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: Trajectories of Political Development in the Post-Soviet States

Graeme Gill

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, there were widespread hopes that democratic regimes would emerge in the countries that were the former republics of the USSR. Such hopes have been dashed in all but a few cases. Although there is some dispute regarding the methodology and accuracy of the ratings given by various agencies including Freedom House, assuming consistency of judgement/measurement over time, they do give a sense of a country’s political trajectory. Table 3.1 shows the ratings and designations of the 15 former Soviet republics in the first year of independence, a decade later, and in 2015 (https://freedomhouse.org).

The designations in Table 3.1 are not, in Freedom House’s view, synonymous with particular regime types. They reflect a judgement about the state of political rights and civil liberties in each country, and are therefore a mark of the degree of openness or closure of the political system. The lower the score, the more open the system is, and conversely, the higher the score, the more closed it is. Generally, systems with high levels of respect for and observance of political rights and civil liberties tend to be democracies. Accordingly, we will interpret the designation

G. Gill (*)

Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

Fish, Gill, Petrovic (eds.), A Quarter Century of Post-Communism Assessed, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-43437-7_4

Table 3.1 Political trajectories of former Soviet republics

1992 2001 2015

1992

2001

2015

Armenia

Partly free 3.5

Partly free 4.0

Partly free 4.5

Azerbaijan

Partly free 5

Not free 5.5

Not free 6.0

Belarus

Partly free 3.5

Not free 6.0

Not free 6.5

Estonia

Partly free 3.0

Free 1.5

Free 1.0

Georgia

Partly free 4.5

Partly free 4.0

Partly free 3.0

Kazakhstan

Partly free 5.0

Not free 5.5

Not free 5.5

Kyrgyzstan

Partly free 3.0

Not free 5.5

Partly free 5.0

Latvia

Partly free 3.0

Free 1.5

Free 2.0

Lithuania

Free 2.5

Free 1.5

Free 1.0

Moldova

Partly free 5.0

Partly free 3.0

Partly free 3.0

Russia

Partly free 3.5

Partly free 5.0

Not free 6.0

Tajikistan

Not free 6.5

Not free 6.0

Not free 6.0

Turkmenistan

Not free 6.5

Not free 7.0

Not free 7.0

Ukraine

Partly free 3.0

Partly free 4.0

Partly free 3.0

Uzbekistan

Not free 6.0

Not free 6.5

Not free 7.0

The rating scale is from 1 the best to 7 the worst.

‘free’ as equating to democratic, ‘not free’ to authoritarian, and ‘partly free’ to ‘hybrid’ (on hybrid regimes, see Diamond 2002; Levitsky & Way 2010). Increased confidence in the rankings is given by the fact that where each country falls is broadly consistent with scholarly opinion. One further qualification is required: in the years intervening between these three points, the annual scores for individual countries may have varied but, except for cases noted later in this chapter, not sufficiently to shift the country from one category to another, and in any case such variation does not gainsay the overall trends.

Of the 15 states,1 only Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would be classified as fully fledged democracies at any of these times in the two-and-a-half decades since independence, and generally they have retained this status throughout; both Estonia and Latvia were not classed thus at the outset, but both had achieved scores of 2.5 by 1994. All of the other states fall short of being fully fledged democracies. Of the remaining 12 states, in 2015 only Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan had improved their rating compared with 1992, while Ukraine was at the same level after having deteriorated significantly in the years in between. All of the other states - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan (although here there was improvement from 2001 to 2015), Russia, Turkmenistan and

Uzbekistan - slipped in their rankings, meaning they were less democratic in 2015 than they had been in the first flush of independence in 1992. How are we to explain the failure of democracy to take root in most of the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union (FSU)?

Explanations for regime2 trajectory have generally fallen into two categories—legacy or path dependent arguments and explanations focused upon the role of particular agents. This has been evident in some of the literature on political outcomes in the post-Soviet space as well as in other parts of the world.

 
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