Democracy. Russia. CIS.

International Relations and the Arab Spring: A Non-Conspiratorial View.

Posted by democratist on April 2, 2012

2nd April 2012,

In my last article I discussed the issue of the idea of “colour revolutions” as a “legitimizing myth” of Putinism, arguing that it is far easier for the current Russian government to blame the revolts which have taken place in the “near abroad” and middle East over the past few years on various invented (usually western-backed) “conspiracies” than to accept the increasing anachronism of their autocratic model of governance in the contemporary world.

To nobody’s surprise, this article naturally resulted in yet more conspiracy theory. Did I not know who was “really” behind these events? Who was my article “cooked up” for, and to what end? Surely I was working for [inserted prefered conspiracy here].

It therefore occurred to me that there exists a contemporary demand for an explanation of why (especially) the Arab Spring has taken place; one which might provide a more rational alternative to the fantasies of those whose stock-in-trade is obfuscation and paranoia. Fortunately, an existing theoretical framework with a long scholarly pedigree already exists; that of historical-sociology.

Historical sociology takes much of its inspiration from The Sociological Imagination, a book by the American Sociologist C. Wright Mills (1959), which (drawing on Marxism), underscores the centrality of historically specific social structures (patterns of social relationships over time) for sociology in particular, and the social sciences in general. Within the field of International Relations, the historical-sociological school has been developing since the mid-1980’s.

For the practitioners of the Historical Sociology, the key factors behind the Arab Spring are to be found, not in fanciful foreign plots, but rather in sociological developments which have taken place within societies in the region over recent decades: These include tremendous upheavals provoked by poverty, the evident injustice of “crony capitalism” (abject poverty side by side with decadent wealth), the rising expectations of the (literate and technically savvy) young; the delayed flowering of civil society, and finally the rupturing of corrupt political, economic and social systems dominated by authoritarian cliques (and supported by both Russia and the West in many cases for decades).

The place to look for serious analysis the origins of these events is therefore in the tensions which have occurred within these societies over recent years, rather than in the baseless propagandizing of “foreign interference”. While it may be true that the “great powers” have sought to extend or protect their interests as a result of the initial uprisings (for example, overthrowing Gaddafi in the western case, or seeking to protect Assad in the Russian and Iranian), outside forces were clearly not the initial cause of these uprisings. Indeed, they appear to have taken place despite repeated American hypocrisy on the issue of democratization: The populations in these countries have not been swayed by the fact that the US talks the language of democracy whilst employing the stratagems of realpolitik; rather they are demanding respect and representation at home regardless of (often empty) American rhetoric.

However, this focus on internal developments and rejection of conspiracy-as-explanation does not mean that “international” factors were absent in the Arab Spring. In fact, structural international factors, such as the place of these countries within the global economy, were critically important in the influence they had on promoting the drive for accelerated development witnessed over the last few decades: If these revolutions have been organized through social media; Facebook, Twitter and so on, then the reasons why many of these countries have experienced large expansions in literacy, education, foreign languages and computing skills lies in the positions that they came to assume within global economic and security structures in a globalizing world, and the desire of local elites to improve those positions.

From an even broader historical viewpoint, as Fred Halliday points out in Revolutions and World Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Sixth Great Power. (Palgrave, 1999), over the last three centuries, the focus of revolutionary upheavals has not been on the most developed states, but rather revolutions have tended to occur in less developed countries, and during periods in which the “conflicts of modernity” were at their sharpest, with these states only subsequently settling down into democratic reformism. It is at this stage of development that the countries of the Arab Spring now find themselves; driven towards revolution, not by conspiracy, but rather by the pressures placed on existing societies by international structural factors, and the subsequent drive for accelerated development at home.

In conclusion, the obvious question to ask is the extent to which this mixture of domestic and international pressures applies to Russia as well? Russia does not lack a corrupt, inefficient and un-innovative brand of crony capitalism, or the rising expectations of the technologically capable and politically-concious young (especially in the urban centers). Nor is the government indifferent to Russia’s position in the world. On the other hand, exploding oil wealth has meant poverty has decreased greatly over the past decade, and Russians are richer and freer than at almost any other point in their history. The demographic situation is different (fewer young people), and “democracy” is associated with the chaos of the 1990’s. As long as the oil price remains high, economic growth will continue, and the Putin systema remain stable. However, a sharp and sustained dip in hydrocarbon prices would certainly make Russian political life much more complex, and potentially lead to greater change as Russian society evolves.

