Dr. Guzel Garifullina standing by the trees on Stern Plaza

Meet Dr. Guzel Garifullina

August 24, 2023

A Q&A with a new assistant professor of leadership studies

Guzel Garifullina researches comparative politics, authoritarianism, and political behavior, with a focus on municipal and regional politics in Russia and the post-Soviet sphere. She earned her doctorate in political science in 2021 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to joining the Jepson School faculty, she served as a postdoctoral scholar at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University and a postdoctoral fellow at the Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies at University of Rochester.

How did you become interested in political science, specifically Russian municipal and regional politics?
I am originally from Ufa, a Russian city of over one million people near the Ural Mountains. My dad was a public official his entire career and, just prior to his retirement, served as an advisor to the mayor of Ufa. So we talked about politics a lot when I was growing up. After high school, I went to Moscow, where I earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science from the Higher School of Economics, one of the best universities in Russia. Then I worked in public relations for a private metallurgy company in Russia for three years and as a research associate at my alma mater for another three years, before coming to the U.S. to get my doctorate in political science at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I chose UNC because I wanted to study under Dr. Graeme Robertson, who specializes in Russian and post-Soviet politics.  

What is the current focus of your research?
I do comparative research on the politics of the 83 regions and over 20,000 municipalities that comprise Russia. I want to understand the behavior of individual political leaders and why they make the policy choices they make. How does environment affect political leaders? How does the way political leaders are selected – by voters or higher authorities – affect leaders’ behavior? Are voters selecting leaders based on their policies or their personalities?

What is your assessment of governance in Russia today?
I see more competition on the ground when I interview local officials than is allowed on the national level. After 2017, Russia had a surge in new grassroots activists running for municipal positions. Although these activists don’t exercise much power as municipal officials, they express a grassroots demand for participation. Some local council members have dared to speak against the war in Ukraine. As a result, some have had to leave Russia, while others have been imprisoned. Many will lose their positions in the next electoral cycle. Still, I am an optimist by choice. Any experiment with democracy is good, even if it is ultimately unsuccessful. Previous attempts at democracy created a memory and pointed to a need. Russia’s current system of personalistic autocracy is fragile, because it is based on one person who will not live forever.

What excites you about joining the Jepson School and the University of Richmond?
My best friend in grad school received her undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Richmond. She talked about the wonderful relationships she had with her professors during, and even after, her time at Richmond. I thought Richmond sounded like a wonderful place. Now that I am at the Jepson School, I am enthusiastic about looking at leadership in different contexts with a group of interdisciplinary colleagues. That is the fun part! It is a very stimulating environment.

Read Dr. Garifullina's recent blog post "Local Democracy and the Anti-War Narrative in Russia."