The rise of the St Petersburg city council and Mayor Anatoly Sobchak created one of the first islands of democracy in Russia. In addition to being a home base for many of the democratic groups, St Petersburg contains some of the most articulate spokesmen for the major anti-democratic organizations as well. The battle between these groups makes the city relevant for studying the evolution of Russian politics. This book provides an examination of the major political changes at the local level outside Moscow. Using material from the local press and interviews with many of the participants, the author recounts the evolution of the major political groups. In particular, the story traces the formation of the new democratic movements and their success in capturing the institutions of local government. It also examines the collapse the local Communist Party organization and the growing power of the extreme right-wing groups. Subsequent chapters focus on the difficulties of establishing a representative government to replace more than 70 years of communist rule. The discussion draws on a wide variety of theories of democratization to explain what happened in St Petersburg.
It concludes that political variables such as leadership provide the most convincing explanation for the success of the transition so far.