13 Responses to “International Relations and the Arab Spring: A Non-Conspiratorial View.”

  1. Realist said

    Have you tried to read the messages directly from the first person?

    Gordon, Deputy of United States Secretary of State: “We spent $ 200 million to support democracy in Russia.”

    The oldest “russian” “human rights”, U.S. citizen Alekseeva: “We are forced to exist on foreign money, because in Russia we do not give them one.”

    Another “russian” oldest “human rights” Ponomarev: “I live on the money The United States Department of State. Why Japan did not give me money for the organization of social movements in Russia’s refusal of the Kuril Islands?”

    You are poorly informed, and therefore incompetent. This is ridiculous.

    • Please provide links to these quotes.

    • My piece is about the Arab Spring, and it does not address US policy towards Russia. Your quotes are certainly interesting – but I think some contextualizion might be useful. Is the figure of $200 million dollars correct? What was this money spent on, and over what period of time? Hasn’t democratization been Russian government policy (at least officially) since 1991? Has any of this money in fact been spent on official sanction joint projects with the Russian government? Who else got the money? I do not yet know the answers to these questions – but I will look into them and this make for another article.

      • Realist said

        The money spent in one year. Not one penny of those millions was spent with the Russian Government or with his consent. The money paid for trying to organize the “Arab spring” in Moscow. Disrupt the parliamentary and presidential elections, or to extend the lie that the elections are illegitimate.

        In the Russian internet you will find many confessions so-called “non-system opposition” in that it is funded by the U.S. Including through organizations such as IRI, NED, NDI, USAID and others.

        Read this interesting article:

        The problem is that the Russian people believe that democracy is when the government tries to do what pleases the people, and the U.S. government believes that democracy is something that benefits the United States. For the Russian people and Russian government funding for such activities is a direct interference in the internal affairs of the country.

        Can you imagine any Russian organization that finances political activity in the U.S.? Directed against the leadership of the United States? All members of this organization will be in jail within 24 hours! Why Russian should react differently?

        Print the values ​​of American valuables ​​are universal – sometimes silly, and sometimes lie. Weaknesses of the country, U.S. satellites and colonies suffer (temporarily) the intervention. But not Russian! It is the people of a great country. Many have tried to impose its will on the Russian people and their “universal” valuables. The Crusaders, Napoleon, Hitler. Where are they now?

  2. I will look into this further. However, I am sceptical about some of the things you have said:

    The Americans may well have spent this money (since 2009) but that does not mean that they were planning a Russian “Arab Spring” (especially since there is no evidence they were involved in the original “Arab Spring”). Ambassador McFaul has said that the money has not gone to political parties, but rather non-aligned NGOs (such as GOLOS and Human Rights groups). However, it would certainly be useful to have a breakdown of exactly who got the money.

    You say the opposition were paid – but the NTV documentary that forms the most publicized basis for this argument is less than convincing – indeed, various people are said to have reported seeing it being set up and filmed at the time of the demonstrations – by NTV staff.

    You say, “the Russian people believe that democracy is when the government tries to do what pleases the people,” but I am not so sure that pleasing the Russian people is always their aim; they too have their economic interests.As for the legitimacy of the elections there is plenty of evidence that cheating and manipulation did take place (including from the OSCE ODIHR – an organization in which the Russian government is a member and regularly participates) , and even the most diehard of pro-Putin bloggers in English acccept some falsification in both polls as a fact.

    Also since you mention it, Russia Today is funded by the Russian govt and takes on an openly political role in its reporting and support for Occupy Wall Street. There has never been any serious attempt to have it banned as far as I am aware.

    The main point of my article is that you cannot manufacture revolution where the social conditions are not there. I will take quite some convicing (certainly more than an NTV documentary) before I am willing to believe the Americans were planning to overthrow the Russian government with their $200 million.

