Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Mexico and Russia: Mirror Images?

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Mexico and Russia: Mirror Images?

Article excerpt

Does Mexico's past experience as a "managed democracy" have any relevance for understanding developments in contemporary Russia? (1) At first glance, there are important dissimilarities between Mexico and Russia. Russia is the core of a collapsed superpower, with a highly developed industrial and scientific infrastructure; Mexico is a developing nation. Russia has great power pretensions and is a major regional actor, whereas Mexico has subsisted largely in the shadow of its neighbor to the north. However, as far back as the 1940s, American journalist W. L. White suggested that Americans could better understand developments in Russia through a comparison with Mexico. (2) More recently, Guillermo O'Donnell, among others, has drawn important and useful comparisons between the countries of Latin America and Eastern Europe in their respective paths toward democracy, and Robert Leiken, in a recent Foreign Affairs article, has cited the importance of the comparison between Mexico and Russia. (3)

Russia and Mexico share a number of common elements in their respective political cultures. Mexico's view of itself as an "Ibero-American" fusion of European and Indian components is echoed by the notion of Russia as a "Eurasian" society, bridging the gap between European, Islamic, and Asian civilizations. Both countries have strong authoritarian and socialist-communalist currents, which have played a major role in shaping the political culture. (4)

What is most striking, however, is the degree to which Russia under President Vladimir Putin appears to be moving toward the creation of a political regime of managed democracy that resembles what emerged in Mexico after the 1940s under the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The post-Soviet regime that is taking shape appears to be based on a ruling party able to manage a coalition of propresidential political and business interests united by the desire to prevent the "opposition"--both political and economic--from ever achieving real power. This is combined with presidential "coordination" of key social and cultural institutions in civil society (with selected acts of repression designed to elucidate the limits of pluralism). (5) A description of Mexico under the rule of the PRI could just as easily be applied to Putin's Russia: (6) the PRI is a regime "emphasizing political stability with economic growth," which aspires to "cement existing changes but shield the system from further revolutionary change"; it is characterized by an "unusually strong executive" who initiates legislation and policy; ambiguity exists between "ample individual freedoms and ... restricted organizational freedoms." (7)

In fact, there are four principal areas where one can draw useful comparisons between the managed democracy of Mexico under the PRI and what is emerging in Russia under Putin: the creation of a presidential "ruling" party; the managing of the electoral process; the ways in which lines of communication between the regime and key social and economic actors are created and maintained; and the defining of the limits of dissent within the confines of the "politics of stability." If, as many senior Russian officials claim, the period of reform--that is to say, radical changes to the country's political and economic system--is coming to a close, (8) then a system that mixes democratic and pluralist elements with authoritarian tendencies is the most probable outcome. (9) The political regime that the PRI created and maintained in Mexico--likewise mixing democratic and authoritarian features--showed a great deal of resilience, lasting for over seven decades. Its supporters maintain that it ensured political stability and tranquillity (bypassing the cycle of military coups that so afflicted the rest of Latin America), allowed for the development of a flourishing civil society, and promoted economic development. (10) Ultimately, it paved the way for greater democratization, as well as closer economic integration with the United States. …

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