Russia’s Passionate Appeal for Authoritarianism

by Nathan Hamm on 8/16/2005 · 4 comments

MosNews reports that the Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a warning against “forcibly democratizing” former Soviet states.

“We cannot agree with the methods of forcibly democratizing the whole former Soviet region, whether this is using colored revolutions or using political pressure through the media on existing authorities,” said Grigory Karasin, a Russian deputy foreign minister. “This would unavoidably lead to the destabilization of the situation in the region, bringing serious long-term difficulties and unforeseeable consequences, including in the sense of a rise in extremism.”

Karasin, Russia’s top official for links with the 12-nation CIS, made the comments in official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta amid preparations for next week’s summit of the main ex-Soviet grouping. His comments followed a series of statements from President Vladimir Putin and security officials, who have accused charities and human rights groups of being fronts for spies aiming to form a less assertive government in Moscow.

It’s things like this that make me sometimes wish that the world would stop indulging the Russian government by treating it as anything but a bully who is constantly revealed to be something of a pathetic joke.

Really though, this point of view fascinates me. I couldn’t find the right words to say something intelligent about it in regards to yesterday’s post on Azerbaijan’s leaders. But it seems to me that this strongly-held belief that popular protests happen because of outside agitation rather than in reaction to domestic policy failures is a pretty dangerous one to have. After all, in each of the countries in the former Soviet Union where the US is accused of having “forced democracy,” I would cite the influence of the likes of NDI, Soros, etc. as an important reason why protests maintained organization, focus, and a low-level of violence.

I would assume that any and all of the leaders in the former Soviet Union looking to point a finger at the US for political discontent in their domains also believe that political and economic liberalization are not priorities. But misinterpreting the intentions of and spurning the US and other western states seeking to offer democratization assistance seems like a surefire way of sharing Ceaucescu’s fate rather than Shevardnadze’s.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Brian August 16, 2005 at 12:17 pm

It’s really common to think that democracy leads to the rise of extremism, because democracy necessitates free speech which means extremist movments can openly tout their message and run for office. But I think the evidence doesn’t support this. Where Islamic countries have had relatively free, open elections violent extremist movments have done rather poorly. In Indonesia’s recent election the fundamentalist Islamic parties only scored in the single digits. Futhermore it’s seen by Hamas’s rather low scores in the recent Palestinian elections that when given a reasonable, positive alternative, most people will tend not to vote extremist. Same thing in Lebanon. Even in Iraq, you can definitely argue that the people didn’t want to usher in a strong Islamic government with their votes. Kyrgyzstan’s recent election is an anomaly, but note that strong Islamist parties or groups did not really gain any traction… through the electoral process or otherwise.

The way to get to a democratic-type government is open for debate, and there are always exceptions, but I think if a country can get to the point where it can pull off a stable, open election they’ll generally have moderation, not extremism voted in.

Matt W August 16, 2005 at 3:37 pm

I’ve also been struck by the propensity of many Russians to assert that democracy doesn’t really exist anywhere– taking a “so hey, why should we even try?” attitude. They think it’s all money power and hidden oligarchic interests and act as though there cannot be a middle ground or degrees of democracy.

And since the standard view is that the “little nations”, as Stalin began to call the smaller republics back in his days as Commissar of Nationalities, can’t do anything on their own, then there must be some hidden hand behind everything that goes on there. Since this gets broadcasted on Russian television to the exclusion of other views, it’s really damaging for elite perceptions in the countries that rely on Russian TV only for their news.

I just got back from some time in Ukraine, which seems to be doing really well. Hopefully, at least some of the color revolutions will yield a former Soviet republic that, in 10 years or so, is doing undeniably better than Russia. Maybe seeing that will jar them out of their paranoid, autocratic downward spiral.

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