Friday, July 7, 2023

Stephen G. F. Hall's "The Authoritarian International"

Stephen G. F. Hall is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Russian and Post-Soviet Politics in the Department of Politics, Language and International Studies (PoLIS) at the University of Bath.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Authoritarian International: Tracing How Authoritarian Regimes Learn in the Post-Soviet Space, and reported the following:
From page 99:
While the Ukrainian protests had not been the fascist coup that the Russian government painted these events as, there had been small groups of right-wing paramilitaries at the protests, such as Pravy Sektor. On the one hand, the crackdown on 25 March was a signal to the EU that the authorities were reacting to a political opposition – rather than the citizenry – as 25 March is a traditional day of opposition protest. However, the crackdown was not as extreme as in the past (Preiherman, 2017a; 2017b; Shraibman, 2017a).

On the other hand, the link between Belyi Legion and Pravy Sektor was a signal to Russia that the Belarusian authorities remained a close ally and were dealing with a possible Belarusian Maidan. Even before 25 March, the KDB had ‘discovered’ the Belyi legion and had begun arresting opposition activists (, 2017). At the same time, the authorities ran programmes on television linking the Euromaidan in Ukraine and the current war in Donbas – coupled with montages of the 1991–2001 war in Yugoslavia – to emphasise that protests lead to violence (Shraibman, 2017b). This was an effective tool in reducing the numbers of people who would go protest.

While the 2017 protests were the first state-wide demonstrations since Lukashenka became president in 1994, the authorities appear not to have learnt much from these events. Improved relations with the EU coupled with reticence at closer integration with Russia meant that a full crackdown was something beyond the regime. The leadership could not afford to alienate the EU and leave itself isolated and further dependent on Russia. There were further restrictions placed on media outlets and, in late 2017, Internet users had to prove their identity when posting a comment online (Wilson, 2021: 268). There was an increase in spending on security – although that had begun with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 – and this spending was focused on stopping little green men or Colour Revolutions, both of which would be considered to have Russian involvement (Wilson, 2021: 270). The limited repression instigated by the authorities created an issue for the future as the crackdown was not as coercive as it had been in the past.
Page 99 begins with an analysis of the Belarusian regime's reaction to the Ukrainian EuroMaidan to try to balance between the European Union (EU) – and wider West – on the one hand, and Russia on the other. Although the Belarusian regime has largely remained aligned to the Russian authorities, it has performed a balancing act to try to maintain independence for fear that Belarus could be consumed by Russia. This was especially so after the Annexation of Crimea when the Belarusian government feared Belarus could be next. The page analyses how the Belarusian authorities dealt with the 2017 trying to balance between repressing sufficiently to placate Russian fears that Belarus was not about to have a Maidan as Ukraine did in 2013-2014, and not use such obvious repression – targeted on direct opposition groups – to mollify the EU, thereby not breaking off relations with Brussels. While page 99 does not directly spell out that authoritarian regimes learn from one another and previous domestic events to hold onto power, it does allude to learning and highlights adaptation, through the case of Belarus. Consequently, the page 99 test would stand up to scrutiny for the book as the reader would get a sense of the balancing of the Belarusian regime and the different practices of authoritarian survival.
Visit Stephen G. F. Hall's website.

--Marshal Zeringue