Vienna, April 15 – Analysts in both Russia and the West are increasingly willing to describe some of the post-Soviet countries as “failed states,” but a Moscow analyst argues that while that term may become appropriate in a few cases in that region, it is more appropriate and more useful to describe the majority of them as “fake states.”
In an article in today’s “Gazeta,” Yaroslav Shimov argues that whatever their shortcomings, “it would be unjust to put Moldova, Georgia and the majority of other post-Soviet states in one rank with ‘failed states’ [because] in the final analysis, none is an Afghanistan or a Somalia” (www.gazeta.ru/comments/2009/04/15_a_2974160.shtml).
It is important to remember just what a failed state is, he continues. That term is most appropriately used for “a state which is incapable of fulfilling the basic functions of the defense of its own citizens and in the organization of the life of society in those sectors for which a state is typically responsible.”
But when one observes what has been taking place in Chisinau and Tbilisi, Shimov argues, a better term comes to mind to describe the situation there and in other post-Soviet states as well. That term is “fake state,” because it applies to countries which have “all the signs of statehood” but which do not fulfill at least on occasion many of the functions of a state.
Such “fake states,” he suggests, do not serve as normal states do “as a form of organization of society directed at the defense of the public good and guaranteeing the institutional-political expression of the interests of various social groups and a wise balance of these interests.”
That, “of course, “is an ideal,” which many states around the world fall short of, Shimov acknowledges, but he argues that in many of them, that is precisely what the governments achieve. One country where that has been achieved, the Moscow analyst argues, is the United States.
That is shown by the recent elections, he says. “The policies of the Obama Administration are very different from those of its predecessor, but the recent victory of the Democrats does not mean the change of the US Constitution, nor the persecution of defeated Republicans, not a revision of views on the basic events of American history.”
In the post-Soviet countries, on the other hand, “the state does not play the role of the preserver of national values which still in part have not been worked out or as a moderator of group interests,” Shimov says. “On the contrary, [the state] becomes a weapon passing from hand to hand whose owner uses it to beat its opponents.”
That pattern has enormous consequences for the way in which politics is conducted. “To give up power in these circumstances as a rule means to give it up forever because you won’t be allowed to return to power,” Shimov says. That leads those in power to try to cling to it, and those outside to approach any change as a revolutionary act.
And such approaches often mean that those who are in power will do anything to remain there and those who are its opponents will either be co-opted by the system, much as the KPRF has been in Russia, Shimov says, of consigned to the status of “marginal figures” with whom the regime will have nothing to do and thus become radicalized.
“Of course,” the “Gazeta” commentator says, there are important differences among the post-Soviet states. In the Russian Federation, the views of the powers that be and those of the opposition on many important questions, including their respective evaluations of the past and views on cooperation with the West, are far apart.
In Georgia, on the other hand, President Mikhiel Saakashvili and his opponents agree on most things, including relations with the West and with Moscow, but they are driven apart by Saakashvili’s own personality and his direct responsibility in the view of his opponents for the disaster visited upon Georgia last summer.
“Were it not for these two factors,” Shimov suggests, “Georgia could have completely avoided the present crisis which is holding it in the situation of a fake state.”
The situation in Moldova is very different. “On the one side, there is a ruling Party of Communists, who are armed with a surprising cocktail consisting of nostalgia for the USSR, pro-European rhetoric, left populism and clan-based politics,” a mix that on the face of it would appear to be unsustainable.
And “on the other, there is the nationalist opposition, the radical part of which considers Moldovans an inalienable part of the Romanian people and, starting from that proposition, denies the need for the independent existence of the Moldovan state as such,” a view that by itself reinforces the notion of that country being a “fake” state.
While the events in Georgia and Moldova prompted him to consider this subject, Shimov says, “the ‘falseness’ of many post-Soviet states to a large extent is defined by the social structure of these countries – or more precisely, by the relations which have been laid down between the ruling elites and the rest of society.”
The states in this region, he continues, “do not express or reflect the interests of the majority of their citizens being only instruments in the hands of oligarchic groups occupied with the division of power and property.” And not surprisingly, given that pattern, “a large section of the citizenry does not consider the state as ‘theirs.’”
Over time, Shimov suggests, this lack of connection “increases the probability of either a revolutionary explosion or the rise of an authoritarian-populist regime,” a trend that he suggests recalls the situation in many Latin American countries a generation or two ago and that has been most fully realized among the post-Soviet states by Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus.
Inertia has allowed the “fake states” of the post-Soviet region to survive, but there is no reason to think they will “last forever,” Shimov says. And he concludes that “if the current elites act according to the principle, ‘apres moi, le deluge,’ then they may discover to their surprise and horror that while they are still here, the flood has already begun.”