March 30, 2005


Libertystan (Leon Aron, March 30, 2005, Wall Street Journal)

Similar to the equally inspiring Iraqi election in its reaffirmation of human dignity--which in today's world is impossible without political liberty--in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, the recent revolts in former Soviet states should prompt a revision of many misleading stereotypes and help the U.S. to reassess its policies in that part of the world.

While the first wave of liberation in the early 1990s ended the state's monopoly in politics and economy, it failed, first, to establish civic society's effective preponderance over the state apparatus and, second, to separate political power at every level from control of property. These two preconditions of liberal democracy, which in the West took centuries to develop, proved especially difficult to achieve within a decade for the countries where the land-owning magnate, the village elder, the tribal chief or the king's satrap had combined economic and political power long before Soviet patrimonialism obliterated any distinction between the state and property for over seven decades.

With the collapse of the Soviet system, patrimonialism in the form of bureaucratic claims on property survived in myriad instances, from the former kolkhoz chairman and district fire inspector to the offices of prime ministers and presidents. Already an integral part of a long national tradition, corruption reached new heights of ubiquity and brazenness. In the end, the national revulsion over the rapacity of the executive branch and its shameless efforts to protect its loot through increasingly authoritarian politics became one of the two key components of this "second wave" of liberation.

Yet the revolts have also shown that in all three nations the anti-totalitarian revolutions of the '90s did not disappear without a trace. Instead, they left behind a basic framework of rights and liberties--rudimentary by the standards of older democracies and often subverted by the authorities--yet remarkably resilient.

The structural problems in these states will still take some time to overcome, if they ever can be--they were after all famously dubbed "trashcanistans" by Stephen Kotkin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 30, 2005 10:57 AM
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