Bringing Actors Back In: Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics Vladimir Gel’man (European University at St.Petersburg / University of Helsinki) Joint Workshop Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, 16 July 2018
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics • State of the art in the research of contemporary Russian politics – a “dismal consensus”; • Durable authoritarianism is consolidated, very little (if any) chances for democratization in the foreseeable future; • Structural barriers – (1) an international environment (low linkages and leverages); (2) resource curse effects on survival of autocracies; (3) strengthening of the state’s use of coercion and repressions, etc. – seems unavoidable in the short term; • Hopes only for the distant future – successful pursuit of economic development over decades might create favorable conditions for a would-be democratization at the time of next generations (Hale, 2015; Treisman, 2015)…
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics • “Alas! That the day of our joyful tomorrow // I shall not witness – and neither shall you” (Nekrasov, The Railway, 1864); • Sounds as a replica of “dismal consensus” about the global state of democracy and democratization in the 1970s; • Crisis of established democracies in Western Europe and in the US in the aftermath of 1968; • Poor expectations on democratization of authoritarian regimes (Huntington, 1984); • Overalll domination of structure-driven explanations of authoritarian status-quo;
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics • Why scholars tend to explain status-quo on the basis of structure, but need to focus on agency when they look on sources of political changes? • Focus on agency in explaining ”third wave” of democratization in 1974-91; • O’Donnell about the beginning of “Transitions” project in 1979: • “… we found this [structural – V.G.] perspective rather dismal, so we thought to emphasize political factors, purposive political actions, and show how politics could counteract or activate these slowly moving structural factors. We also had the notion… that the impact of structural variables on behavior is not a constraint but is itself is variable” (Munck, Snyder, 2007: 292)
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics • Counter-arguments in defense of agency in analysis of regime changes: • (1) regime changes are launched and developed over time as side effects of moves taken by political actors (often unintentionally) so outcomes are not predetermined – cases of Gorbachev in 1988-1991 or Yanukovych in 2013-2014 (democratization by mistakes?); • (2) most political actors are ruthless power-maximizers, and they could be constrained only by other domestic and/or international actors and factors (and these constraints may change over time); • (3) regime changes are by and large shifts of various autocracies and struggles among would-be autocrats rather than intentional building of democracy
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics • “Autocracy is prevented and democracy is permitted by the accidents of history that leave a balance of power or stalemate – a dispersion of force and resources that makes it impossible to make any leader or group to overpower all the others” (Olson, 1993: 573); • “Lord of the Flies” (Golding, 1954) – an alternative model of political regime changes – (1) collapse of the previous regime (catastrophe); (2) forming a new coalition of would-be rulers (Ralph and Jack); (3) breakdown of the coalition and exclusion of minority leader (Ralph) and his followers; (4) usurpation of power by Jack; (5) a repressive tyranny of Jack (killing of Piggy, hunting on Ralph); (6) a new catastrophe (fire, launched by Jack’s tribe); (7) coming of external actors (navy officers), who stopped the disaster… and what next? • What happens in post-Soviet Eurasia in terms of these models?
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics • Basically, two scenarios: • (1) “pluralism by default” (Ukraine, Moldova) – Olson’s model: deep fragmentation of elites and their clienteles; no one is able to usurp power, and attempts of monopolization caused counter-mobilizing: stalemate as a mechanism of prevention of autocracy; • “democracy is permitted” - a necessary yet insufficient condition for making democratic institutions really work (caused poor quality of governance, etc.); • BUT! - a fragile low-level equilibrium of non-autocracy and risks of new intra-elite conflicts which may result in zero-sum game at certain point;
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics (2) “Lord of the Flies” model (Russia) – collapse of the previous regime (1991), zero-sum usurpation of power by Yeltsin (1993), and strengthening of monopoly under Putin in the 2000s, reshaping of winning coalitions, cooptation and/or coercion toward alternative actors, repressive “politics of fear” as a tool of maintenance of control; … but there is no new catastrophe as of yet; problems of sustainability and performance – limited chances for dynastic leadership succession (Brownlee, 2007), incentives for elites to behave as “roving bandits” (Olson, 1993); risks of a new disequilibrium are likely to increase over time; … BUT! - chances for a new zero-sum game are petty high;
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics The list of unknown structural variables for post-Soviet Eurasia and beyond: Changes in international environment – at the moment, it looks rather unfavorable for prevention of autocracy (let alone permission of democracy), similarly to the 1970s: is this forever? Would resource curse lose its relevance after the end of oil boom of the 2000s, similarly to the 1980s? Sluggish economic growth (or stagnation) – would these conditions remain long-lasting and how they might affect preservation of the status-quo? … and similarly to the 1970-1980s, structural arguments are not always useful for prediction of changes “here and now”;
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics … and what went wrong with the role of actors and their choices? analysts tend to label them in terms of “good guys” vs. “bad guys” (Hollywood movie paradigm) or consider all actors as “bad guys” (film noir paradigm) but rarely consider actors as self-interested opportunists (the case of Poroshenko as a prime example); analysts tend to over-demonize political actors (e.g., Putin) as omnipotent well-informed strategists, who always able to predict everything and do only right moves (well, is it true?); analysts themselves (as well as actors, whose actions they observe) have little capacity of prognostic power in a changing environment (regime change in Ukraine in 2013-2014 as a prime example);
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics Many structural variables are in fact agency-driven? ”Legacies of the past” (Kotkin, Beissinger, 2014) - merely constructed and mobilized by political actors, who translate these ”legacies” into political agenda (ideational ”legacies” of ”good Soviet Union”, organizational and institutional ”legacies” as Soviet solutions for post-Soviet problems); State coercion and repressions – employed by political actors for holding of political power (”the politics of fear” as a replica of late-Soviet repressive practices); Political identities – constructed and mobilized by regimes (Russia after 2014) or by the opposition (Ukraine in 2013-14); How we should bring actors back in?
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics A bias for hope? Revisiting the mode of analysis from normative to positive frames; breaking ”dismal consensus” of the 2010s (emerged as a reaction on overly optimism of the 1990s – yet, many new autocracies are cases of failed democratization…) Shift of conceptual frames – ”think possibilistically, not probabilistically” (Schmitter’s interview in Munck, Snyder, 2007: 324); Focus on autocatic failures (e.g., Ukraine in 2013-2014) as well as on erosion of political competitiveness (e.g., Hungary after 2010); … and what else should be added for the future research agenda?
Political Choices and Sources of Post-Soviet Regime Dynamics Forthcoming in Post-Soviet Affairs, 2018 Comments are welcome! (email@example.com)