    As a British citizen (and one with strong connections to France) I certainly do not see democracy as a purely “American” value. You may associate democracy with the United States, and Phillip Gordon’s foolish comments help to reinforce such a perspective. However, there are many other democratic states which have developed their own democratic models; France, Germany, Sweden Switzerland, Canada, Austrailia, New Zealand… There is no reason to believe that Russia would have to follow an American political or “neoliberal” economic model as a democratic country.

    Russia is and will always be a great country. But democracy is not an American plot, it is a set of values which can be applied universally, but which must come through internal developments, rather than external imposition. If developed in this way, it has many benefits, including international peace with other democratic states.

  3. Realist said

    I am very glad that you remembered the Ambassador McFaul! He looks like an old lady, who married the fifth time and convinces her new husband’s in the fact that it was he deprived of her virginity. Non-aligned NGOs and “non-system” political organizations, trying to organize in Russia “Arab spring” – is the same people! Ponomarev gets American money supposedly to “Movement for Human Rights” and he is also one of the leaders of the political movement “Solidarity.” The same relationship “GOLOS” – P.A.R.N.A.S (unregistered “party”).

    Navalny gets money from the NED and go organizing a rally under the slogan “We will satisfy only the Tunisian scenario”! Alexeyeva gets the money to “Moscow Helsinki Group,” and goes to cover the streets in Moscow with political (!) slogans. By the way, Alekseev acknowledges that received the money and the British too – from the embassy employee, who was exiled from Russia for the scandal with the “spy rock”. Coincidence?

    The fact that the non-system opposition receives foreign money, in opposition does not deny anyone. And NTV has nothing to do with it. Ponomarev said that the video is fake? No! He stated that this interference with his privacy. I’ve already suggested you to use statements from the first person, rather than guesses.

    A lot of evidence of violations of the election? The evidence – a fact proven in court. Anyone can declare such fact, and then to testify in court. Investigators are considering all applications. Do you know how many criminal cases opened after December? 14. 7 violations in favor of the ruling party, seven in favor of others. ODIHR makes a lot of words. However, no evidence. GOLOS published a map of violations. Not checking a single statement on the internet – it is officially stated on the site. Everyone can verify, and many were convinced that at the same time you can send a notice of violation in favor of Putin and a violation in favor of another. The first will be reflected on the map, the second will not. Such is the “objectivity”, paid for by the ocean.

    “RT” supports the political activities? Paying the activists of “Occupy Wall Street”? Are you kidding? “RT” presents view of events. Just as “BBC”, “Voice of America”, “Radio Freedom”, “Deutsche Welle”, “RFI”.

    You do not see evidence of attempts to influence the West’s internal affairs and politics in Russia? Where did you find them? If you do not find them on the “Sky-News” channel or “Fox” and Murdoch newspapers, then I’m not surprised. For variety, try other sources.

    Now the main thing. You write: “there are many other democratic states which have developed their own democratic models; France, Germany, Sweden Switzerland, Canada, Austrailia, New Zealand …”. What’s wrong with democracy in Russia? The election results do not contradict the results of opinion polls and exit polls. Freedom of speech – no problem. Freedom of assembly – complete. What else you need to mention Russia in the list of those countries?

