Freudism will not get as far

Friday, 17. December 2010     0 comment(s)
Vadim Kononenko
Researcher - The EU's Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia research programme

It seems that in the last ten years or so many policy analysts, especially those studying the post-Soviet developments have become more experts in psychology (you may as well say psychiatry) than in political science. This is one and logical step after Kremlinology, a popular hobby of the Cold war era when a policy analyst would try to guess the shifts in the Soviet power echelon by observing the order of appearance of the Soviet party bosses on Lenin’s Mausoleum during a military parade. The current fashion is to focus on the figure of the ruler himself, his inner motives, emotions, desires and such. Perhaps it all started when President Bush looked into the eyes of President Putin and saw Putin’s soul. Ever since, many a commentator or diplomat set out to interpret Russia’s internal policies as well as foreign relations through the lens of psychology. It is a quite telling example how much of the debate on Russia’s immediate future has been dedicated to deciphering the possible turns in the personal rapport of Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev.

However, by focusing on the figure of the leader, no matter how powerful he may appear, makes the analysis and policy debate less strong and useful for understanding the developments on the ground. A good example is the fixation of the majority of scholars of Belarus on its leader, president Lukashenka. Much of the talk about Lukashenka is about his skills of maneuvering between Russia and the EU and his confidence as an unrivaled rule in Belarus. At the same time, as was discussed at a recent FIIA seminar, there are larger trends and developments in the country, first and foremost poor economic performance. These processes will important drivers of Belarus’s politics past the December 19 elections as much as the personal qualities of Mr. Lukashenka.

The same goes for other post-Soviet countries, in particular Central Asia where the domestic context comes to the debate even less so. As a result, the riots in Kirgizstan in April 2010, especially the ethnic clashes between the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz came as a wake-up call for the international community. The point here being that although it may be true that in post-Soviet countries it is often the leader who is calling the shots, the countries that they govern are complex systems that are prone to internal shocks. All are socially fragmented with very little rotation in the elite circles and weak institutions. None is doing exceptionally well economically. The political situation is extremely volatile. In this sense, keeping an eye on the leadership in order to get a grasp of what is going on is clearly not enough.

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