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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Seeking the models for State-building in post-crisis societies: some theoretical approaches and Russian experience of the late 1990’s, early 2000’s

Popova Svetlana Mikhailovna

PhD in Politics

Leading Scientific Associate, Institute of Socio-Political Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences

119333, Russia, gorod federal'nogo znacheniya Moskva, g. Moscow, ul. Fotievoi, 6, of. 1

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The article discusses the problems associated with the search for effective models and strategies of State-building for post-crisis societies. As is well known, the international community supports the processes of democratic transformation in various countries, as well as provides assistance in resolving conflicts. It is assumed that the efforts of such international assistance should result in a stable State. However, the history of the late XX early XXI centuries showed that the use of a democratic (Western) model for non-Western cultural context does not guarantee successful state-building. The phenomena of the 'failed state' and the 'fragile state' have become widely known.
The paper proposes some theoretical approaches to be taken into account when choosing a model of State for post-crisis societies in order to avoid the risks of statehood failure.
The author analyzes the successful Russian experience in the late 1990’s – early 2000’s of implementing 'tailor-made' models of State at the regional level, taking into account the diversity of the political, cultural, and socio-economical context of post-crisis societies. The higher efficiency of specialized models in comparison with universal models is demonstrated.

Keywords: Social cohesion, Fragile State, Failed State, Post-crisis society, Model of State, State-building, Regional authority, Russia, Tatarstan, Dagestan


Since the last decades of the twentieth century, post-crisis societies are offered a Western model of State-building as a universal solution for establishing sustainable democracy. In fact, this method of international support for countries that have entered into profound political transformations has no differences from using the franchise model in business.

However, not all attempts were successful. Experts were concerned about the problem of ‘fragile States,’[1-3] ‘failed States,’[4-6], as well as the search for a working model of the State.

But what is the ‘working model of State’? Usually, to answer this question, we need to enumerate dimensions of a sovereign State (territory, population, effective public powers, the rule of law) and the essential functions of State. If the authorities of a particular State secure implementation of these functions and come to power through democratic procedures, we usually assume that we witness the model of a working State. As for the extent of its efficiency, it is defined by comparing it with some patterns taken as starting points. This approach is rather vague because it leaves out of discussion many philosophical issues that have to be cleared up.

The attempts to focus experts' efforts solely on designing new universal but presumptively more successful models of State-building for the post-crisis societies narrow the frames of scientific analysis and reduce the practical value of proposed solutions. Any most perfect car sold for the territories which have no roads or petrol stations will be useless.

Practice shows every post-crisis society is 'unhappy in its way,' so universal models are not universal at all. We are sure that if we would like to raise international support effectiveness, it has to become similar to concepts of modern target therapy or personal tailoring. The tailor-made model of the new State seems to be more effective in fostering political stability and sustainable development of post-crisis societies.

The international support for the State-building in post-crisis societies is a costly project that requires proper planning, monitoring, and controlling. The critical issue is performance auditing because these projects spend taxpayers' money. So the seeking for a model of State-building to implement into the post-crisis societies, which would reliably ensure the stability of the new democracy, is of paramount importance for the international community both politically and economically.

The practical value of the newly developed models of state-building depends to no small extent on the specific conditions of the recipient countries as well as the chosen strategy and tactics to implement these models. When assessing support projects, it is necessary to take into account a case limitation set (available resources, deadlines for project implementation, an acceptable level of novelty of the proposed solutions, etc.), which have a significant impact on the viability of new models of statehood.

How to assist in the transformation of States to ensure that the result satisfies all stakeholders at the local, national, and international levels? This critical question risks left without answers if we discuss the problem within the framework of institutional approaches only and without specifying the national context in which a State works.

On the one hand, it is a problem with the cultural reception of external models. It is clear that institutes developed for a particular historical, cultural, economic, and social context may not be viable in another societal environment. Moreover, it is true not only for different States but also for the same State undergoing the radically new period of its development.

