Ruling elites in various countries have successfully ensured that elections do not interfere with their continued reign. How can a regime neutralize its political opponents and block their access to power on the one hand, while maintaining democratic appearances on the other? The contributors to Pro et Contra explain how this challenge has been addressed in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere in the world, as well as the conditions in which ruling elites may lose their political monopoly.
Presidentialism, Revolution, and Democracy
The Russian elections of 2007-08 look far more like those during these years in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan than in Ukraine. The main difference between the first two of these countries and Russia is that Russia’s incumbents have never lost control of the patronal presidency. This has given this group of Kremlin insiders something of an aura of invincibility that accompanies Putin’s own high approval ratings and augments his ability to direct elites’ expectations as to Russia’s political future. This, in turn, has enabled him to retain influence and to secure the transfer of power to his chosen successor.
Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia
Both democratic theory and Russia’s unfortunate experience in the 1990s make it clear that when a state is broken down into the fiefdoms of regional barons, the rule of the people becomes a fiction. However, authoritarian centralization is not the only available path to state consolidation. There is, in fact, a democratic path. Moreover, even the current ruling elite, earlier in its reign, made some steps in that direction. However, when it became clear that democratization carried with it certain political risks not only for regional elites, but for the top political leadership as well, democratization itself was unequivocally and unceremoniously dumped. It was replaced by a strategy of integrating regional authoritarianism into a nationwide authoritarian power structure.
While the population at large is not inclined to deify its leadership or the representatives of the ‘party of power’, it continues to criticize bureaucrats, much as it did under Brezhnev, but without stepping outside the comfort zone of the authorities — which, as popular and party oversight did in a prior era, periodically purges the ‘bad boyars’ from its ranks. However, this does not mean that protest will not become more active in the future, creating significant problems for the authorities, particularly if increasing protest accompanies falling oil prices. At some point, then, the social contract may be once again revised, with serious political consequences.
Evolution Under Dictatorship
Today’s Mexico differs in one crucial aspect from the Mexico of the past: it lacks a unified political elite. In place of the once monolithic party organization, we see today competition among independent political forces. And while that competition persists, Mexican democracy survives. There is another valuable lesson from Mexican history, as well. The opposition, repressed for decades and seemingly lacking in any chances of success, persevered with almost religious fervor, demanding its rights and cataloging their infringement. And, as water polishes a stone, it eventually won the day.
Setting a Course for Coal
There are three reasons for the current move to coal. First, gas scarcity and rising gas prices provide opportunities to increase coal’s market share and its role in the energy mix. Second, two of the key drivers behind this strategy have important vested interests: Gazprom and SUEK. Though gas exports are an important element of this new strategy, this is not simply a Gazprom driven plan. The coal sector is one of the most reformed parts of the Russian energy sector and is advancing its own interests. Third, the reformed and restructured coal sector seems capable of meeting the increasing amounts of coal production required; moreover, large sums of money are being ear-marked for major strategic development of Russia’s infrastructure.
How Capitalism is Killing Democracy
While capitalism has become remarkably responsive to what people want as individual consumers, democracies have struggled to perform their own basic functions: to articulate and act upon the common good, and to help societies achieve both growth and equity. Democracy, at its best, enables citizens to debate collectively how the slices of the pie should be divided and to determine which rules apply to private goods and which to public goods. Today, those tasks are increasingly being left to the market. What is desperately needed is a clear delineation of the boundary between global capitalism and democracy—between the economic game, on the one hand, and how its rules are set, on the other.
Europe’s Philosophy of Failure
Both the French and German cases show the limits of trying to run against the grain of deeply held economic ideology. Yet, training the next generation of citizens to be prejudiced against being enterprising and productive is equally foolhardy. Fortunately, such widespread attitudes and the political outcomes they foster aren’t only determined by tradition and history. They are, to a great extent, the product of education. If countries like France and Germany hope to get their nations on a new economic track, they might start paying more attention to what their kids are learning in the classroom.