If you are looking for more information about the research group Mobilization and Representation under adverse conditions: Political Parties in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, you’re in the right place. Welcome!
[10 October 2023] We are currently looking for a student research assistant. Applications from BA and MA students are welcome! The job ad can be found here.
The group is situated at LMU Munich. In addition to myself it comprises two doctoral candidates and one to two student assistants. The PhD positions have now been filled. But if you are interested in pursuing a PhD in the framework of the group, joining it as a post-doctoral researcher or a student assistant, or if you’d like to spend some time with us as a guest researcher, please get in contact.
What we’re going to study
Across the European continent, representative institutions – including political parties – are regularly diagnosed to be in crisis. In most of post-Soviet Eurasia, political representation through parties has been additionally hampered by various structural constraints. These include authoritarian interference in the form of repression and institutional manipulation, “patronal” social relations that organize politics around personal loyalty and economic assets rather than collective interests (Hale 2014), and – to varying degrees – external conflicts that undermine fruitful domestic debate.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has in many ways exacerbated these problems. In Russia itself, it has prompted an acceleration of the country’s autocratization, eliminating free speech on a range of topics and further limiting the space for political competition. In Ukraine, while sparking an unprecedented, impressive response of civil society and grass-roots initiatives, Russia’s aggression has also stimulated the personalization of power in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and has made the articulation of opposition to domestic policy decisions more difficult. In Moldova, finally, the war has reactivated a confrontation of geopolitical orientations that Maia Sandu’s campaign of 2020 had sought to overcome.
The research group will examine how political parties work under these conditions, when and how they are able to translate voters’ preferences into political institutions, and how they can stabilize or counteract incumbents’ non-democratic practices. Possible questions that the group will address include
- How do the anti-establishment parties Sluha Narodu (Ukraine) and the Party of Action and Solidarity (Moldova) translate societal concerns into policy since they entered government? How do these practices compare to other anti-establishment parties in European democracies?
- Why is there no effective left-wing/left-liberal party in Ukraine?
- How did Russia’s war affect voter representation in Moldova and Ukraine and in the wider region? Did new party projects emerge?
- How did the old communist successor parties develop (in terms of their orientation, their electoral performance, and their activist base) in the differentiating political environments of the three countries?
- Why did Russia’s Communist Party, while maintaining an oppositional rhetoric, become an effective pillar of the authoritarian regime? Is there potential for change?
- Are communist successor parties different from other authoritarian successor parties across the world?
As potential PhD topics, any case study or comparative analysis that connects to this area is highly welcome. Methods can and should be diverse, ranging from interviews and field research to quantitative analysis of electoral results, surveys or survey experiments, to analyses of large text corpora (newspaper reporting, social media, party speeches etc). Comparisons beyond the three countries are also strongly encouraged. Any questions can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Very much looking forward to hearing from you!
The use of “post-Soviet” and the choice of comparisons
In the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine, as well as the broader debate on implicit colonialist perspectives in social research, two aspects of the present research project appear in particular need of explanation: 1) the use of the label “post-Soviet” and, relatedly, 2) the choice to examine Ukraine and Moldova together with Russia in the same research project.
The outdatedness of the the term “post-Soviet” as a label that suggests significant similarity is evident given the diverse political and social trajectories that countries of the former Soviet Union have taken in the past 30+ years. The label is thus employed reluctantly, and first and foremost as a geographical signifier. Nonetheless, the Soviet experience continues to be relevant in all three studied countries, making the use of the label not completely arbitrary: in Russia especially, several aspects of life in the Soviet Union are consistently referred to in a positive light by broad sections of the population, which is regularly taken up and promoted by political actors. In other countries (including Ukraine and Moldova), the Soviet experience continues to be a negative reference point (but not exclusively). Besides, a host of empirical research has attempted to demonstrate with some success that authoritarian, including Soviet, legacies continue to shape patterns of thought, political orientations, and cultures of social interaction.
This also explains – to some extent at least – the choice to consider all three countries in the same research project. Nonetheless, where concrete comparisons are undertaken, the divergence of development paths since the fall of the Soviet Union makes it imperative to focus on the contrasts rather than the similarities between the countries. For instance, “patronal pyramids” (Hale 2014) function very differently across the three countries, and, quite obviously, Russia has developed into a consolidated authoritarian regime, while Ukraine and Moldova have held onto electoral (if not always liberal) democratic structures. The focus will thus be on how political parties work under these diversifying conditions. Moreover, where the group undertakes comparisons beyond the region, Ukraine and Moldova will chiefly be compared to other European democracies, while most research questions will require to compare Russia to other autocracies – both in the “post-Soviet” world and beyond.