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.
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
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.