Daniel W. Drezner

Authoritarianism with exit options

Clifford Levy writes about the rise in Russian tourism in the New York Times, and does a good job of bringing the stats:    The number of Russian tourists visiting countries outside the former Soviet Union grew to 7.1 million in 2006, the last year statistics were available, from 2.6 million in 1995, according to the ...

Clifford Levy writes about the rise in Russian tourism in the New York Times, and does a good job of bringing the stats:   

The number of Russian tourists visiting countries outside the former Soviet Union grew to 7.1 million in 2006, the last year statistics were available, from 2.6 million in 1995, according to the Russian government. A record 2.5 million Russians visited Turkey in 2007, up 33 percent from 2006, Turkish officials said. Only Germany, that paragon of European wealth, sends more tourists to Turkey. (By contrast, in 1988, a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, all of 22,000 Soviet citizens visited Turkey.) The Russian tourism boom is happening as new low-cost airlines in Europe have spurred a sharp increase in tourism across the Continent. But for the Russians, the chance to travel is especially prized. For the first time in Russian history, wide swaths of the citizenry are being exposed to life in far-off lands, helping to ease a kind of insularity and parochialism that built up in the Soviet era. Back then, the public was not only prevented from going abroad; it was also inculcated with propaganda that the Soviet Union was unquestionably the world’s best country, so there was no need to leave anyway. People who desired foreign travel in Soviet times typically had to receive official approval, and if it was granted, they were closely chaperoned once they crossed the border. Even before they left, they often were sent to classes to be indoctrinated in how to behave and avoid the perils of foreign influence. Those who were not in good standing with the party had little chance of going.

Many of the states that the United States thinks of as authoritarian — Russia, China, Saudi Arabia — are actually pretty open about letting their citizens live, travel and study abroad.  This stands in sharp contrast to the totalitarian regimes of the former Warsaw Pact or Myanmar and North Korea today).  Ibring this up because it highlights how unusual those communist regimes really were.  Citizens trapped in both authoritarian and totalitarian societies face mortal risks in exercising voice as a means of political protest.  Citizens trapped in totalitarian societies, however, can use exit — migration — as an additional means of registering discontent.   In sufficient numbers, migration can be just as powerful as protest in promoting regime change.  One of the triggers behind the collapse of East Germany was the creation of a quasi-legal escape route through Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the late summer of 1989.  Over the next month, more than 1% of East Germany’s total population fled the country –putting tremendous pressure on the East German regime to change its ways.  Zimbabwe is near collapse now in part because of the same problem. Clearly, what we currently label as authoritarian states are a different animal.  People can leave — indeed, in some cases I suspect these governments are happy to have political dissidents depart their shores.  What’s interesting is that many people — not just those personally invested in these regimes — leave and come back.  This is new, and as a political scientist, I find it pretty interesting.  As a foreign policy analyst, it suggests that the lessons drawn from how the Soviet model do not travel into the here and now all that well. 

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola