Can Responsiveness Substitute Accountability?

Lessons from the Central and East European Laboratory of Populist Democracy. A paper presented at the conference ” Totalitarian Reverberations in East-Central Europe”, Faculty of European Studies, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, 26 October 2018.

Responsiveness characterizes a democratic process that „ induces the government to form and implement policies that the citizens want” (G. B. Powell). Populist parties advocate public policies that reflect the preferences of ordinary citizens, and their electoral success indicates that people believe their claims. Governing populist parties in Hungary, Poland and other Central and East European countries have systematically eroded institutions of democratic accountability, justifying these policies as measures to strengthen popular democracy and to fulfill the promises of the post-1989 democratic transitions. Although this erosion has been criticized as democratic backsliding and illiberal drift by scholars and international institutions, significant shares of voters continue to view it as steps towards a more responsive democracy. read more

Patterns of Democratic Backsliding

A paper for the ECPR General Conference, Hamburg, 25 August 2018, Panel 408: Same ingredients, different recipes: EU leverage and democratic backsliding in new member states and candidate countries

The subsequent economic and refugee crises have weakened the credibility of mainstream political parties in East-Central and Southeast Europe (ECSE) since prosperity and security no longer appear to be guaranteed consequences of European integration. The declining legitimacy of incumbents has provided opportunities for populist and anti-establishment mobilization. While these crisis-induced influences have been similar in all ECSE countries, the extent to which populist challengers have been able to win elections and form governments has varied significantly across countries. To explore these differences and assess the likelihood of populist electoral victories and subsequent illiberal policies in ECSE, the paper combines case studies of Hungary, Macedonia and Poland with a multivariate analysis of party systems, issue dimensions and cleavage configurations. It is argued that populist parties have attained political majorities through bipolar party competition, facilitated by congruent cleavages, particularly the congruence between sociocultural and EU-related cleavages. Based upon a comparison of the country cases, the paper discusses conditions that could constrain the illiberal erosion of democracy in ECSE.

Legitimation Functions and Legitimacy Resources

A typology for the analysis of post-Soviet countries, presented at the Joint Bavarian-Russian Conference on Interdisciplinary Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Bayreuth, 7-8 June 2018

Recent studies of legitimation patterns in authoritarian and democratic regimes have used a variety of classifications. Reviewing these approaches, I presented an integrative typology of legitimation functions and legitimacy resources based on David Beetham’s concept of political legitimacy.  According to Beetham, the legitimate exercise of power must conform to established rules, the rules need to be justifiable by reference to shared beliefs, and the given relations of power require the express consent of subordinates.

To meet these criteria, my paper claims that ruling elites must demonstrate their ability and will to enforce rules, respond to the preferences of citizens and stage public manifestations of popular approval. Drawing on empirical examples from post-Soviet countries, the paper argues that insufficient and problematic rational-legal, ideological and electoral resources of legitimacy have made post-Soviet political regimes particularly dependent on their capacities to provide mass prosperity, public security and other public goods. Weaker socioeconomic performance has eroded these capacities and contributed to the activation of nationalist frames.

Organized by Rudolf Schuessler, University of Bayreuth, and BAYHOST, the conference was a prime occasion to present the state of the art at the intersection of philosophy, economics and political science. Russian participants included scholars from the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Download the conference program: Bayreuth_Programme

See also: Politische Legitimität

Politics and Legitimacy in Post-Soviet Eurasia

Back to the Future?

Retrograde Modernization in Russia and the Post-Soviet Region

A Cross-Disciplinary Conference Organized by KomPost and the German Association for East European Studies (DGO), Berlin 23-24 October 2015

Levels of economic development, income and education provide a firm structural basis for democracy in Russia. However, an authoritarian model of government has prevailed and has even taken stronger hold of society in recent years. This trend is all the more puzzling since the political leadership has been less able to rely on economic growth to legitimize its rule. Governing elites are essentially confined to symbolic resources of legitimacy, such as historical grievances, threat perceptions, notions of exceptionalism and imperial identity.

In employing these resources, incumbent elites evoke ghosts of a past that appears to be more present now than during Russia’s departure for democracy in the 1990s or during the prosperous 2000s. Reviving the territorial thinking of the 19th and 20th century, Crimea’s incorporation is used to demonstrate Russia’s reconstitution as a great power. Novorossiya, a historical region annexed by Tsarist Russia, serves to establish a Russian claim on Ukrainian territory. Russia is framed as subject to Western “containment” strategies, borrowing from the terminological arsenal of the Cold War. In a romanticizing fashion, political representatives assume Russian culture to harbor and cherish traditional values that are deemed to be threatened by neglect and relativism in the West. The official rhetoric of economic reform resuscitates the idea of “import substitution” from the economic development agenda of the 1960s. Contemporary notions of “conservatory modernization” and “innovatization” are reminiscent of pseudo-reform discourses shaping the Brezhnev era.

