

- Please tell us about the congress local session.

- It was a great occasion for delegates from Latin America:Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil. Political research is highly developed in these states with their turbulent political life. All of the local organizing committee sessions were held in Spanish.

- Did you understand the speakers?

- The Italians understood and then relayed the information to us. But with a good knowledge of English it was possible to understand something. For example, there was a session on quantitative measuring of democratic procedures, and we had carried out a very similar project in Russia before. We had many indicators, and their comparison allowed us to create an aggregated indicator. So, ‘indicator'and ‘aggregated'in Spanish sound very much like ‘indicator'and ‘aggregated'. And if you had a data table, you could understand two thirds of the report. It is very strange and surprisingly pleasant. The language of science helps to break down linguistic barriers!

- What was the topic of the previous congress?

- The previous congress that took place 3 years ago in Fukuoka, Japan, was entitled "Is democracy working?"

- And what is the conclusion?

- It is not democracy's fault. It only works where it is seriously implemented. The matter is in the quality of institutions. Issues concerning the quality and opportunities for its measurement and comparison have now been brought into the foreground. 

- What does the recent congress mean for the HSE?

- It is important that our science is already part of the world one. There were many participants from Russia, several dozen of them. Furthermore, for me as an HSE department head, the congress was a great opportunity to present our new master's programme.

- Did some general feeling uniting the participants arise during the congress? Maybe, a feeling of something that is essential not to miss?

- Yes. Before, there was a feeling that some powerful people rule the world and their circle is very limited, and we know who they are. Now there is no such a feeling. ‘All the decisions are made by G8'- no, that's not true! Or ‘If the Minister of Home Affairs bans demonstrations, they will not happen'- this is also false. The one thing we cannot overlook is the growing number of actors in politics. If we do not learn to consider their opinions, influences, positions and interests, we shall just fail to understand what is going on. We are always willing to simplify the situation. It is always easier to invest money in banks or just support three state corporations and hope that everything will be all right. But simple solutions do not work here!

- Very soon the Russian Congress of Political Science will take place...

- Yes, it will be held in November. It will be organized by the Russian Association of Political Science. The HSE will be the hosting body. The Congress will take place in one of our buildings on Pokrovka Street in Moscow.

- Will it be as large as the IPSA one?

- It will be smaller but not much. In Santiago I, along with Olga Malinova, the Association's President and Oksana Gaman-Golutvina, the Head of the Scientific Council, actively encouraged the world's scientists to come to our congress. So, we shall have the opportunity to feel the spirit of the world.

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Sergey Stepanishev, HSE Web News Service