Democratization in Spite of Itself: Postcommunist Patrimonialism, Parties, and Regime Change in Southeastern Europe

Sellin, Frank Erick, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Allen, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Waldner, David, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

The dissertation seeks to explain postcommunist regime change in the Balkans: why alternation in power by democratic processes was delayed relative to East Central Europe, and the causal processes needed to accomplish it. To frame regime change in its environmental context, I explore two foundational concepts. The first is an adaptation of the Weberian concept of patrimonialism in postcommunist circumstances, as a principle for the organization and maintenance of political systems, and particularly the construction and maintenance of political parties and party systems by controlling appointments and distributing other state resources for narrow partisan ends. The second is the concept of façade democracy, where neo-authoritarian regimes both win and are strengthened by democratic elections, and even more importantly, tolerate discrete oppositions, independent media, and competitive elections, albeit on an uneven institutional field meant to keep oppositions somewhat weak, yet the willingness of the regime in question to lose power through democratic processes remains under considerable doubt. Using those two concepts as environmental conditions, I analyze how the countries of Southeast Europe moved from façade democracy to what I call "really existing democracy," by accomplishing the minimum goal of a democratic alternation in power. I argue that two individually necessary and jointly sufficient variables are needed to explain such regime change: opposition unification, understood as the coordination of one or more opposition alliances as against the threat posed by ex-communist regime despite multiple overdetermining factors that tend to reinforce collective action problems for the opposition, and regime erosion, which analyzes the loss of structural support among social forces by ex-communist regimes. Analysis of the former variable demonstrates the conscious attempts of political parties to build and maintain cross-class coalitions. Analysis of the latter variable demonstrates that worker defection, more than any other class, and structural breakdowns internal to the regime were crucial to the downfall of ex-communist regimes and produced structural shifts that enabled a democratic alternation in power. The two primary cases analyzed are Romania and Serbia, with respective regime changes in 1996 and 2000, and more evidence is adduced from secondary cases such as Bulgaria and Croatia (and on occasion, Albania and Macedonia). The dissertation concludes with observations about the continuing dominance of patrimonialism despite the achievement of "really existing democracy," its implications for the derailment of the reform process through incompetence, mismanagement, and corruption by former oppositions once in power, and concerns about the capacity of established party systems to address social frustrations, such that antidemocratic forces in nationalist guise pose a grave concern for continued democratization, even fourteen years after the fall of communism.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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