Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Post-Communist Informal Networking: Blat in the South Caucasus

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Post-Communist Informal Networking: Blat in the South Caucasus

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article provides an empirical analysis of the South Caucasus' post-communist blat--a system of informal inter-personal networks operating on principles emphasizing reciprocal exchanges of favors. An intricate web of blat networks emerged in the Soviet Union as a result of the communist takeover of the public sphere, which in conjunction with the chronic shortage of goods and commodities gave birth to an immense shadow economy in which favors were a key currency. This study argues that blat in the contemporary South Caucasus, far from being a vestige of the communist past, occupies a significant part in political, economic and social life of the region. While there is little doubt that the contemporary informal networking is a legacy of the Soviet era, the blat-culture in the South Caucasus has evolved since the end of Soviet rule from commodities to services. In contrast to blat networking in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union, blat in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia is deeply entangled in the kinship and clan politics that pervade the region's elitist and hierarchical structures. As this study concludes, although blat-based informal networking generates social capital and provides its participants with material and social benefits, it presents a serious challenge for efforts aimed at building democracy and invigorating civil society in the South Caucasus.

**********

The decades of Soviet rule in the South Caucasus and the subsequent demise of state communism in the early 1990s not only left the region engulfed in armed conflicts sparked by the growth of nationalism, but also affected the post-Soviet societal transition. Economic shortages and ineffective governments, in conjunction with many other plagues of the post-communist transformation in the former Soviet Union, could not but lead to the revival of informal practices and the rise of the informal "economy of favors," well-known in Soviet times by its popular name --blat. Sustained by paternalistic patron-client relations and a staunch reliance on kinship and clan networks, the shadowy practices of blat, no less than they were in Soviet days, are omnipresent in the contemporary South Caucasus. Yet, blat in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, both as a Soviet legacy and a post-communist phenomenon, is hardly ever discussed, let alone studied in academic literature. In recent decades, scholars have published numerous studies on blat in post-Soviet Russia. (1) However, only a handful of research works ever mentioned blat networks in the post-communist Caucasus. (2) To date little is known about the exact structure, modes of operation and organization of informal blat networks in the South Caucasus.

This article incorporates the author's personal observations of blat practices in post-communist Azerbaijan, multiple conversations with individuals from different parts of the former Soviet Caucasus, and an analysis of representative surveys combined with a review of the relevant academic literature in the field. The bulk of the survey data in this study comes from the Caucasus Barometer Project run by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), a South Caucasus-based research institute, which produces annual nationwide representative surveys in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. This article also relies on public surveys conducted by the Policy, Advocacy and Civil Society Development Project in Georgia (G-PAC), the all-Union representative surveys by the Institute of Sociology at the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, available through the Russian Joint Economic and Sociological Data Archive, (3) and to a lesser degree data from the World Values Survey (WVS). For secondary data this study employs literature on social capital and informal networking in the post-communist South Caucasus and Russia, as well as studies examining Soviet informal practices.

I use the analysis of the post-communist and Soviet survey data and the secondary literature to answer a number of questions: What are the main characteristics of blat networking in the South Caucasus? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.