Democracy. Russia. CIS.

Archive for the ‘Colour Revolution’ Category

Putin’s Third Term: Towards Instability?

Posted by democratist on April 24, 2012

April 24th 2012,

Democratist has sometimes been accused of being “theoretical.” We do not deny this charge. For us, using “theory” means the ability to generalize rational insight from experience.  Although not without limitation, any attempt to explain (and by extension change) the world without some kind of rational framework will amount to little, and incautious abandonment leaves one vulnerable to a variety of intellectual hucksters (post-modernists, nationalists, religious dogmatists, conspiracy theorists…).

In terms of International Relations, the most fruitful theoretical tools Democratist has encountered are those drawn from historical-sociology. Part of the reason for this blog is to apply insights drawn from that tradition to the contemporary world.

This explains the repeated importance we have placed on the revolutions of Arab Spring. For us, 2011 was a year of global historical significance – like 1789, 1848, 1917 or 1989/1991. As with those other historically conjunctural years, 2011 combined elements that are central to our view of the world; social conflicts, mass movements and (democratic) revolution. However, the events of 2011 also involved an additional aspect that we have not yet covered in any detail, but which is a cornerstone of our approach, and of particular relevance to the political trajectory of the countries of the CIS; the idea of international society as “homogeneity.”

What do we mean by “international society” and “homogeneity”?

Within the academic study of International relations over the last 40 years, there have been three main perspectives on what constitutes “international society”. These are;

i) It consists of relations between states (governments). Obvious examples include diplomacy and war.

ii) It consists of non-state links of economy, political association, culture and ideology (a favourite of “globalization” theorists).

iii) It consists of a set of ideological values shared by different societies and promoted by inter-state competition, producing international “homogeneity”.

While the first two perspectives are certainly essential to any understanding of international relations, and are regularly covered in the mainstream media, it is the third which comes from the historical-sociological tradition, and on which we focus here.

The basic idea of homogeneity is simple: As a result of international pressures, states are compelled through competition with one another over the long-term, to resemble each other more and more in their internal arrangements. Developments at the international level have an impact on the ideological legitimacy and stability of states domestically: Political and social change within countries have always been to some extent, and are now increasingly the result of external processes.

In Rethinking International Relations (1994), Fred Halliday uses this perspective to explain the end of the Cold War, or as he puts it, “…why a specific political and socio-economic system, one that was in broad terms equal to its rival in military terms, should have collapsed as it did, rapidly and unequivocally, and in the absence of significant international military conflict.”

Halliday argues that communism was successful, not only in the second world war, but in subsequent arms races and third world strategic competition. However, it was at the socio-economic level that the USSR came to be seen as a comparative failure, unable to match its Western competitors: By the 1980’s the domestic record of communism, as compared with its main capitalist alternatives, became a central dimension of Cold War rivalry, resulting in the Gorbachev’s attempts at reform, and the ultimate collapse of a unreformable system.

The key point is that it was an ideologically influenced change of direction by the leadership which brought about the USSR’s demise. Communism could easily have dragged on for another decade or two, but the leadership became convinced that the Soviet system was unable to catch up with the west, especially in terms of economic output and innovation. The subsequent opening of the USSR to foreign influences after 1988 as part of glasnost acted to alert the broader public to these problems, highlighting contrasts in living standards, which led to increased calls for change.

This brings us to the question of the extent that states have responded to international pressure to homogenize since 1991. For Democratist, it is clear that the idea of the democratic “good life” transmitted by popular culture, the media and, above all the internet, has become much more powerful over the last twenty years. Indeed, so powerful is this image, that leaders of many authoritarian countries have come to expend considerable resources in countering it with domestic and international propaganda (e.g. RT, Press TV etc).

International pressure for homogenization has therefore increased, with democracy taking on a far greater role as a factor for domestic legitimization and stability. The Arab Spring was witness to the growth of pressure for reform building due to a number of factors, but not least the example of comparatively politically and economically successful democratic countries. However, the regimes of the middle East proved resistant to reform, and therefore lost popular legitimacy and finally faced revolution.

Similar pressures have also manifested themselves in the former Soviet Union, with revolutions sparked off by rigged elections in a number of countries. However, in contemporary Russia, democratizing pressure remains weak as result the chaos and national humiliation of the 1990’s. This is commonly blamed on “dermokratiya,” while it was in fact actually more the result of the collapse of the command economy and massive corruption. And yet, as described in Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (Granta Publications, 2012), the Russian government has shown no serious willingness to reform over the last decade, and the untreated corruption of the 1990’s has in fact worsened.

