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Unpacking the “Competition”: Political Opposition under Competitive (and Not-So-Competitive) Post-Soviet Authoritarianism

On January 30, 2014, Dr. Barbara Junisbai, Assistant Dean of Faculty at Pitzer College gave a talk on Business-led Opposition in Post-Soviet Eurasia.

In numerous accounts of democratization, the political opposition takes center stage as a pivotal force, one credited with toppling dictators and spurring regime change in the Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.  Frequent references to a vibrant, organized, and united opposition similarly pepper academic and popular works on anti-regime mobilization in post-Soviet Eurasia, a region known more for autocratic resilience than for democratic breakthrough.  Surprisingly, despite the significance assigned to the political opposition in the unraveling of dictatorship and the onset of democratization, theorizing about its emergence and impact remains limited.  In the standard causal account, the opposition’s genesis is, at its core, the manifestation of pre-existing social cleavages or of new divisions created by privatization and economic development. 

Patterns of opposition across Eurasia in the last two decades challenge these perspectives.  Rather than the outcome of forces external to the regime, the difficult decision to oppose is a response to dynamics that are endogenous to the political system itself.  Comparative analysis of opposition movements across the region points, in particular, to the complex entwinement of three institutions: the widespread practice of property expropriation by regime actorsknown as reiderstvo, weak property rights, and the absence of the rule of law. Not only does variation in the expression and extent of reiderstvo help account for variation in political opposition across time and space, it also sheds light on sources of regime (in)stability and potential crises over succession.

A recording of her lecture can be accessed here.