Autocratization in Post-Soviet Eurasia

forthc. in: Routledge Handbook of Autocratization, ed. by A. Croissant and L. Tomini

My chapter maps the scholarly discussion on autocratization processes in post-Soviet states. Autocratization is understood broadly, as a decline of democratic qualities that may be limited to changes within a political regime, but may also lead to a change of a given political regime. This dual notion of regime change is important for the post-Soviet region and its scholarship, as autocratization has occured while the question of what constitutes a political regime, that is, its values, norms and structures of authority, continue to be contested among political actors. read more

Resilience to the Pandemic Not Only Depends on Enforcement Capacity

A commentary for International IDEA’s website

As COVID-19 virus infections are spreading across the world, the factors enabling states to cope with the pandemic have become the subject of intense public debate. High-income countries can rely on a much more developed hospital infrastructure to treat patients in critical conditions. However, economic wealth is not the only factor influencing the response capacities of states. China has demonstrated that it is possible to limit the spread of the disease by enforcing strict measures of social distancing and isolation.   read more

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. read more

The Conditional Impact of Democracy Conditions

How the European Union interacts with political competition in Eastern Partnership countries

Studia Europaea, 62 1 2017, 141-160

In the debate about the European Neighbourhood Policy, two positions may be distinguished: those who propose a stricter and more consistent use of democratic conditionality, prioritizing democracy over other EU objectives – and those who refuse to set compliance with democratic standards as a precondition for support, expecting democracy to emerge from closer linkages. The paper argues that both positions do not sufficiently recognize the selective effectiveness of EU conditionality. Democracy conditions can become effective if (1) dense societal, economic and cultural ties with the EU support their domestic acceptance  and (2) ruling political elites are faced with a competitive opposition.

While the EU can not generate or reinforce domestic political competition in Eastern Partnership countries, its democracy conditions can become effective in competitive constellations by helping domestic political actors to agree on institutional constraints to executive authority or on mechanisms of executive accountability. The EU’s democracy conditions remain ineffective in less competitive political systems, because their ruling political elites lack incentives to cooperate with the opposition.

Download the full paper: Brusis_StudiaEuropaea

Politische Legitimität

Sozialwissenschaftliche Diskussion und Herrschaftsressource im postsowjetischen Raum.

Gutachten für das Zentrum für Internationale und Osteuropastudien

Ziel der Studie ist es, den Stand der sozialwissenschaftlichen Forschung zu politischer Legitimität zusammenzufassen und zu analysieren, inwieweit Legitimationsstrategien politischer Eliten und Legitimitätsauffassungen in der Bevölkerung zur Stabilisierung politischer Regime in postsowjetischen Staaten beitragen. Die Studie ist in sechs Abschnitte gegliedert. read more

Politics and Legitimacy in Post-Soviet Eurasia

New Publication


Political legitimacy has become a scarce resource in Russia and other post-Soviet states in Eurasia. Their capacity to deliver prosperity has suffered from economic crisis, the conflict in Ukraine and the ensuing confrontation with the West. Will nationalism and repression enable political regimes to survive?

This book investigates the politics of legitimation in post-Soviet countries, focusing on how political and intellectual elites exploit different modes of legitimation. Combining cross-national comparisons and country case studies, it addresses state-economy relations, pro-presidential parties, courts, ideas of nationhood, historical and literary narratives. read more

Next Generation Democracy

Trends and Scenarios for Post-Soviet Eurasia

NGD Logo

Two reports for the “Next Generation Democracy” project, a multi-stakeholder process under the coordination of the Club de Madrid, the world’s largest forum of former democratic Presidents and Prime Ministers. The overall aim of NGD is to better enable democracy to meet the expectations and needs of all citizens and preserve their freedom and dignity while securing a sustainable future for generations to come.

NGD facilitates a discussion on the state and future of democracy in order to formulate both regional agendas and a global agenda, to reverse disquieting trends and advance democracy worldwide. The project progressively offers a comprehensive analysis of regional dynamics in democratic governance, a projection of relevant trends, and a compilation of transformative practices and transformative ideas to be discussed in a series of policy dialogues as well as through on-line exchanges. This will help generate collective responses, rather than fragmented and independent actions, and shape consensus around shared, forward-looking, action-oriented agendas. read more

Symbolische Orientierungsleistungen und -erwartungen in postsowjetischen Gesellschaften

Workshop des Kompetenznetzes  „Institutionen und institutioneller Wandel im Postsozialismus“, München 21.-22.11.2014

Empirische Studien zur Politischen Kultur in Russland und anderen postsowjetischen Staaten haben beobachtet, dass politische Meinungen und Präferenzen stärker durch Wertvorstellungen geleitet werden als durch persönliche Alltagserfahrungen oder ökonomische Interessen. Dieses Phänomen wurde damit erklärt, dass viele Bürger/-innen die materiellen Konsequenzen ihrer Wahlentscheidungen nicht antizipieren können, da keine politischen Parteien mit kohärenten Programmen und klaren Handlungsalternativen existieren. Stattdessen dominiere die Polarität von Staatsmacht und Opposition. Nach dem Ende des staatssozialistischen Systems herrsche große Unsicherheit über gesellschaftliche und politische sowie nationale und moralische Leitbilder; zudem sei die politische Agenda durch Grundsatzfragen statt durch inkrementale Adjustierungen wie in den westlichen Demokratien geprägt.

Diese Erklärungsansätze legen die Vermutung nahe, dass instabile intermediäre Institutionen auch die politischen Eliten veranlassen, ihre öffentliche Kommunikation an Wertvorstellungen statt an pragmatischen Gesichtspunkten oder Zweckmäßigkeiten auszurichten. Die symbolischen Orientierungsleistungen der Eliten scheinen insofern mit den Orientierungserwartungen in der Bevölkerung verbunden.

Seit etwa 2012 lassen sich in Russland jedoch zwei Veränderungen feststellen. Zum einen formierte sich eine breite Protestbewegung, die von vielen Beobachtern als Repräsentation der neuen urbanen Mittelschichten bestimmt und damit als unterscheidbare gesellschaftliche Gruppe mit relativ homogenen Wertvorstellungen verortet wurde. Zum anderen bezog sich der russische Präsident in seinen programmatischen Reden in größerem Maße als früher auf die russische Nation, Tradition und Identität. In dieser Kontinuität wurde die Annexion der Krim als patriotischer Akt nationaler Gerechtigkeit dargestellt und von vielen befragten Russen/-innen begrüßt.

Vor diesem Hintergrund diskutierte der Workshop das Verhältnis von symbolischen Orientierungsleistungen und -erwartungen. Bezeichnen die Veränderungen seit 2012 das Ende der postsowjetischen Übergangszeit verunsicherter Leitbilder und die institutionelle Konsolidierung eines autoritären Regimes? Oder setzen sie die wertlastige Kommunikation fort, die schwache Institutionen ersetzte? Falls diese Kontinuität überwiegt, wie reflektieren konservativ-nationalistische Rhetorik und Politik die zunehmende Differenzierung und Pluralisierung der russischen Gesellschaft? Inwieweit reagieren der Präsident und die herrschende politische Elite auf veränderte Orientierungserwartungen in der Bevölkerung und inwieweit versuchen sie diese zu transformieren? Mit welchen Methoden lässt sich das Verhältnis von symbolischen Orientierungsleistungen und -erwartungen erforschen?


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.

Trade Liberalization and Democracy

A Research Note for the Policy Planning Staff, Federal Foreign Office of Germany, 10 June 2013


The aim of the proposed study is to analyze whether trade liberalization has facilitated market economy and democracy, how to reinforce this impact through complementary policies and how to use trade liberalization to achieve a democratization in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This study is to be elaborated in a cooperation between economists and political scientists, and its findings / policy recommendations are to be discussed and agreed with scholars from France and Poland. To organize this cooperation, the research questions need to be addressed and operationalized in different modules.

The present notes describe how a political analysis module could contribute to this study. The analysis proposed here should discuss the plausibility of the different causal mechanisms that link trade liberalization to democratization, in view of the political situation in Russia and the other post-Soviet states. There is a significant body of quantitative, large-n research on the relationship between trade liberalization / globalization and democratization. Based upon a cursory review of the literature, one can state that existing studies do not unequivocally confirm a positive impact of trade liberalization on democracy (see table). This is, inter alia, due to the underspecification of the response variable and the causal heterogeneity associated with variable-centered quantitative research. Since these studies are designed to identify mean effects for a large number of cases, they do not explore country-specific configurations of causal factors.