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]
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Featured image: Eugeny Feldman. Navalny in Penza.
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.
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.