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World Politics

Contemporary Bolivia and perceptions of a multipolar world

Konovalova Kseniya Aleksandrovna

ORCID: 0000-0002-9848-0035

PhD in History

Research fellow, Assitant of theDepartment ofWorld Politics, Saint Petersburg State University

199034, Russia, St. Petersburg, nab. University, 7, building 9

Other publications by this author










Abstract: This article is devoted to the peculiarities of perception and representation of a multipolar world in Bolivia. Since the governments of the "Movimiento al Socialismo" party came to power, this country, on the one hand, can be called one of the leading critics of the world liberal order in the region, opponents of US dominance, and on the other hand, it is characterized by a nationalist course in the economy, proactive integration strategy and presence in reputable multilateral institutions for the Global South. These circumstances make the Bolivian case of attitude towards the issue of multipolarity very illustrative. Critical discourse analysis according to Teun Van Dijk was chosen as a research strategy. We consider selected materials of various genres and formats, referring to the semantic code multipolar world both explicitly and implicitly, through associations and metaphors. It is shown that, in general, for Bolivia the issue of forming a multipolar world is highly relevant and is associated with a number of fundamental aspects of the domestic and foreign policy model built by the ruling party Movement to Socialism. The positive expectations of Bolivian political leaders and international relations from the emerging multipolarity are associated not only and not so much with the decline of US dominance, but with the preservation of multilateralism and the opportunity for the country to diversify external relations, and integration is recognized as the key way to involve Bolivia in global dynamics. The scientific novelty of the work is ensured by the lack of study of the problem risen in both the Russian and foreign research fields; the authors contribution is created by the results of a detailed analysis of the discourse concerning the multipolar world in Bolivia according to its main proponents, contexts and topics (topics).


Bolivia, multipolar world, system of international relations, discourse, Bolivian experts, Bolivian politicians, Russia, China, USA, BRICS

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.


In the Russian academic [7, pp.51-52] [3] and political [5] [6] information spaces, the idea of Latin America (hereinafter referred to as LA) as one of the poles of the emerging multipolar world is often found. On the one hand, it is based on a set of common factors that really contribute to enhancing the global role of the region in the 21st century. This is, for example, the growth of its economies in the 2000s - 2010s, in many cases accompanied by a policy in the spirit of the "development state" (the so-called "golden decade of Latin America" [9, pp.94-96]), the emergence of leaders and parties of a left-nationalist orientation in power, appealing to a break with the the stereotype of the "backyard of the United States" and emphasizing solidarity with the new rising powers, the global South (the trend of the "left turn"), the rooting of most political forces for a pragmatic priority to ensure the wide presence of their countries in many markets at once, in universal international organizations and global governance structures. On the other hand, in this case, the diversity of Latin American approaches to the concept of a multipolar world is not taken into account. As the Mexican international scholar Elodie Brun shows, although "multipolarity is a very popular term", it remains controversial in itself and does not reflect or generalize all the problems and imperatives of involving the states of the region in the current transforming system of international relations [21]. Despite the fact that some attempts have been made to clarify the general specifics of the Latin American understanding of the multipolar world [4] [21] [46, p.23-27], national positions on this issue are practically not studied and remain a lacuna, especially in Russian Latin American studies.

This article proposes to focus on the vision of a multipolar world as a vector for the development of the modern system of international relations in Bolivia. The choice of the country for analysis can be explained by a number of considerations. First of all, Bolivia is, in general, one of the most prominent and consistent critics of the United States and its global role in Latin America. Not only antiAmerican rhetoric, but also practical steps - the rupture of diplomatic relations, refusal to cooperate in the field of national security - have remained a constant of Bolivia's course since the leaders of the Movement towards Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS) party began to lead it in 2006. This line can be considered a consequence of the ideological choice of MAS, which, during the presidency of Evo Morales (2006-2019), led Bolivia to the camp of the most radically left-leaning Latin American governments united in the integration bloc "Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America" (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra America, ALBA) and prioritizing ties with opponents of the United States, in particular, China, Russia, Iran [2]. At the same time, compensating for the status of a small regional size, Bolivia seeks to build a proactive world policy. Bolivia under MAS is characterized by a more noticeable presence than other "socialists of the XXI century" from Latin America, such as Nicaragua or Venezuela, on high international platforms in UN bodies, the Group of 77 and (G-77) [2] [39, p.12-13]. The country is also distinguished by an economic model involving resource nationalism and a pragmatic attitude towards diversification of investors and trading partners, both at the expense of Western actors and leading Latin American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Chile), China, Russia and others.