On the other hand, the problem is that the State-building in post-crisis society proceeds in the fast-changing realities. Volatility, instability, the coexistence of old and new, unpredictableness of trends – all these phenomena are the characteristics of any time of transition. Therefore, the new model of the post-crisis state proposed by the international community will inevitably have to compete with other models of the desired future, including those far from democracy or Western views on a capable state, which exist in the public consciousness. There is pretty little chance that this model will win just because it is based on great ideas and best practices.

In reality, the old and the new institutes, the different concepts of what’s ‘correct,’ and the various models of desired future continue to coexist, interact and compete, which means that the stability of new State remains under the risks. The transition to the new social relations will become irreversible when not only the institutes but, primarily, the philosophy of the democratic rule-of-law State will become an integral part of the system of social values and determine the routine political and social practices.

So it is essential to know which facts reliably prove that the point of no return has been passed and a new model of State could be able to exist and develop on its own, without the permanent assistance of the international community.

Therefore, from the practical point of view, it would be more useful to discuss not only new models of State but, first of all, new strategies of State-building in post-crisis societies and yardsticks of an assessment of their prospective competitiveness and effectiveness.

If we discuss the strategy, the primary choice is what should be the primary focus of international assistance? Should the global society first to assist in making the post-crisis context more favorable for a new State model implementation and strengthening? Or it would be better to focus on refining the proposing model of State that it would become a sustainable project able to bring desired changes in existing reality?

These and many other questions do not have unambiguous answers since each case of state-building in a post-crisis society is specific. However, some general approaches exist that we need to consider in the search for practical solutions.

Criterion of effectiveness

All tailor-made solutions are always much more expensive than mass production, so it is evident that the worth of international society assistance in the supporting of Post-crisis State transformation is of particular importance. It is essential to specify which criterion we have to choose a definition of effectiveness. We can determine effectiveness as the ratio of resources spent on the achieved outcomes.

From this point of view, it is essential to calculate ‘a break-even point’ of State building projects for a post-crisis society. It would be useful to know when the State building project will begin ‘to pay its way.’ It means that the financial and other resources of the international community will no longer be spent on the external (economic, military, expert) assistance for a new State because a newly-built State can exist and develop in a proper direction on its own.

We can also define effectiveness based on such a criterion as the ‘consumption of human lives.’

What does it mean? Many solutions seem to be effective from the standpoint of economy and finances. Still, they are entirely inhuman because they negatively impact such indices as life expectancy, well-being, peoples' security, and so on.

For example, in the 1990th the reforms conducted by Russia were based on the classical approach to self-supported economic crisis control (liberalization and democratization). They were pretty efficient since they helped to facilitate socio-economic transformation and building of new social-economic institutes. But the public opinion considered these reforms as ‘inhuman’ and resulting in psychological shock for the peoples.

Another illustration of this point concerns big economic projects that worked out in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s regime. It sounds inhumanly cruel, but from an economic standpoint, Stalin’s economy was cost-effective and competitive because it based on the forced labor of prisoners.

Thus we are facing the problem of setting up working criteria of performance evaluation of projects designed to reform the post-crisis States, and these criteria depend on the level of how deeply the international society would like to be involved in such activity.

If the international society pursues the goal, which is mainly altruistic (world peace, commonweal, and prosperity for all people), the cost of the ‘last mile’ construction may be as high as necessary and the period of the model implementation as long as it is required. If the project of assistance to the new State-building presupposes some benefits for the organizations providing its financial and institutional support, it is necessary to determine an exact decisive criterion for the performance evaluation of the project.

For example, if, in the course of the project realization, the priority is given to the minimization of resources accompanied by the time limits, the model-performers might resort to defective (from the democratic point of view) political practices. If the key criterion is the maximum correspondence of the accepted solutions to the democratic ideals, the implementation of the model may result in the augmentation of resource consumption.

But in any case, the international society whose organizations take part in the programs of assistance to the post-crisis States transformation is empowered to control how efficiently, effectively, and economically these organizations use the public resources to achieve the stated objectives.

Allowable novelty level

Apparently, no State model, the legal system, or economic relations will mature in a sterile environment.

The institutional economics offers a theory of ‘Path Dependence’ put forward in the 1980s by the American economists and historians Paul David and W. Brian Arthur, who focused on the issues of institutional inertia, i.e., on determining why the institutional innovations are often impossible in an established economic system.

