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Illiberal Soft Powers and the Global Challenging of Liberal Democracy Investigating Russian and Turkish Influence in Eurasia

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Comparative Politics
International Relations
Sonja Schiffers
Freie Universität Berlin
Sonja Schiffers
Freie Universität Berlin

Abstract

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama published his famous article on ‘the end of history’, in which he declared the “ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy” and an “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism”. As he argued, the victory of the “Western idea” became evident in the “total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism”. However, meanwhile, enthusiasm has waned. Many countries have become increasingly authoritarian and scholars speak of a “pushback trend”, in which governments actively cooperatate to undermine democratization processes. My research project starts out from this very context – rising illiberalism within relatively powerful foreign policy actors, and their increasing desire to use soft power. Specifically, I ask what the non-military strategies of authoritarian states are to influence developments in its neighborhood, and how these are implemented on the ground. Particular attention will be paid to domestic actors, the interplay of interests, and power dynamics in the target countries. Possible control variables still have to be determined, but could, amongst others, relate to the increase of socio-economic problems in the target countries, disappointment with liberal democracy, and the securitization of national traditions by local elites. The project draws upon various theoretical strands and concepts within the international relations literature, such as soft power, diffusion, linkage, and learning. It will be conducted as a comparative case study, with data collection to be based on document analysis and interviewing in the target countries. The conference paper will present the theoretical and conceptual framework of the study and first empirical evidence from the case of Russian influence in Georgia. While its political relevance is rather obvious, my dissertation project is also highly academically relevant. As briefly mentioned above, a scholarly field surrounding autocracy promotion has started developing. However, many scholars remain critical regarding its conceptual base, which seems underdeveloped and based on patchy empirical evidence. Thus, more systematic analyses, particular those that focus on the impact of illiberal soft power/authoritarian foreign policy on the target countries, need to be conducted.