It therefore seems unlikely that the government will embark on meaningful reform over the coming years, whilst homogenizing pressure for change will grow: As the Russian middle class gains in political confidence it will begin to demand the representation it is afforded in other countries, spurred on by technological change.

And while the possibility of a gradual transition to a more representative political system remains, the probability of a political crisis over the longer term if this does not materialize is growing.

Posted in Arab Spring, Colour Revolution, Democratization, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR), Russia 2012 Elections, Russia Propaganda | 6 Comments »

The “Counter-Revolutionary Council” and the Temptations of Foreign Adventurism.

Posted by democratist on April 13, 2012

April 13th 2012,

Democratist has been interested to read that the Duma is to set up a new advisory “Counter-Revolutionary Council” within the parliamentary Committee for CIS Affairs.

According to the April 10th edition of Kommersant, “Moscow is looking for an antidote for colour revolutions and a means to strengthen its position in the post-Soviet zone… the Duma’s Committee is about to form a council that will be tasked to keep tabs on threats to the interests of Russia in nearby foreign countries and design counter-measures against colour revolutions.”

The key word here is of course, “interests.” The notion of “colour revolutions” (the idea that foreign NGOs are able to trick otherwise perfectly content populations to overthrow their autocratic rulers) is such obvious propaganda as to be unworthy of comment – 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 faculties.

The spectacle of a group of people who largely owe their positions to electoral fraud creating a parliamentary committee to ensure that other authoritarian regimes are able do the same without hinderance, and on the basis that the populations of other countries have been fooled into rejecting the “benign” guidance of autocrats by outside interference, reveal the hypocrisy and self-interest of the ruling elite. Many seem willing to stoop to any fabrication so they can continue to steal for as long as possible, and ensure their business associates and allies abroad are protected.

According to the “Counter-Revolutionary Council”  we are to believe that revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine were the work of American political technologists; but nothing is mentioned of the electoral fraud which was the primary motivation for both of these events: Nothing is said about the abuse of administrative resources by Shevardnadze and Kuchma, or the intimidation, busing, carousel voting and ballot stuffing which were so blatant (especially in the second round of voting in Ukraine in November 2004). We are told that the people who participated in the subsequent Orange Revolution did so for a few Yankee dollars, but nothing is said of the crowds of hundreds of thousands which thronged the center of Kiev during the first days of protest shouting, “No to falsification!” even though it was widely expected that armed interior ministry troops would try to retake the city within hours.

Above all, nothing is said about the position of the Russian government; Vladimir Putin’s open support for Yanukovich in the campaign, nor Russian media support, nor the sources of the funding of the anti-Yushenko black-PR newsheets which seemed to litter every post-meeting park and pavement in Eastern Ukraine back then.

In the creation of the “Counter-Revolutionary Council” we see the (now matured) notion of “colour revolution” for what it is; a deliberate exaggeration of the capabilities and influence of western-backed NGO’s in events which were actually sparked by electoral fraud, and which, more fundamentally, reflected deep social ruptures stemming from the inequalities and indignities of crony capitalism and authoritarianism. This line of propagandizing is not new, and its historical lineage includes examples from the work of the KGB, NKVD, and even the Okhrana. The establishment of this latest body represents an additional stage in the political exploitation of these fantasies, with the aim of justifying repression at home and potentially abroad: If United Russia cheats in domestic elections, the rhetoric of paranoia and the spectre of American interference can be trotted out as justification. If further revolutions occur in the “near abroad” and intervention is required to ensure the interests of the elite and the requirements of realpolitik, the same justification can be applied.

But the “antidote” to colour revolutions does not lie in Duma Committees or “counter measures”. And it certainly doesn’t lie in military intervention; occupied populations quickly rebel.

The historical process of democratization that created the Rose and Orange Revolutions, and more recently the “Arab Spring” will eventually make its presence felt throughout the former Soviet space. As economies grow and populations become more connected with the outside world, this possibility becomes increasingly probable. But Russia must not make the same mistakes that the United States made in Afghanistan and Iraq: It must be wary of the temptation of ill-conceived foreign adventures on the basis of ideological myths (“Neo-conservatism” in the American case, “colour revolution in the Russian). Instead the “antidote” to colour revolutions lies in the acceptance of genuine democracy and self-determination both for Russia itself, and for the “near abroad”.

Posted in Colour Revolution | Leave a Comment »