Monday, April 12, 2010

Window on Eurasia: ‘Birth Trauma’ of Post-Soviet States Rooted in Problem of Property, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 12 – The post-Soviet states, despite all a striking diversity in appearances, share a common “birth trauma” involving the definition and defense of property, according to a Moscow commentator. And unless that problem is resolved, he suggests, more radical, ratchet-like changes of the kind now seen in Kyrgyzstan are likely across the region.
In an article in today’s “Novaya gazeta,” Kirill Rogov suggests that the recent events in Kyrgyzstan, whose endpoint is still far from clear, prompts a reconsideration of “such phenomena on the political map of the world which is called ‘the countries of the former USSR’” (
Rogov points to two trends that he says have characterized the region over the last decade. On the one hand, centrifugal forces have intensified as each countries tries to achieve its own economic profit, however much its leaders express a desire for cooperation with the other countries in the region. As a result, efforts at integration have proved stillborn.
And on the other, he argues, despite all the variety of systems now on offer, “it is becoming ever more evident that the political development of the countries of the former USSR is under pressure from a certain common ‘birth trauma,’” involving the inability of these countries to form the kind of institutions which protect ownership of property.
That can be seen, he continues, if one compares Ukraine and Belarus. Despite their differences -- Ukraine is a democracy and Belarus is a dictatorship -- “they have something very much in common.” The former constantly hits its head on the problem of property, while the latter having “resolved” it in an authoritarian way has only pushed a real solution off.
The recent clashes between the powers that be and the population in Kyrgyzstan provide a clear indication of this danger. Their lessons, Rogov suggests, are “above all a demonstration of how dangerous can be the absence of institutions under conditions of an authoritarianism created ad hoc and quite recently.”
In Kyrgyzstan, and by implication across the entire former Soviet space, “the opposition was driven into a corner, deprived of resources and systemic levers, and divided but despite this, the regime itself remained in reality extremely weak. The mechanisms of its legitimation were fictional and played a decorative role.”
But despite the apparent willingness of the population to put up with this, “at [some] critical moment, it suddenly turns out that the props of the regime, the bureaucracy and the force structures imitate loyalty in just the same way that the powers that be imitate legitimacy. And on one fine day,” everything collapses “like a house of cards.”
When the powers that be do what they can to prevent well-known and competent leaders from emerging to lead the opposition, the former simply guarantee that “unknown” leaders will emerge. And when the powers block “the legal channels of protest activity,” then they drive people toward illegal ones.
Such actions have their origins in “the problem of property,” Rogov continues, in the fear of those in power that “any institutionalization” of the mechanisms of control and ownership of property will be “mortally dangerous” for them, not because they are strong but because they know they are weak.
“Both the trader and the minister intuitively understand,” the Moscow commentator says, “that you hand over all more or less important posts and shares exclusively to relatives and old friends who are obliged exclusively to you for their dizzying rise not because you are powerful like Caligula, who could allow himself to name a horse senator, but for the opposite reason.”
The leaders in these states do this because they cannot count on anyone beyond a narrow circle, Rogov says. That reality has been highlighted by the installation of authoritarian regimes over the last decade which attempted “to resolve the question in a new way which was not in a satisfactory way resolved in the democratic cycle – the question of the control of property.
And all this “in part explains the ease and speed with which these coalitions form and gather strength.” But it also explains why they are so weak and so much at risk of challenge and collapse. And that will continue as long as the elites involved see their interest as lying in keeping by various means “a high level of indeterminacy” in the definition of property.
The reason for that, Rogov suggests, is to be found “not in that the satraps and elites do not want to establish rules of the game but in that they cannot do this.” But the problem is broader than that. Like the elites, the populations of this region “have become accustomed to forms of political and economic arrangements that are neither one thing nor the other.”

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