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Federal Center of Theoretical and Applied Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences
One of the ways in which Russians can contribute to resolving issues relevant to their wellbeing (and, in much rarer cases, the wellbeing of the local community) is petitioning the executive authorities. The petition authors interpret their actions as being involved in social policy-making at their municipality. We, however, view petitions to authorities as a half-measure, as a community element of developing and implementing social policy that cannot be considered real involvement in social and national governance. The article proves that both the authorities and the average citizens still have a “traditional” perception of petitions: as a favor on the government’s part, not its duty. As an example, we analyze petitions to the Governor of the Nizhniy Novgorod Oblast. These petitions are most commonly filed by unemployable people who are incapable of resolving their issues on their own: veterans, the disabled, retirees, mothers of large families, single mothers, etc. On average, such people amount to almost 70% of all petitioners over the past few years. By type of residence registration, the people who petition the Governor personally can be classified roughly in two groups: about one half resides in the Oblast’s administrative center, while the other half resides in other cities and areas across the Oblast. This ratio has remained fairly constant over the duration of the survey. Our experience with reviewing petitions shows that the petitioners’ law knowledge leaves much to be desired, especially among seniors, who harbor a deep-seated belief that every person’s problems are also the community’s problems, and that the state should be the patron of the people, actively involved in all their lives. Most petitions and claims filed by constituents to executive authorities have little to do with such authorities directly and are better reviewed at court, at the government attorney’s office, or at another similar institution. Many of them are not accepted at the Governor’s office (the petitioners are offered to consult another public agency), but in order to keep the outraged reaction at a minimum, the Nizhniy Novgorod Oblast offers free legal consultations for the most economically disadvantaged constituents, courtesy of experts from the State Law Department and the Nizhniy Novgorod Oblast branch of the Russian Pension Fund. The overwhelming majority seeks help with social issues. A few petitions also deal with economic issues, while political issues lack representation almost entirely. The petition contents, as well as the number of petitions dealing with specific issues, present a sufficient reason for including these petitions in the region’s social policy database as the community’s input.
civic participation, civil society, self-government, citizens’ appeals, social policy.
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