Fairbanks- Revolution Reconsidered.pdf

In the former soviet union democratizing reforms

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confused process with no clear direction. In the former Soviet Union, democratizing reforms ebbed and flowed under leaders like Boris Yeltsin and Shevardnadze, but with a drift toward the ultimate consolidation of authoritarian rule. Those great democratic heroes like Kyrgyzstan’s Askar Akayev and Yeltsin turned out to be authoritarian rulers, or gave their power to people whom they expected to be authoritarian rulers, like Vladimir Putin. It is striking that in the ex-Soviet transitions, not a single ruler chose to hand over his power to anyone likely to rule in a more democratic manner. Formlessness is an intrinsic problem of “transition to democracy.” If the transition can be interpreted or misinterpreted as a long process, landmarks of success or failure recede into the flux of political and economic events. It resembles guerrilla warfare: It is hard to know when you are winning because there are no great victories or defeats that serve as milestones. Unfortunately, some aspects of the classical think- ing on democratic transitions have lent themselves to this danger. Hun- tington said that “the genius of the Brazilian transformation is that it is virtually impossible to say at what point Brazil stopped being a dicta- torship and became a democracy.” 14 The additional notion of “better” and “worse” elections, itself legiti- mized by the concept of gradual transition, has played an exceptionally corrupting role. As the original theorists of democratic transition ar- gued, elections can be prominent landmarks in democratic development, but only if they are fair overall or produce unexpected outcomes. West- ern democracy-assistance programs have introduced a plethora of tech- nical features, such as transparent ballot boxes, that can be heralded as improvements and used to obscure the critical question of whether or not a government is trying to misrepresent the results. Western govern- ments that have sensitive relationships with the “transitional” countries, as well as the election-monitoring groups that too often respond to those governments, can then trumpet the “improvements” that were made, even if the overall election result was determined by government manipula- tion. Elections in countries with no democratic tradition will always be imperfect, marred by practices such as fathers voting for whole families or village authorities implicitly pressuring voters, but the decisive ques- tions are whether a government is trying to misrepresent the result and whether it succeeds in doing so. The “transition” concept frames many matters of political change in a way that is dangerous to democracy. The intellectual epitaph of the transition paradigm was chiseled in January 2002 by Thomas Carothers’s powerful Journal of Democracy article on “The End of the Transition Paradigm.” Yet the corpse lingers: Academic articles, conferences, and democratic governments constantly speak of “democratic transition.” The simplest and most beneficial change in the way social scientists describe countries that are not now consoli-
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Journal of Democracy 52
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  • Spring '14
  • AnitaC.Pritchard
  • Democracy

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