Author Archives: irasoboleva

Eugeny Feldman. Navalny in Penza.

Navalny’s Gamesters

While much of the work on contemporary autocracy, and on the post-Soviet states, focuses on elite defection as the core challenge to regime stability, we highlight the potential for popular challenges in protest and elections. Work on the Russian opposition largely focused on support for the FFE (For Fair Elections) street protests that began in response to electoral falsification. This approach overlooks the importance of the vote protest that preceded the street actions and galvanized Russian society.

We show that electoral victories in electoral authoritarian regimes can mask significant changes in the mechanisms that maintain those victories. These changes can lead to seemingly rapid regime disintegration or authoritarian control. Thus, while the literature points to exogenous shocks or incumbent missteps as the source regime change, opposition innovation that challenges and alters the state’s equilibrium can also be a mechanism of systemic change. Most significantly, we show that electoral outcomes are not always reliable indicators of electoral authoritarian stability because those outcomes mask a constantly shifting set of electoral processes and mechanism for state control that can produce seemingly sudden and dramatic political change.

Navalny’s Gamesters: Protest, Opposition Innovation, and Authoritarian Stability in Russia. Russian Politics. 2016 Vol.1. No.4. P.347-371 (Regina Smyth & Irina Soboleva) [SSRN]

Click here for the paper’s review featured on the Republic website.

Featured image: Eugeny Feldman. Navalny in Penza.


Rene Magritte. The Mysteries of Horizon.

LGBT and Homophobia Campaigns

How do homo- and bisexual people explain the launch of a homophobia campaign that violates their basic human rights? Which narratives do they use to adjust to the hostile environment? We explore the explanations they use to talk about their experience of a homophobia campaign. Respondents demonstrate their awareness of the political reasoning behind the campaign and explain it as a tool for electoral mobilization, the repression of pro-Western oriented opposition and as a part of biopolitical technologies adopted by the government to increase its control over people’s bodies and minds. Contrary to intuitive expectations, this political awareness does not protect the informants from self-blame, social escapism, and moral suffering.

Political Awareness and Self-Blame in the Explanatory Narratives of LGBT People Amid the Anti-LGBT Campaign in Russia. Sexuality and Culture. 2015 Vol.19. No.2. P.275-296 (Irina Soboleva & Yaroslav Bakhmetjev) [SSRN]

Featured Image: Rene Magritte. The Mysteries of Horizon.

Protests in Moscow

Defining Common Ground?

This chapter explores the structure of the national conversation: the narratives that emerged from within the pro- and anti-regime street actions and among the observers, those who chose not to participate in political action. With evidence from an original survey and focus group data, we argue that these events identified some of the most salient issues contentious issues in Russian politics, from the need for reform, to the costs of corruption, and the best guarantor of Russia’s political future. We find that in the period of protest these issues were bundled into the grievances, goals, and identities forged within the pro- and anti-government activists.

Defining Common Ground: The Language of Network Mobilization in Russian Protests, in: Civil Society Awakens? The Systemic and Non-Systemic Opposition in the Russian Federation: National and Regional Dimensions. London: Ashgate, 2015 (with Regina Smyth, Luke Shimek, Anton Sobolev) [SSRN]

Featured Image: Protests in Moscow, March 26, 2017 © AP Photo, Dmitri Lovetsky

Pussy Riot

Looking Beyond the Economy

The arrest of the protest punk band Pussy Riot in March 2012 and the subsequent prosecution of three band members pose a significant puzzle for political science. Although Pussy Riot’s performances presented a coherent alternative to the Putin regime’s image of Russian reality, it was unlikely that the discordant music and crude lyrics of their art protest would inspire Russian society to take to the streets. Yet, the regime mounted a very visible prosecution against the three young women. We argue that the trial marked a shift in the Kremlin’s strategy to shape state–society relations. In the face of declining economic conditions and social unrest, the PR trial encapsulated the Kremlin’s renewed focus on three related mechanisms to ensure social support: coercion, alliance building, and symbolic politics. The PR trial afforded the Kremlin an important opportunity to simultaneously redefine its loyal constituency, secure the Church-state relationship, and stigmatize the opposition.

Looking Beyond the Economy: Pussy Riot and the Kremlin’s Voting Coalition. Post-Soviet Affairs. 2014. Vol. 30. No. 4. P. 257-275 (Regina Smyth & Irina Soboleva) [SSRN]

Featured Image: Pussy Riot Action.

Forest Fire

Trial by Fire

This paper shows that active government performance, in addition to generous aid, increases loyalty to the authorities among people directly affected by the disaster and those who could observe governmental performance. This is especially striking given that many people did blame the government for the occurrence of forest fires. Thus our study draws attention to the need to consider the government’s response and the passage of time in order to resolve the difference in findings between the blind retrospection and voter gratitude literatures. In other words, in situations where governments have time and ability to respond to disasters with effective relief, blame no longer translates into constituent vengeance.

Trial by Fire: A Natural Disaster’s Impact on Support for the Authorities in Rural Russia. World Politics. 2014. Vol. 66. No. 4 (with Yegor Lazarev, Anton Sobolev, Boris Sokolov) [SSRN]

Featured Image: National Geographic.

Carnevale di Venezia.

A Well-Organized Play

Pro-Putin rallies before the 2012 presidential elections became campaign venues in which the Kremlin used political symbols—woven into a narrative of nationalism and tradition—to define and activate core voters across the Russian Federation.

Our analysis illustrates the Kremlin’s agility in response to opposition protests and the debacle of the December 2011 parliamentary elections. it also underscores the evolution of Kremlin strategies from a reliance on cooption to more coercive strategies—a trend that continued after Putin’s election in March. 14 these strategies were successful in mobilizing core voters, creating a common identity among participants, and containing the electoral effects of the opposition protests. the Kremlin’s strategy also, however, introduced significant costs that are likely to have long-term effects.

A Well-Organized Play: Symbolic Politics and the Effect of the Pro-Putin Rallies. Problems of Post-Communism. 2013. Vol. 60. No. 2. P. 24-39 (with Regina Smyth, Anton Sobolev) [SSRN]

Featured Image: Carnevale di Venezia.