What is the importance of the Duma in Russia?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The role of the Duma in Russian history has been marginal at the best of times, with a brief exception during the early years of post-Communist democratic rule during the 1990s. While early forms of dumas -- translated as elected or advisory councils -- were established during the late 19th century under Czar Alexander III, it wasn't until the reign of Nicholas II that a high-level parliamentary body was officially established, although it would prove a meaningless gesture, as the czar had no intention of abrogating any of his imperial powers to another body. That Nicholas II had agreed to the formation of a Duma was the result of growing political opposition to his rule and the increasing ruthlessness of segments of that opposition. The Duma Nicholas II established in 1905 was the direct result of the failed revolution of January of that year. Right away, fundamental disagreements existed between liberals who envisioned a parliamentary body with power and those loyal to the Romanov Dynasty, who countenanced no such transfer of authority away from the palace.

That the Duma formed in 1905 proved an abject failure, then, was no surprise. The 1917 revolution that deposed the czar and replaced him with a provisional government under Alexander Kerensky similarly included provisions for a Duma-type body, but the subversion of the February Revolution by the Bolsheviks and other extremist parties that resulted in the October Revolution ensured that no independent or impartial parliamentary body would ever be formed. While the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which dominated the Russian Empire for the following 70 years, had official consultative and parliamentary bodies, it was no secret that these assemblies served merely to rubber-stamp the decisions made by the ruling Politburo, which governed with ruthless efficiency, imprisoning opponents and executing many of those who were not sent to labor camps in the frigid Arctic regions.

As mentioned above, there was one brief period of time during the 1990s between the fall of the Communist Party and the rise of Vladimir Putin and his reimposition of a police state when the official trappings of a meaningful democratic structure existed. A two-chamber parliament was established, with the Duma serving as the lower house and the Federation Council as an upper house. Russian President Boris Yeltsin's failure to consolidate the democratic institutions needed to preserve the Russian populace's newly-won liberties doomed the Duma and the Federation Council to irrelevancy. While these bodies continue to exist, no one is under any illusion that they hold real power in a system dominated by Putin and his colleagues from the former KGB secret police. 

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