The conference analyzed how political actors use references of the past to interpret and justify their policies. How do these references and quotations fit into the official frame of Russia as a non-Western civilization and an alternative to Western moral permissiveness? Can elements of what may be termed “retro-modernization” provide a viable ideology for authoritarian rule? What do we know about their appeal among Russian elites and in Russian society? How do critics of official discourses and policies relate to the appropriation and reactivation of traditions? How do neotraditionalist ideas resonate in other post-Soviet countries?

Drawing on work from the research network ‘Institutions and institutional change in Postsocialism’, the conference panels discussed ideas and strategies of retrograde modernization in discourses about the role of the state, economic policy and Russian culture.

Program: Retro_2015

Report (in German): Tagungsbericht

Authoritarian Governance in Eurasia: the Creation and Contestation of Institutional Legitimacy

Conference of the project network “Institutions and Institutional Change in Postsocialism”, 28-30 November 2013, Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung, and Ludwig-Maximilian-University, Munich

Eurasian states hold regular elections, but few political regimes in the region meet democratic standards. Non-democratic arrangements of governance have emerged and persisted despite the ‘color revolutions’ and their challenge to incumbents manipulating elections. This situation has generated significant scholarly interest and has resulted in a growing number of studies examining the sources of authoritarian stability. However, this field of research in the social sciences has hitherto been dominated by instrumentalist views of institutions that emphasize the engineering of institutions by utility-maximizing political actors. Institutions are sets of rules structuring interactions, but they are also defined by their legitimatory functions that are embedded in shared historical and cultural understandings. Due to this embeddedness, authoritarian rulers may not create political institutions at will. Rather, political elites depend on their ideational abilities to communicate their actions as meeting expectations of appropriateness. These abilities enable and constrain actors’ use of available frames, discourses, traditions, norms and practices in order to confer legitimacy on the institutions they seek to reform and build.

The envisaged workshop focuses on these legitimatory functions of institutions and the legitimation strategies of political actors in consolidating and contesting authoritarian governance: How do ruling political actors draw on the repertoire of legitimations available in a given national culture and history? How do they generate popular loyalty and elite-wide acceptance for institutions stabilizing their political authority, given that any authoritarian pretensions would be normatively unacceptable in public discourse? Sources of institutional legitimacy include culturally ingrained ideas of national identity, historical experience, constitutional rule, effective government, political leadership, economic development, but also the rituals of waging and solving social or political conflict. Ruling elites interpret these ideas in ways that link their particular institution-building projects to historically and culturally accepted practice.

The proposed focus on legitimation implies that political domination can not rely on coercion or repression alone, but also presupposes voluntary compliance of people or elite groups that is based on beliefs about legitimate authority. Since rulers can not enforce such compliance unilaterally, it is appropriate to conceive this process of claiming and granting legitimacy as ‘governance’, a term introduced to highlight the non-hierarchical and societal dimensions of governing. In accordance with this broader view, the workshop asks how institutional legitimacy is contested, eroded and destroyed. Which legitimatory strategies are chosen by protest and opposition actors and how have these strategies altered the symbolic political field of legitimation?

By linking institutional politics and change to culture and history, the workshop seeks to facilitate scholarly exchanges across disciplinary boundaries. In addition, the workshop intends to look beyond Eurasia and encourage comparisons with legitimatory struggles and authoritarian governance in other regions of the world.

Download program: Program_131130_pub

Contributions to the Conference have been published here.

Twenty Years after the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Change, Continuity and New Challenges

Conference organized by the Project Network “Institutions and Institutional Change in Postsocialism“, German Association for East European Studies (DGO) and Frankfurt Institute for Transformation Studies (FIT), Berlin 1-3 December 2011

plakat_webThe dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 marked the collapse of a state, of an empire, and of a project of an alternative modernity. Initially, the collapse of the “Soviet civilization” seemed to provide an opportunity for the countries of the CEE and Eurasia to arrive in the West with its capitalist democracies, its liberal individualist values, and a global pax americana. History as a struggle between ideologies appeared to have reached its (liberal) end. This was an error of judgement, however. Since then, new, non-Western powers and global threats have emerged, and the historico-political region “Eastern Europe” has disappeared. Today, this region is more diverse than any other region in the world: while most of the countries of Central and Southeast Europe adapt successfully to the liberal standards of the West and are now members of the European Union, the post-Soviet states have embarked on a search for alternatives. Here, we encounter authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes and state-run capitalist economies, new regional cooperation and security alliances, as well as attempts to develop local models or to learn from other non-Western experiences, especially from China and the Asian “tigers”.

On the one hand, the conference aims to inquire after the essence of developments that are generally referred to as “post-Soviet”. The post-Soviet states did not emerge out of a tabula rasa. On the contrary, actors were confronted with the problem of how to overcome as quickly as possible the early uncertainty about rules, the constellation of relevant actors and available institutional options. Thus, actors referred to historical legacies, borrowed from international experiences, and engaged in experiments. The dynamics of these experiments, their (provisional) outcomes, and their functional as well as normative consequences will be discussed in the panels. On the other hand, the international impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union will be analyzed in terms of international relations as well as of lessons learned by actors in other parts of the world.

Conference program:SU_Anniversary_Program

Reader:SU_Anniversary_Reader