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Crafting Democracy: How Novgorod Has Coped with Rapid Social Change Hardcover – September 2, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The word "democracy" has, for better or worse, morphed into a monolithic term, often defined through the political lens of the West, writes Petro (Russian Foreign Policy: From Empire to Nature-State), a political science professor at the University of Rhode Island. In this prescient look at the evolution of democracy in the Russian province of Novgorod, Petro challenges the conventional wisdom of how Russia’s democracy went wrong with a hopeful, if somewhat dry, survey of a region that seems to have gotten it right. Novgorod’s success, Petro argues, is rooted both in its pre-Soviet history as a flourishing center of trade and culture and in its "active civic infrastructure," which grew in the 1990s as local businesses and civic and cultural institutions worked to help Novgorod achieve financial autonomy from Moscow. Novgorod’s audacious and pragmatic governor Mikhail Prusak led the charge and shepherded the province toward a status of "consolidated democracy" by encouraging the use of cultural symbols such as the church and other antiquated institutions that held weight during Novgorod’s medieval heyday. (An example is Novgorod’s progressive newspaper Veche, which is named after the council that governed the province during the Middle Ages.) Such a combination of old and new, Petro claims, allowed for progress without alienating the population and created an atmosphere of organic pluralism. Amid this didactic analysis of democratic models, Petro offers a fresh template for the future, suggesting that, at a time when the exportation of democracy is being debated for its efficacy, new ways to make democracy work—even in the darkest corners of the world—are not only necessary, but possible.
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"Petro offers a fresh template for the future, suggesting that, at a time when the exportation of democracy is being debated for its efficacy, new ways to make democracy work―even in the darkest corners of the world―are not only necessary, but possible."―Publishers Weekly Annex, November 15, 2004

"Nicolai Petro has crafted a book of great merit, starting with its subject―democratization on a regional scale, as opposed to that of an entire country. In addition to painting a vivid picture of Novgorod, he examines different approaches toward explaining the phenomenon of its democracy, enlisting numerous works on democracy building . . . . a book of great value that can be considered an important landmark in both democratization and regional studies."―Political Science Quarterly

"Petro's is a doubly innovative contribution. To the copious, contentious literature on 'democratization,' he introduces the novel (though not entirely original) notion that the process should be studied at the local as well as the national level. One needs to explain why a region such as Novgorod, where he has spent considerable time, has done so well on this path, while other Russian regions with comparable characteristics have not. Second, he argues that the answer lies not where most political scientists look―that is, in institutions and the incentive structure of actors―but in culture. Culture, in the form of symbols drawn from history, not only can serve as context in turbulent times, but can also 'cause' change, and with surprising speed. Although Petro has a tendency to make culture the agent, he is in the end arguing that it comes down to how players make use of symbols―if they are lucky enough to have useful ones."―Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2005

"Petro extols the virtues of the political model that has evolved in Novgorod province in northwestern Russia. He criticizes mainstream authors for concentrating on democracy at the national level while ignoring positive examples in the regions."―Choice, May 2005

"The publication of this book is an event for those who study the legacy of Novgorod the Great in the establishment of the structures of civil society in Russia . . . one of the few studies of contemporary Russian reality that applies historical facts and theoretical political concepts professionally in order to make sense of the democratic reforms of the past decades. . . . Petro's approach opens fundamentally new horizons for understanding the prospects for the democratic transition of Russian (and not only Russian) society, by viewing the country as a landscape of varied symbols, each having the potential to be utilized for effective, democratic social reforms."―Professor Konstantin Zavershinsky, Chelo, #3, 2004

"Petro's case for Novgorod's success is compelling and his theoretical discussion is challenging and valuable."―Jeffrey W. Hahn, Russian Review, January 2006

"This is a truly unique book, addressed to readers in both Russia and abroad. Its author is not just another scholar and writer interested, as others have been, in the processes of transformation in the Russian provinces. From the outset he pursued a specific goal―to use the Novgorod region as a mirror to reflect on political reforms in Russia . . . . Nicolai N. Petro has spent a considerable amount of time in Novgorod, observing how average people lived, and how they became active participants in a new social system."―Nikolai Grazhdankin, Mayor of Novgorod the Great

"Through a subtle, revealing examination of Russian regional politics, Nicolai N. Petro makes a compelling case that Western aid providers should give much greater attention to local cultural values and traditions when seeking to build democracy abroad."―Thomas Carothers, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

"When it comes to Novgorod, Nicolai N. Petro is clearly in a league of his own. His nuanced and important book is based on extensive field work in the region and close access to many key individuals. Petro brings his research to bear on existing theoretical approaches, mounting a critique while generating an original theory."―Richard Sakwa, University of Kent at Canterbury and author of Putin: Russia's Choice and Russian Politics and Society

"Challenging the conventional wisdom of 'how Russia went wrong,' Nicolai N. Petro's work on Novgorod explains how one Russian region got reform right. Culture and institutions do matter―and Petro's lessons apply not only to Russia but any country in the midst of political transitions."―Nikolas K. Gvosdev, executive editor of The National Interest and senior fellow at The Nixon Center, coeditor of Civil Society and the Search for Justice in Russia

"In approaching the Russian response to the Soviet collapse from a regional perspective, Nicolai N. Petro adds an important dimension to our understanding of political, economic, and social processes in that country. Novgorod, representing an unusual case even within the Russian context, deserves attention and investigation in its own right. Petro has managed to integrate complex sources and arguments into a coherent and provocative presentation."―Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies

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