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The international making of 'authoritarianism': the Council of Europe and the question of membership of Azerbaijan and Belarus

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Democracy
Democratisation
Human Rights
International Relations
Political Sociology
Critical Theory
Yauheni Kryzhanouski
Institut d'Études Politiques de Strasbourg
Maria Bigday
Institut d'Études Politiques de Strasbourg
Yauheni Kryzhanouski
Institut d'Études Politiques de Strasbourg

Abstract

The definition of “democratic” and “authoritarian” is to a large degree the result of international symbolic struggles and brokering. On the European continent, the Council of Europe is one of the arbiters who can attribute to a state such a definition. Although it may appear that this definition is based on a set of clear criteria (in the field of democracy, human rights and the rule of law), in practice it is noticeable that the actors of the Council of Europe have a large margin of interpretation of these criteria and of their application to concrete national contexts. The status of democracy and authoritarianism can thus be presented as a result of multiple adjustments that take place through interactions between national and international actors. Drawing on the example of different status in the Council of Europe of two authoritarian states, Belarus and Azerbaijan, we propose to discuss the attribution of the status of democracy/authoritarianism in a sociological perspective. The issue of the role of international organisations in the definition of democracy/authoritarianism is also related to the questions of the autonomy of the international organisations. We would like to argue that autonomy has a variable, relative and situational character; and that more autonomy does not necessarily lead to more criticism vis-à-vis national practices: the logic of preservation of autonomy could in fact limit the marge de manoeuvre of international organisations and their secretariats. This analysis should also take into account the internal structure of the organisation, the contract policy, the structure of labour markets, the trajectories of the staff, and other significant parameters that could influence the professional logics of functioning of international organisations. At the same time, the attribution of the status of authoritarianism may also be analysed through the prism of succession of concrete situations in which the transnational interaction between actors is taking place (configuration of relations, subject, formal setting of the interaction). In order to understand the process of attribution of such a status, it necessary to identify and study the large spectrum of actors taking part in these interactions (national diplomacies, parliamentarians, staff of international organisations, NGOs, experts, extra-parliamentary opposition, etc.). We propose to discuss these points drawing on the participatory observation of the functioning of the Council of Europe, including its secretariat and parliamentary dimension, which may be completed by interviews.