Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Double Monopoly and Its Technologists: The Russian Preemptive Counterrevolution

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Double Monopoly and Its Technologists: The Russian Preemptive Counterrevolution

Article excerpt

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Ukraine's Orange Revolution captivated Russian political elites' attention like few other events in recent decades. A small segment of these elites welcomed the Oranges's victory, but a far larger portion cursed it. Neither side would deny, however, that these events have built a new frame of reference for Russian politics. Subsequent events, such as the 2006 "gas war," which the Russian government unsuccessfully launched against Ukraine, added to ambivalent sentiments of hostility and dependency. Frightened by a pro-European revolution in a country that Russian elites historically called "Little Russia" and perceived as a backward, though culturally similar, colony since the eighteenth century, the Russian leadership revised and radicalized its policies. The Kremlin's speeches and actions revealed that it desired two monopolies: control over energy and control over the application of violence.

The rhetorical shift from liberalism and modernization to the self-conscious reliance on this double monopoly became prominent only during Russian President Vladimir Putin's second term. In his first term, Putin and his administration maintained a general interest in such issues as democracy, social capital, the knowledge economy, support of small businesses, competitiveness, and so on.1 With energy revenue steadily rising, however, the Kremlin lost interest. The actual solidification of this new political stance emerged because of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution. Russian leaders found themselves presiding over political processes determined by events beyond their control. In central and eastern European countries, peaceful revolutions in the late 1980s and the early 1990s were not entirely autonomous. The political crises' domestic origins interacted with external models and pressures, which restricted national governments' ability to use force. When one country's revolution causes a chain reaction in other states with similar political regimes, scholars typically talk about "contagion," "the domino effect," or "the export of democracy."2 Evidently, exporting and importing political regimes is easier when partners are geographically and culturally close. In eastern Europe, Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 secret speech caused the Hungarian Revolution. In 1989, Soviet perestroika led to the eastern European velvet revolutions. Communism's collapse in eastern Europe consequently influenced political struggles in the Soviet Union.3 Later, the Soviet Union's disintegration served as the template used in the Balkans. The Serbian electoral revolution influenced similar processes in Georgia and Ukraine. The Georgian Rose Revolution's success was especially important for Ukraine. Currently, Russian political debate rarely goes without a reference-hostile, envious, or ambivalent-to the Orange Revolution.

The Technologists' Democratic Decorations

In Russia and Ukraine, the ruling regimes consolidated their power while holding onto the functioning decorations of a democratic order. In Belarus and the Central Asian states, these decorations were considered irrelevant, allowing autocrats to gain a stronger grasp on power. As Scott Gates and his coauthors prove, institutionally inconsistent regimes (those exhibiting both democratic and autocratic institutional characteristics) have shorter life spans than democracies and autocracies.4 Putin's uneasy compromise with democracy, which helped Russia establish its position as an international partner, demanded the state make serious but dramatically inconsistent investments. It produced a peculiar group of specialists from various backgrounds, which, in the absence of special training, evolved into a band of self-selected, autodidactic mercenaries. In Russian, these specialists are called "political technologists."5 Another name for them would be "political designers" or, rather, "political decorators."6

Democratic decoration is a difficult and risky art. …

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