Weapons of the Wealthy

Weapons of the Wealthy: Predatory Regimes and Elite-Led Protests in Central Asia

Scott Radnitz
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Weapons of the Wealthy
    Book Description:

    Mass mobilization is among the most dramatic and inspiring forces for political change. When ordinary citizens take to the streets in large numbers, they can undermine and even topple undemocratic governments, as the recent wave of peaceful uprisings in several postcommunist states has shown. However, investigation into how protests are organized can sometimes reveal that the origins and purpose of "people power" are not as they appear on the surface. In particular, protest can be used as an instrument of elite actors to advance their own interests rather than those of the masses.

    Weapons of the Wealthy focuses on the region of post-Soviet Central Asia to investigate the causes of elite-led protest. In nondemocratic states, economic and political opportunities can give rise to elites who are independent of the regime, yet vulnerable to expropriation and harassment from above. In conditions of political uncertainty, elites have an incentive to cultivate support in local communities, which elites can then wield as a "weapon" against a predatory regime. Scott Radnitz builds on his in-depth fieldwork and analysis of the spatial distribution of protests to demonstrate how Kyrgyzstan's post-independence development laid the groundwork for elite-led mobilization, whereas Uzbekistan's did not.

    Elites often have the wherewithal and the motivation to trigger protests, as is borne out by Radnitz's more than one hundred interviews with those who participated in, observed, or avoided protests. Even Kyrgyzstan's 2005 "Tulip Revolution," which brought about the first peaceful change of power in Central Asia since independence, should be understood as a strategic action of elites rather than as an expression of the popular will. This interpretation helps account for the undemocratic nature of the successor government and the 2010 uprising that toppled it. It also serves as a warning for scholars to look critically at bottom-up political change.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6617-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction: PUZZLES OF PEOPLE POWER
    (pp. 1-14)

    In a dusty corner of Jalalabad Province in southern Kyrgyzstan, poor farmers in the village of Vin-Sovkhoz tilled the soil, herded their sheep, drank tea, and gossiped about village life, as they often tend to do. They had never taken part in a protest, had contact with a nongovernmental organization (NGO), or met an American with the exception of a Peace Corps volunteer who had once lived in a neighboring village. The monotony of village life for these people would be briefly interrupted in March 2005 when they would take part in bringing about the first peaceful change in government...

    (pp. 15-38)

    In a world where most people live under nondemocratic rule and lack political and civic freedoms,¹ protest is, according to Sidney Tarrow, “the main and often the only recourse that ordinary people possess against better-equipped opponents or powerful states.”² In recent years, the world has witnessed dramatic mass demonstrations, from Eastern Europe to Indonesia to Iran, as aggrieved people risk life and limb to express their dissatisfaction with authoritarian regimes. Sometimes they have succeeded in their objectives, sometimes not, yet the use of protest persists in the face of repression as the most brazen weapon of the weak.³

    But protest...

  8. 2 THE VIEW FROM BELOW: Communities as Sites for Collective Action
    (pp. 39-52)

    Over decades of research on social movements, scholars have repeatedly noted the crucial role played in collective action by preexisting social networks, which facilitate action by disseminating information, enabling recruitment, generating emotions, inculcating norms and values, and shaping new participation identities.¹ A social network approach can help to explain how ordinary people came to participate in mass mobilization in Central Asia: although elites were the catalysts of the antiregime collective action described in this book, communities were the social basis of protest. Yet networks come in many shapes and sizes. Why would communities, rather than some other type of social...

  9. 3 THE VIEW FROM ABOVE: State Influences on Elite Opportunities
    (pp. 53-76)

    Whereas communities are the social basis for mobilization, it is elites who act as the initiators, by allying themselves with communities as a form of self-protection. One precondition for this practice, subversive clientelism, is the presence of independent elites, which did not emerge in large numbers in most Central Asian countries. The region’s regimes evinced a high degree of continuity with the old elite and ran some of the more autocratic states in the world. It was only where reforms created the possibility of prosperity outside the regime that independent elites could emerge.

    The contrasting political development of post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan...

  10. 4 LINKAGES ACROSS CLASSES: The Development of Subversive Clientelism
    (pp. 77-102)

    The previous two chapters have portrayed communities and elites as distinct and separate entities. The poor have, for the most part, been left to their own devices, while the former nomenklatura have availed themselves of rent-seeking opportunities, access to international markets, and, in Kyrgyzstan, privatization. However, in Kyrgyzstan, where a class of political and economic elites emerged that was separate from the regime, new linkages developed between the powerful and the powerless. These relationships stemmed from an awareness by insecure or ambitious elites that they could benefit in the long run by redistributing some of their wealth; and a desire...

    (pp. 103-130)

    The last three chapters have described the process whereby elites independent of the regime in Kyrgyzstan sought to defend their positions through the cultivation of support bases in poor communities—subversive clientelism—and through ad hoc collaboration with other elites. This chapter details the innovative and unlikely response of an elite with such a support base when faced with a challenge from above: a peaceful protest movement in rural Kyrgyzstan that involved nearly ten thousand people at its peak and continued for ten months. The Aksy protests can best be understood as the joint product of strategies adopted by communities...

    (pp. 131-166)

    Following the peaceful transfers of power that took place after mass protests in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine in the early 2000s, few analysts expected the “wave” to reach Central Asia. Whereas the European cases may have possessed the necessary social, cultural, and political preconditions for a peaceful popular uprising, the Central Asian states lagged on critical indicators such as income per capita and civil society. In the unlikely event that an uprising took place, some predicted, it would be led or exploited by Islamic radicals and accompanied by violence. ¹ Yet Kyrgyzstan confounded the skeptics: in March 2005 over forty...

    (pp. 167-194)

    In earlier chapters of this book, I laid out a framework for understanding the origins of mobilization through clientelist ties and showed its variation in two Central Asian countries. The root cause of this form of political contestation—present only in Kyrgyzstan—was a set of early postindependence reforms made by President Akaev that enabled the decentralized generation of wealth. Mobilization was not inevitable, but it did not emerge out of thin air either. Evidence that the groundwork had been laid in advance is starkly illustrated by the contrast with Uzbekistan. The two countries were culturally similar, shared a common...

    (pp. 195-216)

    Mass mobilization is one of the most dramatic and inspiring of all political phenomena. The sight of thousands of impassioned citizens taking to the streets to demand their rights can be a great leveling force in the face of powerful and repressive governments, which have recourse to police, armies, and the state-run media to maintain their power. “People power” is one of the great innovations of the post–World War II era, capable of producing monumental and lasting political change through peaceful means, and paralleling the worldwide rise in democracies.¹ Sometimes it occurs in the most unlikely of places, where...

    (pp. 217-224)
  16. Index
    (pp. 225-232)