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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Values-based legitimation in authoritarian states: top-down versus bottom-up strategies, the case of Russia

Alternative title: Verdibasert legitimering i autoritære stater: ovenfra-og-ned og nedenfra-og-opp strategier. Russland som case

Awarded: NOK 11.0 mill.

An increasing number of states in Europe are adopting an illiberal agenda. A common trend among these states is that they legitimise their power by claiming to protect "traditional values", such as religion, the nation, the nuclear family, and public morality. While this is an attempt to bolster support for the regime, how sure can the leaders be that this will actually appeal to the population? Most European countries are industrialised with modern economies and have a largely urbanised population, and it is an open question how many people will sympathise with a neotraditionalist policy. Will neotraditionalism increase or decrease regime legitimacy? This is the question we will address in this project, looking at the case of Russia. Since 2012 Russian authorities have adopted an increasingly antiliberal rhetoric with attacks on Western secularism, multiculturalism, and alleged moral decay. This rhetoric has been followed up with new laws against blasphemy, "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" among minors, decriminalisation of wife battery, etc. There has been a certain mobilisation against these policies in Russian society and media, but also in support of them. In our project we trace the politics of neo-traditionalism in Russia on three levels: the political - which plays out both nationally and in the regions - by examining political speeches and legislation; in civil society - by interviewing activists on both sides of the barricades, and last but not least: by measuring attitudes towards neotraditionalist policies in the populace. We commissioned a polling Institute in Moscow (VTsIOM) which carried out large-scale surveys in April-May 2021 both nationwide and in six regions with different demographics, to see whether there are any significant differences in support for neotraditionalism between regions, the sexes, different age groups, and people with a high vs low level of education.To tease out attitudes which respondents may be embarrassed to reveal, we will rely on experimental survey techniques.

Like other state leaders, authoritarian rulers seek to legitimize their regimes, employing a variety of justifications as to why precisely they should run their countries. Over the last decade, we have seen a new trend among authoritarian leaders in and around Europe: the active promotion of what these leaders claim to be the "traditional values" of the society in question. At the same time, they engage in parallel in a frontal attack on "Western liberalism", which they argue undermines societal cohesion. This message may bolster support among conservatives in the population, but also risks polarizing society and alienating those who adhere to a more "liberal" or "modern" worldview. Values-based strategies in the legitimation of authoritarian regimes are understudied. Through a case study of Putin's Russia the project will examine how an authoritarian regime employs such legitimation and how it is received by the population. The abrupt shift in Putin's legitimation strategy around 2012, as well as the relatively open debates on these issues in Russian society, make Russia an ideal case to examine values-based legitimation in authoritarian regimes. We argue that authoritarian legitimation is not limited to a top-down "supply" from the side of the regime, but also have a bottom-up "demand" side. We will introduce a dynamic, three-level model of societal-political interaction. Through large-N surveys employing sophisticated techniques we will identify variation in support among various segments of the Russian population. The project will also study how intermediate-level societal actors - lobby groups and activists both on the conservative and the liberal side - contribute to current value debates. By proposing a new model that captures both the "supply" and "demand" dimensions of the legitimation strategies, we aim to provide a more robust explanation of the potential benefits and pitfalls for authoritarian states of appealing to "traditional values".

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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam