This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 755504).

 

Parliaments and Constitutions in Eurasia
 
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Project Publications

Books

Parliaments are often seen as Western European and North American institutions and their establishment in other parts of the world as a derivative and mostly defective process. This book challenges such Eurocentric visions by retracing the evolution of modern institutions of collective decision-making in Eurasia. Breaching the divide between different area studies, the book provides nine case studies covering the area between the eastern edge of Asia and Eastern Europe, including the former Russian, Ottoman, Qing, and Japanese Empires as well as their successor states. In particular, it explores the appeals to concepts of parliamentarism, deliberative decision-making, and constitutionalism; historical practices related to parliamentarism; and political mythologies across Eurasia. It focuses on the historical and “reestablished” institutions of decision-making, which consciously hark back to indigenous traditions and adapt them to the changing circumstances in imperial and postimperial contexts. Thereby, the book explains how representative institutions were needed for the establishment of modernized empires or postimperial states but at the same time offered a connection to the past.

Journal Special Issues

Addressing the entangled histories of deliberative decision making, political representation, and constitutionalism in several geographic and temporal contexts, this Special Issue offers nuanced political and intellectual histories and anthropologies of parliamentarism in Eurasia. It explores parliaments and quasi-parliamentary formations and the designs of such in the Qing and Russian Empires, the late Soviet Union, Ukraine, the Russian Far East, and the Russian-Mongolian borderlands (from Buryat and Mongolian perspectives) in seven contributions. Apart from the regional interconnections, the Special Issue foregrounds the concepts of diversity and empire to enable an interdisciplinary discussion. Understanding empires as composite spaces, where the ambivalent and situational difference is central for the governing repertoires, the articles discuss social (ethnic, religious, regional, etc.) diversity in particular contexts and the ways it affected the parliamentary designs. The multitude of the latter is understood as institutional diversity and is discussed in relation to different levels of administration, as well as the positions of respective parliamentary formations within political systems and their performance within regimes. The contributions also investigate different forms of deliberative decision-making, including the soviet, the Congress of People’s Deputies, and the national congress, which allows to include conceptual diversity of Eurasian parliamentarisms into the discussions in area and global studies. The Special Issue highlights the role of (quasi-)parliaments in dissembling and reassembling imperial formations and the ways in which parliaments were eclipsed by other institutions of power, both political and economic.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

The study focuses on the position of female deputies of non-Russian descent in parliamentary debates of the Perestroika period in the Soviet Union. The key issues the author examines concern the grievances which these female deputies were pointing out, and the potential solutions they were proposing to mitigate or eliminate them. The most important forum where these debates were taking place was the Congress of People's Deputies (S"ezd narodnykh deputatov), which arose from partly pluralistic elections, was the supreme body of state power from 1989 to 1991, and meant a significant progress in the Communist leadership's efforts to democratize the political system. Gender-wise, the body was very unbalanced as women accounted for just 352 out of its 2,250 members. The author works with stenographic records of speeches of the female deputies of non-Russian descent at the five sessions of the Congress, viewing them through a prism of concepts of "intersectionality" and "imperial situation." The speeches of the female deputies often accentuated national grievances and hardships, which was indicative of a considerable importance of nationalism in Soviet discussions of the Perestroika period and in the systemic crisis of the USSR. However, they also showed that viewing problems in a nationalism-tinged perspectives did not necessarily mean seeking a nationalist solution, as many of the female deputies preferred looking for a solution within the Soviet Union to that consisting in sovereignty or even independence of its republics. The female deputies also insistently reflected urgent social, economic, professional, environmental, and local problems.

In early 1918, the Bolshevik-dominated Third Congress of Soviets declared the formation of a new composite polity—the Soviet Russian Republic. The congress’s resolutions, however, simultaneously proclaimed a federation of national republics and a federation of soviets. The latter seemed to recognize regionalism and localism as organizing principles on par with nationalism and to legitimize the self-proclaimed Soviet republics across the former Russian Empire. The current article compared two such non-national Soviet republics, those in Odessa and the Russian Far East. The two republics had similar roots in the discourses and practices of the Russian Empire, such as economic and de facto administrative autonomy. They also took similar organizational forms, were run by coalitions, and opposed their own inclusion into larger national and regional formations in Ukraine and Siberia. At the same time, both of the Soviet governments functioned as ad hoc committees and adapted their institutional designs and practices to the concrete—and very different—social and international conditions in the two peripheries. The focus of the Odessa and Far Eastern authorities on specific problems and their embeddedness in the peculiar contexts reflected the very idea of federalism as governance based on decentralization and nuance but contradicted the party-based centralization and the exclusivity of the ethno-national federalism in the consolidated Soviet state.

Drawing from samizdat (self-published) and tamizdat (foreign-published) materials, this article traces the understandings of parliaments and parliamentarism in individual works by Soviet dissidents and reconstructs the authors’ underlying assumptions in the application of the two ideas. It focuses on the articulations and the implications of four concepts pertaining to parliamentarism – deliberation, representation, responsibility, and sovereignty – in the dissidents’ criticisms of Soviet ‘parliamentarism’ and their own parliamentary designs. Despite the consensus that the USSR Supreme Soviet was both a façade and pseudo parliament and the frequent appeals to popular sovereignty, only a handful of authors discussed parliamentarism as the latter’s manifestation before the Perestroika. With very few dissidents placing deliberation at the centre of a post-Soviet order, the conviction that social and political systems should be based on an ‘ultimate truth’ and respective societal blueprints dominated the dissident discourse in which a parliament, if mentioned at all, was a rostrum rather than a forum.

