Elites and the Diffusion of Foreign Models in Russia

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Political Studies

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Globalization has sparked renewed interest in the diffusion of ideas and norms across boundaries. Although much work has focused on diffusion at the macro-level and on the groups that transmit ideas, few researchers have studied the cognitive processes of political elites as they weigh the merits of various foreign-inspired models. Drawing on a series of original, in-depth interviews with Russian parliamentarians and high-ranking bureaucrats conducted in 1996, this paper makes two contributions to the study of individual-level borrowing in the Russian context. First, the openness of Russian elites to foreign borrowing is investigated; despite the public rhetoric about Russia's uniqueness, a substantial number of Russian elites are willing to borrow from foreign experience – particularly from models of European welfare capitalism. Second, three explanations of why policy-makers prefer to emulate some countries rather than others are tested – because they are similar to their own country either geographically, historically or culturally (comparability); because they have geostrategic prominence (prestige); or because they excel economically and/or politically (performance). Comparability and prestige are found to be of lesser importance than performance to Russian elites when considering the merits of various foreign models. Given that Russia closely approximates a most-likely case for validating explanations stressing comparability, this suggests that the array of foreign ideas that could become part and parcel of Russia's transition process is probably wider than is usually assumed. It also implies that, in general, the regional dimension of diffusion plays a smaller role than previously theorized.

Hamilton Areas of Study

Government, Russian Studies, World Politics