Thus, it can be assumed that a multipolar world, as an image of an international reality where many sovereign centers of power coexist and at the same time there is a wide room for maneuver for small and medium-sized players, is attractive for Bolivia. It is proposed to test this hypothesis with the help of critical discourse analysis in line with the Ten Van Dyck approach, which allows methodological pluralism and focuses on critical understanding of the text in relation to its social and political conditionality [1, pp.19-26]. The research involves 34 materials of various formats (official statements, interviews, speeches, analytical comments and articles), the authors of which are representatives of the political and expert circles of Bolivia - according to Van Dyck, representatives of the "symbolic elite" [1, p.52] of the country. The selected materials refer to the semantic code "multipolar world" both explicitly (they mention this phrase) and implicitly (they do not mention the corresponding phrase, but they talk about the prerequisites of multipolarity, given in the language of political theory: "many centers of power", "struggle against hegemony" and the like). Chronologically, the array of texts covers publications of the second half of the 2000s - early 2020s, since at that time, in general, the attitudes of modern Bolivian foreign policy were formed and embodied. So, although E. Morales lost power in 2019, the current head of Bolivia, Luis Arce (elected in 2020), continues many of his approaches in the international arena, and Morales himself remains the chairman of MAS and an extremely influential political figure. At the same time, special emphasis is placed on the 2020s - the presidency of Arce and the period when, in global terms, discussions about multipolarity were noticeably actualized against the background of disruptions of neoliberal globalization and the aggravation of confrontation between the Euro-Atlantic world and Russia and China.

General characteristics of the media and contextualization of the discourse on the multipolar world in Bolivia

Bolivian international researchers are not characterized by attention to the problems of the formation of multipolarity in a general theoretical framework. They tend to discuss it "with an eye" to the specific historical context of the second half of the 2010s - early 2020s, which contains signs of a crisis of the liberal world order: the rise of protectionism and nationalism in the West, the coronavirus pandemic and the ineffective response of international organizations to it, the increase in the number of international conflicts around the world from Libya to Ukraine [25] [26, p.47] [38, p.19] [39] [40, p.30]. The same trends actualize the plot of multipolarity in the mouths of the country's politicians MAS leader E. Morales [18], President L. Arce [43] [44], Foreign Minister Rogelio Maita [30]. According to experts and politicians, a multipolar world is a "desirable horizon" beyond which the international system, while not completely free from the remnants of the unipolar moment of the 1990s, will be more balanced and convenient for Latin American countries, but its formation brings global fragmentation, conflict and uncertainty, to which it is necessary to adapt.

Two peculiarities are noticeable among the group of speakers of the discourse on multipolarity among experts. Firstly, the lion's share of specialists who turn to multipolarity are international practitioners employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other official departments of the country. Two collections of the main state forge of diplomatic personnel of Bolivia, the Multinational Diplomatic Academy, published in 2015 and 2022, can be considered the most detailed scientific works on this issue. These collections contain a series of articles addressing the concept of a multipolar world in nine different semantic contexts, while nothing like this is found anywhere near in the scientific periodicals of the country. Secondly, most often the bearers of the discourse on multipolarity from among experts are personalities associated with the dominant MAS party. The most striking examples are: Alvaro Garcia Linera, who served as vice president of the country under E. Morales and is considered a leading scientist and ideologist of MAS, publishes program texts on Bolivian foreign policy and world politics [11, p.329-330]; MAS activist and former adviser to the Bolivian Foreign Ministry, Catu Arconado [14]; ex-Minister of Autonomous Affairs Hugo Jose Siles, whose materials are attracted by one of the few specialized "thought factories" in Bolivia the Observatory of Bolivian Foreign Policy [36]. Despite the fact that some opposition intellectuals (for example, former diplomat, liberal political activist and professor at the Large University of San Andres Julio Alvarado [10]) also address the problems of a multipolar world, their presence in the information field is very small compared to "official" experts.

