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Contagion Deterred: Preemptive Authoritarianism in the Former Soviet Union (the Case of Belarus)
Working Paper

Published By

CDDRL Working Papers

June 2006

The wave of democratic electoral revolutions in the Eastern Europe and post-Communist Eurasia revived one of the most appealing and at the same time disputable arguments in the theory of democratization: that is, that successful democratic breakthroughs in one of several places help to shape the timing and dynamic of transformation in others, where the regime change has yet to occur. This interconnectivity of transitions in time (and space) is described in terms such as 'contagion,' 'diffusion,' or 'demonstration effect.' Indeed, although hardly a decisive factor, the evidence that contagion played certain important role in transmitting the spirit of democracy and techiques for achieving it from Serbia in 2000 to Georgia in 2003 to Ukraine in 2004 to Kyrgyzstan in 2005 is evident. Needless to say that there is more than enough evidence that a large community of activists, policy advisors, local and international NGOs, and media, were purposefully involved in translating the experience, strategy and tactics of successful revolutions to the new territories. This often led to a feeling of deja vu once an observer saw TV scenes of yet another autocrat being ousted and a new democratic leader being installed by the people's power.

In the broader sence, contagion is definitely facilitated by the proximity of historical experiences and present-day concerns and dilemmas staying for the societies in the region: in other words, as far as they face similar problems, they audiences throughout the post-Communist world may have immediate understanding of what sort of solutions are suggested to them by the roaming revolutionaries.

But democrats and revolutionaries are not the only ones who can learn from the past and apply the knowledge to fulfill their political goals. Indeed, their antagonists appeared to have mastered the science and crafts of democratic transitions in order to stop them at their borders. What is more, they are becoming increasingly aware that, paraphrasing George W Bush's second inaugural address, 'survival of autocracy at home increasingly depends upon the failure of democracy abroad.' The first trend, learning to combat the democratic contagion, is an essential element of the new political trend in post-Communist Eurasia, defined by the author as preemptive authoritarianism. The second trend, joining efforts to combat democratic contagion, is reflected what can be defined as authoritarian international, which is rapidly emerging in the post-Soviet space.

This paper consists of three parts. The first explains the concept of preemptive authoritarianism. The second gives an overview of preemption may be done in a nearly perfect manner in the case study of Belarus, the country where it was used most extensively and proficiently. The third highlights the international dimension of preemptive authoritarianism on the example of Belarus-Russia cooperation, that increasingly spreads into the area of combatting democracy.

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