Stability and Change of Political Regimes

First projects

Public initiatives and state policies – a post-Soviet comparison

The research project "Public initiatives and state polices - a post-Soviet comparison" focuses on monitoring and reform efforts of public actors in the interaction with state policies and political decision-makers in the post-Soviet space. In times of accelerated social change, there are growing demands for transparency, accountability and participation, among others in post-Soviet countries. The study builds upon research in the field of "public and societal control" and seeks to link it to insights from social movement studies. The concept of "contentious politics" (McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly 2001) provides a theoretical lens for the analysis of contestation and mutual influence between civic activists and state structures and policies in the context of the post-Soviet period and region. The focus will be on the analysis of recent controversial legislation. The analysis will be based on three case studies from structurally different post-Soviet countries. The project aims to deepen our understanding of social and grassroots movements that have emerged in recent years.

Project coordination: Dr. Nadja Douglas

Morality instead of peace. The social and ethical discourse of the Russian Orthodox Church between theological sovereignty and political adaptation

This project investigates the dynamics of Russian Orthodox social ethics since the fall of the Soviet Union. Although social and ethical issues may not lie at the heart of Orthodox theology, in Russia there is a striking dynamic of social and ethical positioning that impacts on sociopolitical discourses. While some basic documents of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) have since 2000 offered guidelines within the church, the discourse around values has gained notable relevance for the state and society. Recourse to orthodoxy, to the views of church leaders, and to Russian history, which is shaped by traditional orthodox values, is a permanent element of current sociopolitical debates.

The dynamics of the ROC’s social and ethical discourse and its interaction with sociopolitical processes in Russia throw up questions that this research project seeks to answer. On the one hand, these questions focus on the theological foundations of the current sociopolitical orientation of the ROC, the ways of organising the development of social and ethical positions, and the search for alternative theological social and ethical concepts. On the other hand, the project seeks to investigate and determine what parallels and ruptures may exist between the church’s social and ethical positions and sociopolitical developments, what convergences and divergences there are between state and church interests, and whether there is any evidence of the ROC’s social and ethical positions influencing sociopolitical dynamics with regard to internal and external conflicts.

Project coordination: Dr. Regina Elsner

Literature and Power in the Post-Soviet Space

The project "Literature and Power in the Post-Soviet Space" analyses the role of Russian-language literature in selected countries in the Former Soviet Union today, including Belarus, Kazakhstan and Latvia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union these countries have experienced different political and economic developments. Their population structures differ greatly from each other as well as their relations with Russia as the de facto successor to the Soviet Union. The Russian language, however, is still in widespread use in all of these countries - also in literary texts. The selected countries are representative of the different paths of development in the post-Soviet space.

The project asks what kind of Russian-language literature still exists in the selected countries. The focus is on texts by local authors rather than on literary imports from Russia. What topics do these texts deal with? What function do they have? In some of the countries there are conflictual relations between the titular nations and the Russian or Russian-speaking minority, in which Russia has intervened. The project will investigate whether literature is a field of political contestation in the sense of acting as a form of continuing Russian dominance in the post-Soviet space. Is there continuity with the Soviet tradition of using literature (and culture in general) as an instrument for the projection of power (as the concept of Russkij Mir suggests)? Or, do the authors use their literary texts to criticise the Russian regime? The analysis of the selected texts from different countries will be placed in a comparative perspective.While literary methods are used to analyse the content of the texts, a wider discourse analysis and expert interviews will help to understand the social dimension and impact of literature.

Project coordinator: Dr. Nina Frieß

Grassroot public spheres and activism in Russian federal cities

The project explores how the civic engagement and public mobilizations in large cities are influenced by communication processes which are embedded in everyday life and horizontally organized. Three dimensions are analyzed:

  • Everyday life: How and where does communication occur between the members of different socio-cultural milieus, including those persons who depend on the allocation of resources by state actors? How does this process complement the role as the audience of mass-media outlets? Which collective interpretive frames are being (re-)constructed here?
  • Mobilization: How do mobilized publics, i.e. networks which are oriented towards collective action for specific causes, emerge? The project considers, among others, pragmatic, conservative, and loyalist campaigns.
  • Hybridization: How are different offline and online arenas for the public communication of meanings connected?

The project focuses on large federal cities, which hold a double position in the centre-periphery hierarchy of Russia`s social structure. Representing the periphery when compared to Moscow, major cities still concentrate human, financial, and administrative resources. They are characterized by a diverse population but also a more manageable number of local public spaces and arenas. They allow for communication networks within and between different social and cultural milieus to be traced. Novosibirsk and Samara have been selected for in-depth case studies.

The empirical research uses different methods and data in order to provide a variety of perspectives on the development of public groups in the cities. First, as part of the fieldwork, group discussions with political and social activists and members of different socio-cultural milieus will be conducted. The documentary method of analysis will be used to reconstruct the participants' shared knowledge, which serves as an orientation for social action. The discussions will be analyzed in relation to both the topics discussed and the framework used to deal with these. Second, the analysis of online communication will focus on local discussions and mobilizations, including issues ranging from the local to the global level. Computer-aided retrieval and pre-selection of data will be used to identify areas of intensive communication, followed by a qualitative analysis focusing on the shared interpretive orientations and patterns of interaction. Third, expert interviews will be used to explore the wider contexts of both cases.

Project coordinator: Dr. Tatiana Golova

Political change from below? Local politics in Ukraine

This project aims to systematically analyse the new political balance of power at the regional/local level in Ukraine. The project is based on three regional case studies (Dnipro, Kharkiv and Odesa). To date, these regions have in most cases been presented in research and in the Western media in an undifferentiated way as part of (south-)eastern Ukraine. In the wake of the political changes since 2014, such an understanding is not sustainable and yet the current political dynamics at the local level remain largely unknown. Such local dynamics are critical for the scientific analysis of a country in transformation which is characterised by regional diversity. The research provides a better  foundation for German and European policy through its assessment of local actors and the potential for reform. One fact that is frequently overlooked is that the municipal elections of 2015 resulted a far higher degree of political diversity. Reports of the elections may have emphasised a revitalisation of the opposition party, a successor to the Party of the Regions, but in many key regions, the gap between a conglomerate of reformist forces and the opposition parties was far narrower than was generally assumed. The contours of the fragmentation of the reformist block at national level are known, but there is a lack of knowledge about the patterns of cooperation or confrontation at local and regional level, even while there has been progress in reforms to local self-administration.

The project focuses on three issues. How important are party political differences at the regional/local level? How do the representatives of the different parties and interest groups negotiate/cooperate/compete with each other? Do these dynamics change with the political and economic incentives created by the reform of local self-administration? From these empirical questions, larger conceptual issues emerge regarding democratisation “from below” and possible tensions between national and regional/local politics. In methodological terms, this project aims to analyse the debates and voting behaviour at municipal meetings. This will be supplemented by interviews with regional/local politicians and journalists.

Project coordination: Prof. Dr. Gwendolyn Sasse