Based on the Path Dependence concept, the allowable ‘novelty’ of any model of State in transition cannot be absolute, while its constructive potential will always remain restricted by the inertia of the system changing.

Moreover, objectively, the dynamic balance of the traditional and the new is necessary as it enables the state, society, and culture to develop and respond to the challenges of the time while retaining their national identity. Therefore the maximum level of innovations in the transformation of post-crisis societies cannot exceed a particular limit even if the architects of the new world intend to change everything and turn over a new leaf in history.

It follows that the informal leaders who create problems for the new State formal leaders are outside the system of government only for the West. In fact, they represent traditional institutes of post-crisis societies, which the West, in the course of the institution of a new model of statehood, usually tries to ignore reform or abolish. But these 'non-institutional,' informal leaders form, as a result, public opinion and ensure either a support or a failure of reforms. Also, they have real charisma and influence on the general public as they are part of it, whereas new institutional leaders of post-crisis societies are objectively accepted as ‘strangers.’

Cultural dissonance

The implementation of a new State model in post-crisis societies simultaneously with the foundation of new institutes can result in the strengthening of a crisis.

The reason is that the concept of universal principles of new social order can contradict with traditional models of State-building, public order, power, and legitimacy. In fact, we are talking about the fact that the introduction of the Western model of statehood causes cultural dissonance. As a result, the establishment of a new model of State-building is accompanied by multiplying risks and increasing the level of violence.

First of all, a new model of State can be forcibly destroyed by those who support the return of the ‘old order.’ Second, a new model of State will be tested continuously by those who interpreted a democratic principle of appointment by-election and alternativeness of authorities as a promotion opportunity for anyone in society. These people think ‘if a neighbor managed to become a President, then why I wouldn’t succeed in it?’

But the problem is that in the societies which are undergoing transformations, people engaged in political activity are often out of control. They have already come out of the old system of social control based on the respect to authority and tradition. But they are not yet ready to obey a new control system based on the rule of law. Therefore these people form a group of non-system actors who tend to make use of any chance to take over power and resources.

We had witnessed such a phenomenon, for instance, in connection with the elections in Afghanistan (2009) where security was so low that many polling stations were closed, or in Haiti (2010-2011, 2015-2016) when armed people destroyed polling stations because their candidate was excluded from electoral rolls or failed.

The multiplication and escalation of hazards to public order and stability of the State make authorities to increase legitimate violence and police strength. As a result, the general level of violence and instability is increasing.

Lack of elites consent and social cohesion

One of the essential risks for State stability in societies transforming consists in the fact that, during the transition periods, there is no consent both among the adherents of the old and the new approaches and among the advocates of changes who hold different views on goals, ideology, strategy, and tactics of the reforms. Even more dangerous is the lack of social cohesion caused by the absence of shared goals, as well as productive formal and informal institutions that benefited from people's trust. Many experts call this factor as one of the roots of the fragility of the state [7-8].

It is important to note that the new model of the state, enshrined in the new Constitution, also exists not as a result of the already achieved public consensus, but as a point of growth of a new social structure that needs constant support. But the new model of State sealed by the new Constitution exists not as a result of an already achieved public consensus but, instead, as a growing point for a new societal structure, that needs to be permanently supported. This support includes, in particular, the possibility and right to use legitimate violence to protect State stability.

An effective and stable Constitution that provides a new model of the country’s political and socio-economic system is the crucial criterion of a working State.

In the time of dramatic sociopolitical change, the adoption of a new Constitution is a statutory recognition of a yet nonexistent but desirable (at least for a part of the population and the elite) model of the country’s future system. Therefore, in societies transforming, the Constitution fulfills not only the regulatory but also constructive functions.

The new Constitution can and should be the basement and tool of building social cohesion. To ensure that the image of the desired future does not remain a mere good intention, the Constitution should possess specific characteristics that enable to reform the reality in compliance with the new principles and resist the unfavorable influence of the obsolete institutes and relations. The Western legal and political scholars call such Constitutions viable or self-enforcing. Self-enforcing Constitution serves not only as a model of the future, stipulating the goals and expected outcomes of the initiated changes but also as a unique management tool which, if properly used, ensures successful achievement of the stated goals.

