Staunton, August 17 – Most Western commentators focus on the absence of genuine democracy in the so-called “hybrid” regimes but fail to notice that such regimes are also characterized by a lack of genuine dictatorship, according to Yekaterina Schulman, a Moscow legal affairs commentator.
“It is easy to see that the democratic façade [of such states] is made from papier-mache,” Schulman writes on Kasparov.ru, “but it is more difficult to understand that the Stalin moustache is also simply attached” rather than reflecting a reality, it is a reflection of the increasing horror Europeans feel about human victims.
Because of confusion on this point, Schulman argues, “there is nothing more important in contemporary political science than the study of hybrid regimes,” a category that includes those described as “illiberal democracies, imitation democracies, electoral authoritarianism, and non-tyrannical autocracy.”
Only by recognizing the true nature of such hybrid regimes, she insists, can one avoid falling into the trap so common in recent decades: the assumption that anything bad will get worse, and “no degree of civilization” apparently has the capacity to prevent that from happening.
Schulman makes six other points besides the one cited above. First, she says, hybrid regimes represent “authoritarianism at a new historic stage.” That is, they are authoritarian because they seek to promote passivity in their populations rather than to mobilize them as totalitarian states do.
Second, most but not all of them are exporters of natural resources rather than industrial powers. Consequently, for the elite to enrich its members and remain in power requires that the population go along with things rather than that that population be mobilized to achieve new goals.
Third, hybrid regimes seek to ensure the continuance in office of those who are there, and attempt to do so with “a relatively low level of force.” They lack “the moral capital of monarchies” and the “repressive apparatus of totalitarianism.” Their media can generate impressive levels of approval but do not seek to promote high levels of involvement.
To put it most bluntly, “propaganda with dizzying effectiveness forms the opinion of precisely those people whose opinion has no importance – not because these are some sort of poor second-class people, but because their opinion in no way correlates with their actions. They can provide the powers with approval but not support.”
Fourth, the only group such hybrid regimes have to concern themselves with, is the “active minority.” Those who back it and are necessary are incorporated into the power arrangements; those who oppose it are excluded and even encouraged to leave the country permanently.
Fifth, Schulman says, “hybrid regimes are quite stable and vital” because they rely on what are almost market economies and a partially free public milieu. They are thus unlikely to collapse in the same ways that classical dictatorships do or to expand dramatically either. But none of this means they are as stable as they imagine.
Such regimes want stability and are prepared to take any step to maintain it – including things that look destabilizing. Precisely because they want stability and pursue it in this way, they make the kind of mistakes which can lead to their collapse exactly because they do not have real support, only approval, and thus are less maneuverable than many assume.
Sixth and final: “the very appearance of imitation democracy is not the result of the failures of non-imitation democracy but rather” an opposition to the kinds of state violence people accepted a half century ago. If ‘hypocrisy’ is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, imitation is that which dictatorship pays to democracy,” Schulman says.