  4. Attenborough said

    Dear Democratist!
    This time I liked your article much better than the previous one. It is more balanced.
    But I again want to make a stress. You emphasize that you aren’t an advocate for the American style of democracy, and this phenomenon called ‘democracy’ is much wider. It is universal. Am I right while understanding your point like this?
    If I’m right and you have no objections, I’d like to stress, that democracy in Western terms isn’t universal. It’s not the only possible style of democracy – mostly for supporting this thought my last comments were aimed.
    Definitely, since Ancient Greece times democracy showed an alternative to authoritarian reign and dictatorship. But it also showed very week and inefficient sides of ‘democratic model’, especially in the Western world, (-OK, I accept your last message and let’s leave USA alone, out of brackets of this discussion). I merely wanted to show that in Europe, in Canada, in Australia, Japan, S.Korea or N.Zealand democracy isn’t a remedy for solving basic problems of any society, like disrespect to peoples’ will, corruption or absence of fair contest for occupation of highest positions in system of state management.
    I don’t accept your term ‘Putinism’ because it says about and explains nothing. It is just a current (one of very many) styles of governance in Russia, – only Russia itself had dozens of styles of governance in its history. France had De Gaulleism, than Pompidouism, Sarkozyism, etc. UK had Churchillism, Thatcherism, Blairism, etc. And I can prolong this list for the rest of our lives…
    My main point is – the Russian (Persian, Venezuelan, Cuban or let’s say Ukrainian) way of governance is just ANOTHER (not worse, not better) style compared to French, British or German analogs. Merely substantially different! As far as ‘Putinism’ is concerned I can assure you: it works very well in Russia, much better that ‘Reaganism’ worked in the US, or ‘Thatcherism’ in the UK. You are definitely aware of the fact that 63% of votes got by Putin at the last presidential election are very close to real preferences of Russians (according to various polls, even examined by US-financed the Levada Poll Center, that showed up to 66% of Putin’s supporters on the March 1, i.e. three days before the election day; you may easily find these figures on the Center’s web site, just google it ). And this is the reality because today namely Putin (tomorrow it may be replaced by someone with a name of Ivanov, or Sidorov, or Zimin) is an embodiment of prevailing Russian ideology and understanding – what is good and bad in this world. Putin (or whoever) is just a current name of Russian goal: peace, stability (after 15 yrs of combined Yeltsin’s complete mess and Gorbachev’s national treason ), relative wealth, and the state SOVEREGNTY – i.e. complete independence, not even an inch limited by any other nation or a group of nations; (you, dear Democratist, must admit that the latter is an unrealistic dream for ALL the so-called democratic Western countries). You may say that a lot of Russians oppose Putin. Yes, it’s true. But opponents (25 to 30% of Russian voters) are united in a pretty strange company: about 17% of them are hard- or softcore commies, another approx. 7% represented by nationalists and ultra-nationalists, the rest belongs to liberal (mainly pro-Western) wing…
    So, are you gonna insist on exclusivity of your term ‘Putinism’? What’s so extraordinary in this phenomenon compared to general history of the world? I believe – nothing.

    • Realist said

      In my humble opinion it’s simple. We are talking about the Russian people, which is certainly European. It does not share the values ​​of most other European countries, such as the Atlanticism, liberalism, tolerance, homosexuality, and others. At the same time has the effrontery to assert their right to have different values. So is the eternal irritant for the European elite. Therefore, any manifestation of independence of the Russian people, such as “Putinism” will always be perceived negatively.

  5. Attenborough said

    Oops, sorry… Again I found a misprint: pls read as “…it also showed very WEAK and inefficient sides of ‘democratic model’

  6. Realist said

    Let me quote a little: “We have, as the Secretary affirmed, proposed to Congress the creation of a new fund to empower Russian civil society, to protect human rights, to enhance a free and diverse information environment to work with NGOs to create the – increase the dialogue that they have with American NGOs to support the development of political leadership among young people. This would be a $50 million fund that would be drawn from liquidated assets from the former U.S.-Russia Investment Fund. We’re working with Congress on this.

    And again, this is designed to support a vibrant civil society in Russia and to allow us to work with those Russian NGOs who want to work with us, to develop their skills and their voice and their ability to represent the aspirations of Russians to increasingly deepen and strengthen their democracy.”
    Victoria Nuland
    Daily Press Briefing
    Washington, DC
    April 3, 2012

    Dear Mr. Demokratist you noticed the word “political leadership”? Need proof of the aspirations of the United States were to pay for the change of political leadership in Russia? That fresh evidence directly from the White House. These facts do you trust more than the video of THAT?

    It will be sad if our dialogue on this and will end …

  7. Realist said

    Oops, sorry… Video of NTV of course, Mr. Democratist!

  8. […] Comments (RSS) « International Relations and the Arab Spring: A Non-Conspiratorial View. […]

  9. […] – if it were not for the fact that there are so many within the Russian media who remain happy to repeat this nonsense (and the fabricated kompromat which often accompanies it) without engaging any of their critical […]

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