The Res Publica Research Center of the European University at St. Petersburg has existed for 12 years. It is part of the general trend of European social and political thought, which found after a sharp weakening of Marxism at the end of the 20th century that among acceptable theories of freedom, the main alternative for economic liberalism at the beginning of the 21st century is what they call republicanism. The latter attempts to summarize the 2000-year-old tradition of thought on how people can freely live together. Of course, by emphasizing the contrast of “liberalism-republicanism”, we should not forget that together they oppose various forms of conservatism, nationalism, and religious obscurantism in that they insist on the priority of protecting the freedoms of the individual.
WHAT WE DO
The Res Publica center is a unifying platform for three main areas of our activities: educational, research and experimental.
The center's educational activities are primarily aimed at translating works on classical republican theory. We have translated books written at the end of the 20th century by founders of republicanism such as “Liberty Before Liberalism” by Regius Professor of History and Politics at the University of Cambridge Quentin Skinner or chapters of Princeton University Professor Philip Pettit's “Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government", which were published as part of "Modern Republican Theory of Freedom" - a collection of texts translated from English. We also published “Res Publica: A History of the Concept” - a collection of republican texts translated from German, as well as a translation of Gasparo Contarini's "De magistratibus et republica venetorum" (1526) from Latin. This treatise contributed to the Republican glory of Venice no less (thought so at the time of Shakespeare) than the works of Niccolò Machiavelli and Francesco Guicciardini did for the Republican glory of Florence. We are currently working on the translation of one of the classic republican works of Serge Audier "Les théories de la république".
Some of the educational activities of the center are aimed at the popularization of republican ideas by delivering open lectures in various clubs and on the internet (www.polit.ru, www.republic.ru, etc). In November-December 2018 we launched a training program on participatory processes in modern cities and recorded an online course based on it.
We carry out various interdisciplinary research activities in the fields of history, political theory and sociology within the framework of the republican theory.
The center's historical project studies the republican practices of medieval Novgorod and Pskov in a comparative perspective. We found out, for example, that the 'veche' (popular assembly) of northern Russian cities was typologically very close to the medieval European commune, which had a pronounced republican character. One of the key features is the presence of a city council, which was called 'veche' in the case of Novgorod and Pskov. This council, which was a political assembly of all free townsmen, was the main political institution in the city. City magistrates elected by the council were accountable to the latter. The veche was also the only body that could judge cases of crimes punishable by death penalty. Before they were captured by Moscow, these Russian market towns looked like purely Western-type communes also in the eyes of European travelers and merchants. Therefore, the idea of a special development path for the Russian medieval towns (as well as the society as a whole) is left in serious doubt. At least in terms of urban development, Russia followed the same path as Western Europe - the very same republican institutions sprang up here by themselves. The study of the Great Bridge in Novgorod, made possible by underwater excavations, is a distinct part of the center's historical project.
Research on republican theory is another project of the center. In particular, our junior research associate Vladimir Korshakov studies the ideas of freedom and political power reflected in written sources and pieces of visual arts in medieval Novgorod. The objects of his research include not only chronicles as traditional sources, but also liturgical and hymnographic texts. An interesting study of the iconography of republican frescoes by Lorenzetti in Siena was conducted by our student Hazret Baykulov, who has pointed out the parallels that can be drawn with the theology of icons in republican Novgorod. Important research is carried out by Viktor Kaplun about the classical culture of the times of Radishchev, Karamzin, Pushkin and the Decembrists, which was based primarily on ancient virtues. They are imperceptibly transmitted between the generations of readers of Russian literature, along with the fundamental examples of valiant or virtuous behavior. Thus, we are all “Republicans at heart”, as Catherine II has said, although many of our compatriots who were raised in the Stoic-Roman or Greek models of Russian culture (cf. Pushkin's “Exegi monumentum” or “Not all of me is dust. . . ") most often do not notice this ancient layer, which lies at the basis of our literature, and therefore the basic intuitions of morality. An employee of the center, Anna Novoseltseva, is studying the concept of "dignity". Her research focuses on the discourse on dignity in Russian intellectual thought, which is formulated here together with the reception of republican models of valor and virtue.
The third important research project of the center is a sociological study of republican practices in the modern Russian society. The classical model of republican freedom is often applied at the micro level, ranging from housing co-ops to the municipal level of government. First, there are no obstacles for active representatives of such a small society to come together for a decision at this level. Second, by uniting around "common things", whether it is fighting against densification or working on improving local neighborhoods, people often use republican models, even if they are not aware of that. It is important that in modern Russian there is no “public” register, usually used when discussing socially important issues. Discussions often devolve into either the intensely personal register of the language of social networks, or the rubber stamp of the official language. The results of the study of the language were published in the collective monograph “From Social to Public” and popularized in a series of op-eds in the Novaya Gazeta. Oleg Kharkhordin and Nikolai Vakhtin plan to work on the development of a series of practices for teaching methods of public non-offensive and non-hostile discussion of common problems. Their task is to produce the Russian equivalent of what is called Robert's Rules of Order in America or the rules of parliamentary procedure in England, but reduced to down-to-earth discussion rules in groups such as housing or gardening co-operatives, townhall meetings, etc.
The experimental module tests republican practices in communities that want to test such forms of living together in practice. It helps to test the basic research hypotheses in practice. Since 2013, our testing activity has focused on trying to see how Russian cities, which wish to introduce participatory budgeting, are able to do this. Participatory budgeting assumes that a portion (1–5%) of the municipal budget funds is distributed by decision of the budget commission, half of which consists of local officials and another half of citizens selected by lot or other republican practices.
The federal and local press have written much about the project to popularize it. We believe that one of the important tasks of the project is to involve in the dialogue with the city administration those residents who have previously avoided this dialogue for various reasons - from mistrust of authority to lack of information. The administration provides citizens with information about the city budget and how to use it, the main legislative parameters and practices in the field of municipal administration, and allocates the amount to be allotted by the budget commission. As a result, citizens get a real opportunity to influence the life of the urban community, while the authorities get fresh ideas and the opportunity to recruit new motivated members for their team.