Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia

Mariya Y. Omelicheva

in Political Science

ISBN: 9780199756223
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia

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  • Comparative Politics
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The fall of communism in Europe and the demise of the Soviet Union were met with jubilation and confidence amid the rapid democratization of the former communist states. A decade later, however, the democratization euphoria was replaced with the growing concerns over the retreat of democracy as several democratizing societies evinced the resurgence of authoritarianism. Central Asia, which encompasses the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, has become a part of this trend. Despite the pledges of their governments to support democratization, these states embraced nondemocratic rule, variously labeled as “personal dictatorships,” “authoritarian presidentialisms,” and “neopatrimonial” and “sultanistic” regimes. The study of democracy and dictatorship in central Asia falls within the broader scholarship in comparative politics, international relations, and area studies about changes in regime types. Initially, the study of regimes in central Asia was approached from the standpoint of transitology, portraying democratization as a linear process furthered by civil society actors and political elites. The central Asian leaders, who perceive democracy as the gravest threat to their personal political survival, have been held responsible for the democratic stalemate in their countries. It has also been argued that these countries’ political cultures and historical legacies, compounded by acute socioeconomic conditions, have served as roadblocks to full democratization. Early-21st-century scholarship has seen a shift away from characterizing these states through the lens of democratization theory, with an emergence of perspectives portraying them as qualitatively new “hybrid” regimes with their own internal logics. These new perspectives aim at explaining the puzzling diversity of authoritarian patterns within the region, despite the broadly similar experiences and structures of central Asian states. In addition, an international dimension has been introduced to the study of regimes in central Asia, centered on the idea that various international actors—the United States, the European Union, and others—play an active and, at times, decisive role in the success of democratic reforms. A new debate emerged around the methods and approaches to international democratization, particularly whether coercive and incentives-based strategies or methods based on complex learning and persuasion are more effective in promoting democracy abroad. The study of the processes of “autocratization,” which refers to active and passive promotion of nondemocratic governance and resistance to democratization by the powerful players in the region, especially Russia and China, is the most recent addition to the literature on regimes in central Asia.

Article.  14946 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Comparative Politics ; Political Institutions ; Political Methodology ; Political Theory

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