Book Chapters

Focusing on the term zemskii sobor, this study explored the historiographies of the early modern Russian assemblies, which the term denoted, as well as the autocratic and democratic mythologies connected to it. Historians have debated whether the individual assemblies in the sixteenth and seventeenth century could be seen as a coherent institution, what constituencies were represented there, what role they played in the relations of the Tsar with his subjects, and if they were similar to the early modern assemblies elsewhere. The growing historiographic consensus does not see the early modern Russian assemblies as a coherent institution. In the nineteenth–early twentieth century, history writing and myth-making integrated the zemskii sobor into the argumentations of both the opponents and the proponents of parliamentarism in Russia. The autocratic mythology, advanced by the Slavophiles in the second half of the nineteenth century, proved more coherent yet did not achieve the recognition from the Tsars. The democratic mythology was more heterogeneous and, despite occasionally fading to the background of the debates, developed for some hundred years between the 1820s and the 1920s. Initially, the autocratic approach to the zemskii sobor was idealistic, but it became more practical at the summit of its popularity during the Revolution of 1905–1907, when the zemskii sobor was discussed by the government as a way to avoid bigger concessions. Regionalist approaches to Russia’s past and future became formative for the democratic mythology of the zemskii sobor, which persisted as part of the romantic nationalist imagery well into the Civil War of 1918–1922. The zemskii sobor came to represent a Russian constituent assembly, destined to mend the post-imperial crisis. The two mythologies converged in the Priamur Zemskii Sobor, which assembled in Vladivostok in 1922 and became the first assembly to include the term into its official name.

The chapter focuses on two new institutions, the State Duma (Gosudarstvennaia duma) and Political Consultative Council (Zizhengyuan), which were introduced in the Russian and Qing Empires, when the two imperial formations joined the global constitutional transformations. The names of the two bodies pointed to the statist (etatist) rather than popular connotations of the new institutions. Furthermore, the State Duma and the Zizhengyuan were often explicitly distinguished from a Western parliament, even though the latter as a generalized notion was undoubtedly the main point of reference during the attempted imperial modernizations. Seeking to expand the current debate on the conceptual history of parliamentarism by including non-European histories, this chapter charts the genealogies of the two terms and positions them in the discussions of parliamentarism during the modernizations of the Russian and Qing Empires and during the post-imperial settlements.

Parliaments are often seen as institutions peculiar to the Euro-American world. In contrast, their establishment elsewhere is frequently thought of as a derivative and mostly defective process. Such simplistic tales of unilateral and imperfect transfers of knowledge have led to a suboptimal understanding of non-Western experiences, as well as of their contribution to the shaping of the global political landscape of the modern world. The present volume challenges Eurocentric visions by retracing the evolution of modern institutions of collective decision-making in Eurasia, more specifically in the Russian/Soviet, Qing/Chinese, Japanese, and Ottoman/Turkish cases. It argues that, over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, intellectuals and political actors across Eurasia used indigenous as well as foreign elements to shape their versions of parliamentary institutions for their own political purposes. It was through the creative agency of these often understudied actors that representative institutions have acquired a wide range of meanings throughout Eurasia and become a near-ubiquitous element of modern statehood.

The political system of early socialist-era Mongolia, established by the first Constitution in 1924, can be interpreted as a vernacular version of the Soviet system, in which the formally supreme representative body, the State Great Khural (“assembly”), was sidelined by the standing Presidium of the Small Khural and the Cabinet and eclipsed by the extraconstitutional party authorities. The establishment of this sham and nominal parliamentary system was a consequence of the Bolshevik new imperialism, the inclusion of the Mongolian People’s Republic into the informal Soviet empire, which occurred through both military control and structural adjustments under the supervision of the Communist International. The 1924 Mongolian Constitution, however, was not a mere copy of its Soviet 1918 and 1924 counterparts but a transimperial document. In its text and especially in the history of its making, it reflected the entangled imperial transformations of the Russian and Qing empires and featured both indigenous (Khalkha and Buryad-Mongol) agency and vernacular political discourses. Khural existed as a nonrepresentative yet deliberative consultative assembly in 1914–1919, while Tsebeen Jamtsarano attempted to make a Mongolian khural one of the world’s many parliaments, even though his draft constitution was affected by the practices of revolutionary Russia.

The chapter analyzed the debates on parliamentarism in the late Russian Empire and revolutionary Russia and explored how the idea of parliament helped intellectuals locate Russia globally. The establishment of the legislative State Duma and the adoption of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire during the Revolution of 1905–1907 seemed to make Russia a constitutional state. Few intellectuals, however, viewed the Duma as a parliament equal to its Western counterparts. Despite their criticism of the Duma, numerous liberal and moderate socialist and nationalist thinkers generally supported parliamentarism, seeing Russian transformations as part of the perceived parliamentary universalism. Right and left radicals, by contrast, questioned the very necessity of a parliament. The right argued that Russia was self-sufficient and did not need Western democracy; the left rejected parliaments, claiming them a part of class exploitation and oppressive state machinery, and called for direct rule of the toilers to represent an alternative democratic modernity. The Bolshevik–Left Socialist Revolutionary coup in October 1917 and the dissolution of the All-Russian Constituent Assembly in January 1918 marked a halt in Russia’s participation in global parliamentary developments, which institutionally encompassed, inter alia, Persia, the Ottoman Empire, and the Qing Empire (and the Republic of China) in the 1900s/1910s. Conceptually, it marked an end of the global parliamentary moment, as the Bolshevik–Left Socialist Revolutionary regime became the first practical take on non-parliamentary modernity.

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Letzte Änderung: 23.05.2021
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