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Populism from Within: Putin & the Rise of Russian Populism

Sun, September 1, 10:00 to 11:30am, Hilton, Columbia 3

Abstract

Populism identifies elites as the root cause of many ills plaguing society. Incumbents, as architects of the existing status quo, are definitionally elites. This makes it difficult for incumbents to lament current conditions without admitting to their own inept governance. Not surprisingly, then, the development of populism from within is rare. Where it has appeared, however, it is very instructive. President Vladimir Putin did not come to power in Russia as a populist leader. In this paper, we examine his gradual embrace of populism during his second and third terms to identify the conditions under which incumbents can turn to populism as a strategy for regime stabilization. We argue that populism from within is most likely to succeed when incumbents can credibly identify the opposition as “the corrupt elite” that threatens the ability of “the pure people” to express their political will. Such a framing of current woes allows the incumbent to appeal to a glorious past, which they argue was glorious precisely because it was devoid of such deleterious elements, without incurring blame for the consequences of their policies.

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