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4th ASCN Annual Conference

Protest, Modernization, Democratization: Political and Social Dynamics in Post-Soviet Countries

The Academic Swiss Caucasus Net (ASCN) conducted its 4th Annual Conference in Tbilisi, Georgia on 4 and 5 September 2015.

Conference Booklet


The chain of revolutions in post-Soviet countries, starting with the November Revolution of 2003 in Georgia and ending with Maidan in Ukraine of 2014 have been a transforming factor not only for the countries where they were successful (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova), but also for those where large-scale political protest was attempted or just feared (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Belarus). These instances of political protest were mostly considered in the context of democratization; the electoral context - many of these revolutions succeeded or failed against the background of the allegations of vote fraud - reinforced the tendency to frame them in the context of democracy. But this framing is one-sided; in many cases it was the failing state, with its corruption and inability to provide basic services to its citizens, as well as the failing economy which have motivated the protesters. The drive to modernize was at least as important as the drive to democratize.

The modernization process leads to the protest of its own. Those left behind during the rapid transformation of society affected through radical reforms resort to extreme nationalism or religious fundamentalism to stop and to revert it. The backlash soon halts the reforms, forcing the political elite to accommodate the demands of the more conservative forces. As for the democratization process, it brings with it variety of forms of contestation, pluralizing the latter. No longer the revolution but nascent social movements with their particular focus on women's rights, minorities, ecology, labor rights etc. serve as paradigms for contestation. At the intersection of these instances of protest there arise tensions between modernization and democratization imperatives, which are then exploited by authoritarian or semi-authoritarian governments who choose or pretend to choose prosperity over democracy.

Is there an essential tension between modernization and democratization? Or do these two processes imply each other? How do different forms of contestation of power relate to them? Which are the social forces behind the protest dynamics and what function is played by different systems and organizations in the processes of transformation of post-soviet countries?

The conference aimed to discuss different approaches for analyzing political and social dynamics in post-Soviet countries against the background of the politics of contestation and the processes of modernization and democratization.