Day By Day

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Second Dissolution of the Soviet Empire?

The Christian Science Monitor traces the repercussions of the Kyrgyzstan revolt:

BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN – The shock waves from Kyrgyzstan's lightning revolution are spreading around the former Soviet Union - and into the heart of Russia - leading analysts to wonder which regimes might be next to face the peoples' wrath.

Recent days have seen a spate of copycat protests launched by opposition groups that were perhaps hoping their own local authorities might fold and flee under pressure, as did Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev when demonstrators stormed his Bishkek complex last week.

About 1,000 people rallied last Friday in the capital of Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko runs the last Soviet-style dictatorship in Europe, to demand his resignation. Police quickly dispersed the crowd and dispatched the ringleaders to prison.

Two Russian ethnic republics, Ingushetia and Bashkortostan, have seen mass street demonstrations this week directed against Kremlin-installed leaders. Even in remote Mongolia, the former USSR's Asian satellite, hundreds of protesters gathered last week to "congratulate our Kyrgyz brothers" and demand a rerun of last June's disputed parliamentary polls.
The spread of the democratic reform initiative is truly breathtaking. But is it really "democratic." The Monitor notes:

Common features of the regimes potentially under siege include systemic corruption, nepotism, and political appointments based on personal fealty rather than professionalism.
The implication is that the real issue is corruption, not democracy. We are going to hear a lot more of this kind of argument, especially from the left, which will not accept as legitimate any democratic movement that is not specifically based in class antagonism.

The article also notes that the protest movements are undermining what remains of Russian authority throughout much of Eurasia.

"Every situation is different, but a single process is unfolding," says Valentin Bogatyrov, a former Akayev adviser and director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Bishkek. "Kyrgyzstan is a kind of trigger that will spread this unrest to our neighbors, and beyond. We are witnessing the second breakup of the Soviet Union."
One of my former professors long ago argued, in Soviet Russian Imperialism, that the Soviet state was in many ways a reincarnation of the old Tsarist empire. If this is true we are witnessing the dissolution of the last of the great European empires, a process that began nearly a century ago.

Finally the article notes that:

Ironically, the post-Soviet countries that have so far been rocked by revolution
have been among the most liberal and relatively democratic in an admittedly
tough region.
It has been remarked elsewhere, and rightly so [I don't remember the source], that popular movements are possible only if mechanisms that can legitimate protest are available -- an existing, if weak opposition, a popular charismatic feature, institutions imbued with moral authority, etc. These are not totalitarian states such as flourished in the middle of the twentieth century. They are corrupt thugocracies, similar to what the Soviet Union had become by the time of its collapse. They had neither the power nor the legitimacy to effectively suppress mass uprisings.
Orrin Judd once wrote, The rubbish heap of history is littered with regimes that thought they could allow a little democracy, not realizing that it would show just unpopular they were. [Hat Tip Timothy Goddard]

Does that mean that if the Romanoffs had not instituted liberal reforms late in the nineteenth century we might have been spared the Cold War?

There's a lot to chew on in this article.

Read the whole thing here.

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