Governing through stolichnaya praktika: Housing renovation from Moscow to the regions
This paper develops the concept of stolichnaya praktika (‘capital practice’) to understand how centralized power is maintained in contemporary authoritarian and hybrid regimes that face the dual challenges of protracted economic crisis (which limits their use of traditional patronage mechanisms) and the necessity of maintaining a democratic guise (which limits their use of force). The concept is derived from the experience of Russia, where, since the onset of a prolonged economic crisis in 2014, centralization of power is increasingly maintained by demanding that regional elites compete for symbolic—rather than financial—resources for implementing policies. Central authorities instrumentalize Moscow’s expertise, packaging it as a resource available to the regions. Through a case study of the Moscow Housing Renovation program and its proposed federal expansion, the paper conceptualizes stolichnaya praktika as a technology of government that relies on the interplay of the capital and federal scales, simultaneously constructing Moscow’s exceptionalism and reviving the perception of a caring and paternalistic federal state. By seeming to extend an invitation to the regions to emulate the capital, stolichnaya praktika provides top-down policies with a semblance of voluntarism, while actually reinforcing regional dependencies. This study contributes to the burgeoning scholarship on authoritarian urbanism, by shifting empirical attention away from spectacular mega-projects in capital cities to demonstrate how basic urban service provisioning serves as a tool of authoritarian governance, and by excavating how central authorities make regional actors comply with, and locally implement, the center’s political development goals in and through the field of urbanism.