Why Reforms of Public Service of Russia Are Cyclic: An Institutional Explanation from a Liberal Perspective

  • Alexey BarabashevEmail author
  • Vadim Prokofiev
Part of the Philosophy and Politics - Critical Explorations book series (PPCE, volume 8)


From 1992 until the present, Russia has seen two cycles of public service reform. These cycles clearly demonstrate the shortcomings of Russian community of experts in the area public administration. Both cycles began with government statements, responding to a “public request” for the creation of a professional and effective public service. A phase of limited reform followed in both cases, where low-quality, even flawed, administrative procedures were developed. At this stage, the expert community expanded in number, but—paradoxically—its role weakened. Final “bureaucratization of reform” (i.e. realization of the final stages of reform in every cycle by the bureaucracy itself) resulted in the curtailing of experts’ participation. Thus, reform became an instrument to increase the weight of influence at the very the top levels of the bureaucracy and to strengthen the power of the political and administrative elite. In this way, both cycles came to an end more or less in failure, although not a total debacle. The chapter claims that the weakness of Russia’s expert community underlines this cyclical reform cycle. The community of experts in the area of public service reform, as will be shown, is not able to act jointly to support the reform mission. Effective communication among experts working in governmental bodies and outside government (i.e. expert organizations), we argue, is not properly organized. The Russian expert community in the area of public service reform, in other words, does not act like a “guild of professionals”, guided by the liberal principles of open and transparent administration, and effective and citizen-oriented public service. The success in Russian public service reform (including exit from continuous reform cycles) is possible, as we will argue, only in the presence of certain conditions, which rest on an understanding of liberalism as a social phenomenon. We call this “guild liberalism”, or the existence of groups with professional competencies and abilities to change the Russian system of governance in a liberal direction by applying their expertise and by direct participation in reform decision-making. First, the expert community—as a part of civil society—must become rather creative, mature and solid if it is to protect the reform process and keep it on track to achieving its goals. Secondly, top bureaucratic managers must not be the leaders and main stakeholders of the public service reform process. To conclude, we will argue that liberalism in Russia, as social phenomena at the level of professional expert groups, is not completely dead and has the chance to be restored.


Public service reform Reform cycles Administrative discourse Liberalism as social phenomena 

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Research University Higher School of Economics (NRU HSE)MoscowRussia

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