Oligarchs, State Power and Mass Opinion A Study of the Role of Oligarchs in Post-Soviet Pseudo-democracies
Abstract: This thesis attempts to understand the role of oligarchs in post-Soviet pseudo-democratic regime trajectories. The two dominant, competing streams of prior work have emphasized either the importance of state power or that of mass opinion in these processes in order to explain why some regimes successfully maintain their grip on power, while others make gradual steps towards democratization. However, the role of oligarchs has been largely overlooked; a gap filled by this study. It employs both widely accepted, as well as unique data to approach the research problem. The work presented in this thesis involves large-N surveys, analyses of media reports and an in-depth case study. There are three key findings:First, for an overwhelming majority of citizens in post-Soviet pseudo-democracies, oligarchs’ actual, negative influence on the political system as well as popular perceptions of unfair wealth concentration are conducive to beliefs that a non-democratic regime is what is needed in order to set things right in their country.Second, the findings from Armenia, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine demonstrate that four politically motivated, rival oligarchs focused on enhancing their reputation and organizational capacity in their struggles for power. In all four countries, regimes used their state power to counter the rival oligarchs. Evidence from Armenia and Russia provides a nuanced understanding of these interactions. In particular, incumbents in these countries used their state power to manipulate public opinion in order to damage the reputation and credibility of the rival oligarchs. This thesis suggests that the main regime leaders do so in order to portray themselves as more trustworthy than their oligarch rivals.Third, a survey analysis of Kyiv university students shows that they view most oligarchs as corrupt and harmful to their political system. According to the survey results, oligarchs’ concentration of wealth appears to disqualify them from being legitimate political players. Yet, further evidence from this thesis suggests that people differentiate between oligarchs as a group and as individuals, which allows at least some oligarchs to enhance their reputation by using their vast material wealth. I conclude this thesis by discussing possible policy and societal implication of the results and by setting out some new venues of future research.
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