Long-term goals VS short-term of office

An effectively working State must carry out the function of the setting of strategic goals and carry out strategic plans. A creating and performing long-term goals shared by society is an essential instrument of power.

The democratic principle of regular change (replacement) of governments comes to inconsistency with the necessity to ensure the implementation of long-term socially significant strategic goals. The officials, such as temporary representatives, employed managers whose powers are limited by the terms of their offices cannot take charge of working out of long-term development strategies. Only the subjects possessing such categories as eternity and continuity can manage this task. They are a monarch, a nation itself, a church, a party.

So, a working State requires special instruments to control bureaucracy, which always tries to replace the achievement of long-term targets by their short-term benefits. The most important of these instruments are the constitutions, the supreme audit institutions, the public opinion, the mass-medias, etc.

Besides a working State, it is imperative to have the subject of setting strategic goals inside the State, not outside of it. In this connection, even if a State pursues the target to keep to internationally adopted standards, it takes its decisions independently as a sovereign subject. In the case of the adoption of a Western model of State in post-crisis societies, strategic targets are set by an entity located outside. It means that in public opinion, a State is not considered as a sovereign institution, and its objectives are not thus legitimate and approved by the population. It causes distrust of a new model of State and can lead to failure in State building.

Russian experience of the late 1990s-early 2000s

Russia, contrary to usual judgment, has significant practical experience in promoting the formation of sustainable statehood in post-crisis societies.

On the eve of the collapse of the USSR, Russia as a Federal entity consisted of a large number of parts, differing in historical forms and ethnic compositions - national Republics, territories, regions, an autonomous region, autonomous areas, etc. General crisis processes have led to instability, inter-ethnic conflicts, escalation of violence in many subjects of the Federation that was accompanied by the collapse of their institutions of power.

Besides, in the early 1990s, during the so-called ‘parade of sovereignties’ after the dissolution of the USSR, many national republics enshrined in their constitutions provisions on state sovereignty, the supremacy of their laws over the Federal, claimed a special status (for example, the 1992 Constitution of Tatarstan). Because of the conflicts in the Russian regions, one of the causes of which were internal (national, social) strife and the weakness of institutions of power, the fragility of the Russian state as a whole entity increased.

The 1993 Constitution of Russia established the principle of unity of the system of state authority as one of the foundations of the Federal structure of the country [9, Part 3 Art. 5]. If to take into account the hierarchy 'Federal center – subjects of the Federation,' the unity of the system of state authority is manifested in the structural similarity of the bodies of state power of the Russian Federation and bodies of state power of the subjects of the Russian Federation. This approach means that the subjects of the Russian Federation should organize the institutions of power, focusing on the Federal model of State building.

However, the profound difference in the historical context of regional state-building, the growth of ethnic and regional self-identification, created not a too favorable environment for the introduction of the 'unified model.' In some subjects of the Federation, the model implementation 'in its pureness' could lead to an increase in instability. So, the Federal center, considering the risks, chose various tactics of state-building in different regions.

The key method is based on tailoring the hybrid model of State suitable for cultural, historical, psychological, and other peculiarities of a society undergoing a period of reforms, including the traditional way of carrying out social control.

For example, one of the immutable requests in Russia is the correspondence of the rules of the Constitutions (Charters) of the Subjects of the Russian Federation to the rules of the Federal Constitution and, therefore, retention of similar models of government structure in all the subjects of the Russian Federation. It should be noted that this model of government structure essentially conforms to the Western democratic model. Nevertheless, the federal center realizes, that the subjects of the Russian Federation having different national-cultural traditions, can have various rates of the institution of the unified federal model of government.

To make the new institutional forms sustainable and to compel the traditional societies to take them for granted into their system of values, the federal center admits temporary saving in practice and in the legislation of the national republics (for example, republics of the North Caucasus) a miscellaneous kind of ‘deviations,’ differences from the standard type of the government model.

So, according to the standard type of the government structure, the subject of the Russian Federation is headed by one man, the so-called ‘highest official’ (in the 1990s – ‘President,’ ‘Governor’). But in a variety of multinational republics of the North Caucasus, the idea of an individual presidency was too ‘radical’ for a traditional social and political activity supporting the philosophy of a collective mode of an administration.