In addition, it is noticeable that the discourse about a multipolar world is recontextualized in connection with a number of attitudes that support the very model of state development and foreign policy of Bolivia under the MAS governments, and, obviously, is used as an argument to give them additional legitimacy. So, for example, since the time of E.Bolivia began to promote the so-called "people's diplomacy", which assumed the special importance of transnational interaction with Indian communities and related social organizations. According to K. Arconada, "people's diplomacy" is a tool for "building" a multipolar world by Bolivia. Moreover, the corresponding position was recorded by him in a note calling for voting in support of the extension of the presidential powers of E. Morales in the 2016 referendum. [14] Another "know-how" from the Bolivian socialists is the philosophy of "Vivir Bien" ("good life"), which criticizes the capitalist way of life and relies on social solidarity, communitarianism and environmentalism. At one time, it was fixed by MAS as the basis for the integrated development of the country and was also linked to the participation of Bolivia in the creation of a multipolar world [42, p.174].

The main topics of the discourse on multipolarity

In the discourse on multipolarity in the case of Bolivia, two main topics are noticeable "confrontation with hegemony" and "Latin American integration".

"Confrontation with hegemony" includes a theme of criticism of the United States. Since the time of E.Morales' formula of opposing the United States as "the center of liberal imperialism" and at the same time "the pillar of the unipolar world" was associated with the assertion of the very model of the "state in the interests of Indians and the poor", which was formed by MAS, and his foreign policy. Such interpretations can be found both in scientific texts characterizing the international course of the Morales administrations [2] [38, p.71], and in official materials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which explicitly stated "the denial of a unipolar world promoted by the United States, seeking to impose a unilateral ... and imperialist order" [29]. During Arce's presidency, the links between "US guilt" and the movement towards multipolarity became rather implicit. Arce and his entourage do not seek to hang negative labels on the United States, but limit themselves to exposing specific steps by Washington, which can be interpreted as destabilizing Bolivia, Latin America and the world as a whole. These are, in particular, the plots of the war on drug trafficking in Colombia [22], sanctions against Cuba [23], facts and suspicions of US support for opposition forces in Bolivia itself [32], which has served and serves as a constant cause for tension in cooperation with Washington. It is noteworthy that at the beginning of Joe Biden's presidency, Minister R. Maita expressed the hope that "the United States would take into account the formation of a multipolar world and change its approach to Latin America and Bolivia" [16], and such statements very much echoed the phraseology of the liberal expert and activist H. Alvarado [10]. Despite the fact that diplomatic normalization with Washington did not take place under Arce, the Arce team is inclined to recognize the importance of at least trade and investment ties with the United States, and point out regarding them "Bolivia's desire to have good relations with all countries ... of the international community" [33]. Such changes can be correlated both with the complication of the financial, economic and domestic political situation in Bolivia in the 2020s, which is why it cannot afford confrontation with a leading global player, and with Arce's style as a leader less prone to populism and positioning himself as a pragmatist. If E. Morales considers U.S. support incompatible with a multipolar world, then Arce is not characterized by a vision of a multipolar world as excluding the United States.

In addition, criticism of the United States is not the only component of the antihegemonic topic. Firstly, in political texts that construct the image of the world order desired by Bolivia, broader accents are noticeable on overcoming any hegemony in general. As characteristic examples, Evo Morales's programmatic speeches at the UN General Assembly in 2008 and Luis Arce's speeches there in 2022 can be cited. Both speeches are, in fact, programs of proposals for the organization of a better world order, and in both cases the formation of a multipolar world is associated with the alignment of the structure of the international system in terms of "balance [balance of forces, as Arce bluntly says] [23]" and "smoothing asymmetries, equilibrium [35]". Secondly, it is noted that not only the United States is able to be guided by hegemonic logic. So, although special relations with China are usually presented as key for Bolivia's participation in building a multipolar world, including, from the point of view of its leftist ideology, bets on solidarity of developing countries (the G-77 + China platform is important in this regard for La Paz) [34] [36], It is noted that in the long term, China also strives for international hegemony, wants to challenge it from the United States. This was repeatedly mentioned by A. Garcia Linera [11, p.330] [27].

