On Preemtive Authoritarianism

http://www.gazetaby.com/i//2011/06/silitski11.jpgThe proposition of the sultanate character of Lukashenka’s ruling model was supported by the discussions of its preventive character. In other words, the administration eradicates all conditions which could lead to any substantial resistance, even before these conditions can be considered a danger to its authority.

The rigid authoritarian regime has prevailed because it has monitored the collapses and transformations of its more liberal neighbours, drawn conclusions and subsequently destroyed any seeds of opposition in the country, even when the opposition was harmless.

Under these conditions, any suggestions of liberalising the system, even when intended to bring about short-time benefits, were considered attempts to undermine the system and as such immediately declined.

(V. Silitski ‘The Draft of the Regime Salvation’ 2009)

Lucan Way, Associate Professor of Political Science University of Toronto

Vitali's writing is as thought provoking now as it was when it was first published. But I think his message in this passage is a bit more pessimistic than is warranted. Above all, the Arab spring -- while it has not necessarily brought democracy to that region – has demonstrated the possibility for sudden and massive protest even in highly authoritarian countries where opposition was assumed to be quiescent. Highly closed regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Bahrain witnessed the emergence of "leaderless protests" in which massive numbers people catalyzed by new information technologies mobilised in unprecedented numbers. These protests were "leaderless" in the sense that they were not orchestrated or led by any well established opposition leader or well institutionalised opposition movement. In Egypt for example, the protests initially took place without the extensive participation of the well-established Muslim Brotherhood. If this did not inspire paranoia in Lukashenka, nothing will.
At the same time, the Arab spring demonstrates that leaderless protests are no long term substitute for a well established civil society. Thus, in these countries, autocrats have been able to quickly re-establish themselves.

Matt Rojansky, “Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace”

Vitali's idea of preemtive authoritarianism is both deeply rooted in longstanding post-soviet realities and yet still presents a fresh and valuable perspective on a persistent problem for western policy towards the region and towards Belarus in particular. The authorities in such states have been effective not only by virtue of their iron fisted "prevention," but in leveraging all the tools of state power to carve out political domination at the expense of political rivals. They have, for example, helped sustain and even deepen a soviet-era view of public protest or mass demonstration as a sign of disorder an thus danger for national life. Through coercive means and by coopting elites, the authorities have succeeded in associating the concepts of efficacy and exclusivity of political power in the public consciousness. Thus, those who campaign against the ruling authorities can be successfully maligned as opponents of the system as a whole, as threats to good order and discipline, and ultimately as "enemies of the state." It should be long remembered and appreciated that the sharp analysis Vitali spearheaded at BISS and that continues thanks to his legacy, has helped to distinguish between the values of the ruling political forces and the interests of the state and the nation as a whole. This is an essential step towards real pluralism and prosperity in the future.