Therefore, for example, till 2006 in the Republic of Dagestan, the role of the collective president was executed by the State Council consisting of 14 representatives of the people of the Republic (one representative from each nationality). ‘Convergence’ of the traditional model of the authority and the modern one was implemented as follows: there was a Chairman elected by the State Council as a collective organ of power, who, de jure, executed functions of the individual highest official of the republic with respect to the Federal Centre, being, de facto, the ‘envoy,’ the representative of the State Council.

In 2006 the Federal center considered a transition period to be completed and insisted on the establishment of the post of the sole President of the Republic of Dagestan. After that, stability in the Republic became mostly dependent on the personal qualities of the new institutional leader, his ability to negotiate with other, 'non-institutional' leaders, and to be, in public opinion, the trusty representative of the interests of the entire people of Dagestan.

A similar situation has historically developed in the Chechen Republic. In the late 1990s, it became evident that the traditional Chechen society based on the clan organization would not admit the idea of the individual presidency. For this reason, the Federal center decided to resort to a temporary measure. The Russian Federation allowed establishing the Chechen State Council, which has integrated local leaders, including religious authorities. This decision has been stated in the final and transitive rules of the new Constitution of the Chechen Republic. In particular, it stipulates that the State Council is composed of the heads of the municipal governments of the towns of Grozny, Argun, and Gudermes as well as the representatives of these administrative-territorial formations (one from each area, elected by the assembly of its residents). The State Council had executed the functions of the Supreme body of the power of the Chechen Republic before the republican Parliament was elected.

One more example: the system of the so-called ‘Shariat courts’ in the Chechen Republic, formally mismatching a modern secular democratic model of statehood, has been officially ‘permitted’, legitimized by the Federal Centre and afterwards has been turned into a specific ‘national Chechen model’ of the institute of justices of the peace.

After the hybrid models had been introduced and legitimized by the societies transforming, the federal center gradually set them in compliance with the ‘basic model’ of statehood, stipulated by the Federal Constitution and legislation.

Moreover, despite the successful unification of the model of State using on a regional level in compliance with the federal one, subsequently, several acts were passed to symbolically emphasize the subordinate position of the subjects of the Federation.

For example, in 2010, the Federal center adopted amendments to the Federal law "On general principles of organization of legislative (representative) and executive bodies of state authorities of the subjects of the Russian Federation," prohibiting the highest heads of regional executive bodies to be called presidents' [10]. It is noteworthy that the President of the Chechen Republic, Ranzan Kadyrov took the initiative according to which 'there should ve only one President in Russia'[11].

Also, the new law amendments forbid regional legislative bodies to use in their names the words, making a basis of names of Federal bodies of State power (we are talking about banning regional parliaments from calling themselves ‘State Duma’) [12].

Final remarks

The above and other examples of the history of Russian Federation-building illustrate the advantage of individually tailored models and solutions. However, it is evident that such a strategy of State-building in post-crisis societies requires deep patience, resource expenditures, and liability of the subjects who have undertaken a mission of assistance.

Therefore the political culture and knowledge of decision-makers also gain particular importance as they not only have an exceptional power to select a strategy but also are authorized to allocate resources for its implementation. So if a chosen strategy is ineffective, the country may find itself caught in a so-called institutional trap, which makes the very possibility of further development questionable.

The process of cultivating new institutes and relations requires a systematic, thoughtful, and attentive approach on the part of the National State as in such a situation, no ‘invisible hand of the market’ will help to make an adequate choice or to bridge the emerging gaps.

We can not be sure 100 percent of the success or defection of the selected model or strategy of State-building before it will be realized (‘the proof of the pudding is in its eating’). So it is necessary to recognize, those decision-makers are compelled to select not between ‘correct’ and ‘wrong’ models but between various levels of probability of a successful outcome of events. Based on this point of view, we have to state a final choice is always a personal act of volition for which probable aftereffects a decision-maker is bound to accept liability. Moreover, it concerns not only political actors but also the experts who are not formally considered to be political persons.

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