The topic of Russia deserves special attention. On the one hand, Bolivian leaders tend to perceive it as a kind of "counterweight" to the United States, including in the area of Latin America, and one of the pillars of multipolarity [15] [24]. On the other hand, in some cases, Russia's offensive foreign policy of recent years is also characterized as imposing the rules of the game ("Russia, China ... and other actors ... continue to look for [an opportunity] to "sell" their project to others, which they believe the world should follow" [45, p.116-117]), contributing to the undermining of multilateralism and the growth of global conflict [38, p.20]. The aggravation in Ukraine and the officially "neutral" position of La Paz in 2022-2023 at the UN, the Organization of American States, provoked serious debates in the political class of Bolivia itself, and it can be noted that there were different opinions about the systemic impact of the Ukrainian crisis and Russia's special military operation. If for the same e.Morales is characterized by unconditional support for Russia's actions as a rebuff to NATO's "creeping aggression", and the idea that Russia, no less, "guarantees the sovereignty and independence of the countries of the world for a multipolar geopolitical balance" [24], R. Maita only noted that "at the heart of the "Ukrainian crisis" lies the confrontation of ... great powers [20]". In one of his interviews, commenting on Bolivia's neutral position on the Ukrainian issue, the diplomat also stated that neutrality was caused by "our (i.e., Bolivia's author's note) fear that a bipolar structure would arise in the world," as during the Cold War, when the interests of Latin America were infringed [22]. And the development of this thesis, as in the case described above with the assessment of the expediency of maintaining ties with the United States, referred to the universal "need to interact with the entire international community" [22].Thus, it turns out that, although the antagonism of the geopolitical interests of Russia, China and the United States is noticeable for the Bolivian "symbolic elite", it proceeds from the belonging of all these players to the "core" of the world system and shows that their behavior in any case can create costs for countries that do not belong to the club of great powers.

As for the topic of Latin American integration, it conveys the idea that participation in regional groupings is the main channel for introducing Bolivia to the dynamics of an emerging multipolar world and a way to adapt to international turbulence. Both the President of Arce [31] and the most prominent ideologist of MAS, Garcia Linera, hold the position [27] that integration is important because it determines the "survival" of the whole of Latin America in today's complex world and expands the possibilities of its states for negotiations with great powers and blocs. In the context of Bolivia's participation in the emerging multipolarity, the priority is, on the one hand, the ALBA bloc, associated with the concept of a "great Latin American homeland" [19], and on the other, the continentalist structures the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribe?os, CELAC), the South American Community of Nations (Uni?n de Naciones Suramericanas, UNASUR). The latter existed in 2009-2019, and then, due to the changed political and ideological layouts in the region, it stopped its work. In 2023, the South American left is discussing plans to resume UNASUR, at the suggestion of Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the revival of UNASUR is necessary from the position of "giving South America its voice in a multipolar world." I must say that not all the leaders of the region now agree with this phraseology, but Bolivian President Arce shares it [12] [47].

The plot, as if at the junction of the anti-hegemonic and integration themes, can be called Bolivia's interest in uniting the BRICS. La Paz's proposal to join the grouping was openly announced only in July 2023, but in the expert discourse, the prospects for expanding ties between LA and BRICS have been discussed since at least 2015 [41]. For Bolivia, the expansion of ties with BRICS is formulated as a valuable option from several sides. On the one hand, because of the idea that this institution is creating a new international financial architecture, characterized as "anti-hegemonic" [41] and "multipolar" [13]. It should be added that just in 2014-2015, the BRICS created a New Development Bank and announced plans to form its Pool of conditional foreign exchange reserves, which was interpreted by some analysts not only as a prologue to the institutionalization of the grouping, but also as a challenge to the traditional stronghold of the Westcentered global financial system - the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund [8]. On the other hand, the appeal to the BRICS makes it possible to combine the priority of the struggle for a multipolar world with the identity of Bolivia as a developing state [37]. Finally, BRICS is associated with the opportunity to rely on diverse ties with several significant global partners of Bolivia at once to accelerate "sovereign economic development." The background for the entered L.The proposals on Bolivia's participation in the BRICS are supported by his government's plans to improve and modernize the gas infrastructure, build a modern lithium industry with the involvement of capital and technology from China and Russia, despite the fact that freedom of hands in the capitalization of natural raw materials is interpreted as an important prerequisite for the growth of the country's international importance. Both E. Morales [17] and L. Arce [13] are characterized by rhetoric in the spirit of resource nationalism, which is presented as a condition for expanding the country's opportunities to participate in the creation of a more balanced international system. Ties with BRICS do not conflict with the idea of resource nationalism, presenting themselves as a kind of additional international support for national economic potential. As the Bolivian Vice Minister for Communications Gabriela Alcon put it, they can give Bolivia "strategic partnerships based on the complementarity of economies, without interfering in its internal affairs," as well as increase the global weight of "the entire (Latin American - author's note) region" [28].


