And that is where I picked it up and I thought it was fascinating to learn what that sistema actually is. And when I started to study, I realized it is a
very elusive term. It is a shorthand term for a system of governance that usually refers to things that are not to be named. It is like the open secrets of
governance. That's where we talk about "the sistema way of doing things" or "sistema pressure" on people. We never explicitly refer to what they are, but
we assume we all understand what we are talking about.
Can you tell us more specifically how the term applies in Putin's Russia?
I call it in the book "methods of informal governance." It is a situation when institutions do not work and the leadership has to do something. And what
they do then, they use things that do work in that region: networks, relationships, informal power, informal negotiations, and bargaining. That's what
works. And that is exactly what's been used as these forms of informal governance to achieve targets that otherwise could have been achieved through formal
channels, but those do not work.
So, Putin always steps in and personally makes sure there is a Sochi Olympic village that is built on time. If he needs to get something, he puts his best
friend in charge. He always makes sure he uses reliable people in different positions. And that is a kind of -- [as] I call it in the book - "the
modernization trap." Because you do use informal networks to get things done and you think you are pursuing the targets of modernization through the use of
the tools which seem to you, as a leader, effective. But you cannot escape the long-term consequences.
Those informal-governance instruments actually come back and hit you by undermining the workings of formal institutions, which remain weak [and]
unoperational. And you then suck yourself into the whirl of informality that is very much personalized and cannot be used in a controlled way.
Checks and balances become a problem, although they exist in informal governance as well. But it is that the scale of it is really not manageable, and that
is a danger. That's what I call "the modernization trap" of informality. That you do use the potential of informal networks, but you cannot escape from the
long-term detrimental consequences.
If this leads to the "modernization trap," isn't it a dead end? Where is the attraction of sistema?
In the book, I call that "the ambivalence of sistema." In the sense that sistema is not something very simple. It is an outcome of complex, anonymous,
unpredictable, seemingly irrational forces. But it also glues society together. It distributes resources. It mobilizes people. It contributes to stability
in people's minds. It ensures its own reproduction.
The people's view -- I suppose they might be criticizing sistema, but they also assume its legitimacy in some way. And that is why, once Putin brought that
order to the system, he has been supported. He is still supported for that because you could see that what he is getting or what his government is getting
is trickling down in ways that are understandable to people. That's why 62 percent vote for Putin, even for a third term, even if that negates the [spirit
of the] constitution (i.e., the Russian Constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms).