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. read more

Contestation and Democracy in Eastern Europe

Keynote Lecture, Annual Graduate Conference for East European Studies, Akademie für Politische Bildung Tutzing, 19 June 2015Movie Rings (2017)

  • Is East European politics more contested than in the past?
  • Why has public contestation increased?
  • How does increased contestation influence democracy and the prospects of democratization in Eastern Europe?
(c) Martin Brusis

Report (in German):JOE2015_AkPB_Report

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

Zur Lage der Demokratie in Osteuropa

Ein Interview für das WDR-Osteuropamagazin, 6.7.2014

Den ostmittel- und südosteuropäischen Staaten hat die Krise der Eurozone vor Augen geführt, welchen Anpassungszwängen weniger wettbewerbsfähige Länder ausgesetzt sind und welche sozialen und politischen Erschütterungen die erzwungenen inneren Abwertungen auslösen können. Die Konflikte innerhalb der Währungsunion und die anhaltende Rezession in den südeuropäischen Staaten belegen, dass ein Beitritt zur EU und zur Eurozone weder eine Gewähr für ökonomische Stabilität und Entwicklung bietet, noch als Kompass für eigene Reformen ausreicht. Zudem hat die Krise die Bruchlinien zwischen den Wirtschafts- und Sozialmodellen und den zu Grunde liegenden politischen Ökonomien in Nordwest- und Südeuropa vertieft.

Mein Bericht für den Transformation Index analysiert, wie sich diese Prozesse auf die Lage der Demokratie in Ostmittel- und Südosteuropa auswirken. Die Befunde aus diesem Bericht waren Thema des Interviews.




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.

Making Reform Happen

Towards a Diagnostic Framework

Keynote paper for the SELLER Network Conference, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, 21-25 May 2012, Budva


The present paper suggests a conceptual framework that disentangles the “politics of policy reform” as a chain of delegation and accountability relations. This framework shall help reformers and consultants to analyze weak links in the chain. The proposed approach overlaps with the notion of a policy cycle, but focuses on political actors and their interdependence, while avoiding the temporal, institutionalized sequence associated with the cycle idea.

Since policy reforms can be defined as changes of the status quo that enhance aggregate welfare in the longterm perspective, they can be assumed to reflect enlightened self-interests of a majority of citizens. Making reforms could thus be conceived in a wide sense as the challenge of translating citizens’ policy preferences into policies. But this chain from citizens to civil servants consists of many links that involve the delegation of authority and are fraught with problems of agency: that agents do not faithfully pursue the interests of their principals. Principal-agent theory has distinguished two types of agency problems: principals are unable to choose the right agents (called adverse selection) or principals are unable to control the behavior of their agents once a contractual relationship has been set up (moral hazard). To contain these agency problems in the political process, principals have established mechanisms of political accountability. Accountability implies that a principal has a right to demand information from an agent, and a capacity to impose sanctions.

The present paper argues that sustainable policy reforms depend on functioning delegation and accountability links. It is not enough to develop the enforcement capacities of agents through technical assistance projects. More attention should be paid to strengthening their accountability and avoiding “agency loss”. Five links may be distinguished in the chain of accountability and delegation: 1. citizens –> political parties; 2. political parties –> parliamentary deputies; 3. parliament –> government; 4. core executive –> ministers; 5. ministers –> state administration. Note that this chain simplifies a variety of more complex empirical accountability relations. One could also add a sixth link existing between government and independent public agencies and other implementing organizations belonging to the private or non-profit sector. But this link will not be covered here as the focus is on politics and the public sector. The five main links will now be discussed and illustrated with evidence from Southeast Europe and Eurasia.

White Paper on Multi-Level Governance

In 2009, the EU Committee of Regions adopted a White Paper on Multi-Level Governance. During the public consultation of this document, I prepared the following opinion:

From a theoretical perspective, the most convincing strategy of institutional design would be to ensure a congruence between those affected by policies and those eligible to elect the political representatives who decide on these policies. Such a congruence of constituencies would create the best conditions for policymakers to be held accountable for their policies and thus strengthen the incentives for responsive policymaking. In contrast, an incongruence between those responsible for and those affected by a policy would provide incentives for unaccountable and unresponsive policymaking (e.g. negative external effects, moral hazard, freeriding).

The congruence principle would imply that public functions are assigned to the territorial level (jurisdiction) that can be expected to (a) perform these functions most effectively, (b) comprises all important stakeholders and addressees of a given policy. Most importantly, congruence would suggest avoiding the sharing of responsibilities for policies between different territorial levels, because power sharing arrangements may dilute responsibilities and thus public accountability.

I see the subsidiarity principle as detached from its communitarian and organicist connotations and merely as an evaluative instrument (a heuristic) to achieve a clear assignment of functions to territorial levels, starting from the smallest jurisdiction. In principle, one could of course also start from the largest jurisdiction and ask whether smaller jurisdictions have comparative advantages in performing functions.

Thus, if multilevel governance means joint or nested governance, democratic theory would expect accountability problems to emerge. However, there are policy issues that can be most effectively addressed if different tiers of government cooperate. To ensure a maximum degree of accountability and participation, cooperation on multi-level problems should take place on a voluntary basis, not within an institutional framework that makes actions taken by one tier of government dependent on the approval of other tiers. In my view, the essence of the “partnership” model of governance suggested by the White Paper (p. 11) is (a) an equal democratic status of local, regional, national and European tiers of government and (b) the voluntary cooperation among these different tiers. Voluntary cooperation presupposes a mutual recognition of the partner’s democratic legitimacy. As democratic legitimacy does not necessarily require a “thick” identitarian attachment of citizens to one tier of government but is ensured through participation and accountability mechanisms, the EU tier of government relies on independent sources of democratic legitimacy and qualifies as a partner of equal status.

I do not assume that the current allocation of public functions to tiers of government in the European system of multilevel governance maximizes congruence of constituencies and would thus be the most appropriate institutional arrangement with respect to accountability or participatory democracy. To improve and revise the design, the principles of congruence and voluntariness (partnership) would suggest the following sequence of guidelines:

  • All tiers of government should deliberate and decide whether a problem is best solved by one or several jurisdictions separately or whether it is a genuinely multi-level problem. Given the accountability and responsiveness advantages of separate-level policymaking, a separatory assignment of functions should be preferred if it is desired by one of the tiers. (This guideline would inter alia imply involving local and regional government in amendments of the Treaties.)
  • read more