Returning to the initial hypothesis, on the one hand, it can be stated that the interest of the Bolivian "symbolic elite" in the problem of the formation of a multipolar world is really very high.

Among the analyzed political texts addressing multipolarity, there are speeches by Bolivian leaders at key global and regional venues for the country, such as the UN General Assembly, the ALBA and CELAC summits, the summit of heads of state of South America in Brasilia in 2023, dedicated to the resumption of UNASUR. On the task, together with other countries, to contribute to the formation of a multipolar world, the current head of Bolivia, L.Arce even mentioned at his inauguration [47], which can be regarded as a serious argument in favor of the relevance of this story, since topics of global international relations in such a format of speeches by Latin American leaders are generally rare.

We also found that the appeal to the formation of a multipolar world in the Bolivian context is most closely related to the actual diplomatic and political practice. It also has a certain domestic political relevance regarding the maintenance of the Bolivian economic model under the governments of the "Movement towards Socialism" and even the legitimization of the MAS political project itself, whose attitudes, at the same time, have a noticeable impact on the content of the discourse about multipolarity in the country.

But on the other hand, it cannot be argued that Bolivian politicians and experts see only positive effects in configuring a multipolar structure. They highlight the conflictogenicity, the unstable dynamics of such a structure, at least in the current period. In addition, although the US hegemony is perceived as a negative phenomenon, other great powers focused on its overthrow also have geopolitical ambitions that can destabilize the international system and do not meet the interests of developing Latin American countries.

The results of the discourse analysis suggest that Bolivia is interested in such a multipolarity, which would imply a reduction in the role of the United States and its partners in the developed West, given their decisive influence on global neoliberal capitalism, as well as processes in Latin America itself. But at the same time, Bolivia is determined to preserve multilateralism and does not seek to get involved in the confrontation of global players, but wants to painlessly diversify its external relations. Integration, both regional and interregional (BRICS), is key to Bolivia's self-representation in a potential multipolar world.

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The peer-reviewed study examines modern Bolivia in the context of modern ideas about a multipolar world. The research methodology is based on a generalization of the publication of the second half of the 2000s early 2020s on the research topic. The scientific hypothesis put forward is tested with the help of critical discourse analysis in line with the Ten Van Dyck approach, which allows methodological pluralism and focuses on critical understanding of the text in relation to its social and political conditionality. The authors note the noticeable actualization of the discussion on multipolarity against the background of disruptions of neoliberal globalization and the aggravation of confrontation between the Euro-Atlantic world and Russia, China; consider Latin America as one of the poles of the emerging multipolar world; talk about the diversity of Latin American approaches to the concept of a multipolar world, about the high interest of the Bolivian elite in the problems of the formation of a multipolar world. The scientific novelty of the reviewed research consists in the formulated author's vision of a multipolar world as a vector of development of the modern system of international relations in Bolivia. The following sections are structurally highlighted in the article: Introduction, General characteristics of the media and contextualization of the discourse on the multipolar world in Bolivia, the main topics of the discourse on multipolarity, Conclusion, Bibliography. The authors note that Bolivia strives to build a proactive world policy. This country is distinguished by an economic model that assumes resource nationalism and a pragmatic attitude towards the diversification of investors and trading partners, both at the expense of Western actors and leading Latin American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Chile), China, Russia and other states. As a result of studying official statements, interviews, speeches, analytical comments and articles, the authors conclude that in the view of experts and politicians, a multipolar world is a "desirable horizon" beyond which the international system, while not completely free from the remnants of the unipolar moment of the 1990s, will be more balanced and convenient for Latin American countries, but its formation brings global fragmentation, conflict and uncertainty, to which we have to adapt. In the discourse on multipolarity in relation to Bolivia, two main topics are noted: "confrontation with hegemony" and "Latin American integration". The authors believe that the antagonism of the geopolitical interests of Russia, China and the United States is noticeable for the Bolivian "symbolic elite", it proceeds from the belonging of all these players to the "core" of the world system and shows that their behavior in any case can create costs for countries that do not belong to the club of great powers. The bibliographic list includes 47 sources publications of foreign and domestic scientists on the topic of the article, to which there are targeted links in the text confirming the existence of an appeal to opponents. The article corresponds to the direction of the journal "World Politics", contains elements of scientific novelty and practical significance, may arouse interest among readers, and is recommended for publication.