Evolution of Power Distance in Russia Essay

Several authors such as Hofstede, Shwarz and Trompenaars investigated the characteristics of power distribution in different societies, each with their own accents. Hofstede uses the criteria of power distance. It describes to what extend a countries population accepts that power in organisations and institutions is unquelly divided. In other words ; is the power distribution mainly based on vertical or horizontal relationships? (Nardon & Steers, 2006 ; Robins, Judge & Campbell, 2011)

In countries with a high Power Distance Index (PDI) the population seems to accept that there is a high inequality of power distribution.

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The use of that power is not necessarily abussive. The population actually believes that the inequality will produce more welfare for it’s society (Nardon & Steers, 2006). A good example of a high inequality acceptance can be found in ancient Rome: The senate used to transfer it’s authorities to a dictator when war was to be expected because Romans believed that one strong person was more fit to rule in times of crisis.

The population of countries with a low PDI rather expect a more egalitarian and participative distribution of power. They expect to be consulted on various key issues that affect them in a substantial way. E.g. : Ireland (PDI : 23) held a referendum to decide whether to approve the European Lisbon-Treaty.

Hofstede originally estimated that Russia had a PDI of 95. This put Russia in the top three among 53 countries that had been investigated. (Hofstede, 1993) Taking the countries previous historical evolution into account, this high number doesn’t seem that surprising. Russia has a long tradition of centralisation of authority and authoritarian leadership. The pre-Revolutionary period was characterised by a lack of democratic structures and a strong centralization in the hands of the state wich resulted in a relatively high level of unequal distribution of power. The coming of Stalin’s regime, where the communist Party was used as an uncontestable stratification framework, did not bring any major changes on that account.

More recent studies show a strong decrease of Russia’s PDI. Naumov & Puffer estimated Russia’s PDI to be only 40 points in 2000, which puts the country close to the average and next to developed countries such as the Netherlands (38), Canada (39) and the USA (40). Veiga, Yanouzaz and Buchholtz confirmed that power distance in Russia dropped significantly after the perestrojka was announced. Two of the main reasons for the decrease might be attributed to the economic en political decentralisation following the post-communist reforms and the privatisation of economic power that led to a separation of the lather (Naumov & Puffer, 2000).

It should be stressed that a high PDI seems somewhat typical for communist countries. Russia had a significantly higher power distance acceptance in earlier studies when it recently had experienced the communist regime. China, also a country with communist roots, scores quite highly on the power distance index. Now that both countries take a more market-oriented approach, the PDI is dropping. This is quite surprising in a certain point of view : Wasn’t it Marx’s goal to create an equal society grid for the whole population? This result illustrates the gap between theory and practice that’s inherent to the communist policy. (Fernandez, Carlson, Stepina & Nicholson, 1997).

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