24th January 2019 Thursday,12:00 AM

Networks, informality, and corruption: how to parse Central Asian governance (SOAS/University of London)


Prof Alena Ledeneva (UCL-SSEES)
Dr Abel Polese (Dublin City U, Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction)
Scott Newton (SOAS Law)


Three decades after the collapse of the USSR, the allied discourses/paradigms of transition and democratisation have run out of steam, analytic force, and explanatory value in accounting for the observed changes in Central Asian states and societies, along with broadly parallel changes in their post-Soviet cousins. The celebration of ‘colour revolutions’ (Orange, Rose, Tulip) has receded into embarrassed or puzzled silence. In the view of most informed students of the region (and Eurasian space more generally), a novel and distinctive profile of governance has emerged and become consolidated, which exhibits significant points of continuity but of rupture as well with Soviet governance. The rise of so-called patronal politics or systems (in the coinage of Henry Hale) has little to do with ‘liberal market democracy’ as an ideal-type and is instead predicated on the central role of informal, organised networks of patronage and loyalty. Network or patronal systems thoroughly blur the boundaries between the public and the private, the political and the economic, the formal and the informal, the legitimate and the corrupt. Central Asian governing networks, typically organised in a pyramidal fashion with an apex leader (usually holding the chief executive office of President) and a complex, nested set of subordinate patron-client ties, exercise the real governing power by means of securing and occupying the bureaucratic posts and political offices comprising formal public authority, and then regulating access to it and directing its operation. Only in recent years have the specific characteristics and dynamics (and they are very dynamic, notwithstanding the apparent stasis) of these systems come to be appreciated by scholars as forming a pattern or type and to be subjected to investigation and analysis. Three expert panellists with differing albeit complementary disciplinary perspectives (politics, economics, and law), wide experience in the region, and deep knowledge of informal practices and patterns will explore the ramifications of Central Asian governing networks, in the interests of deepening our understanding both of post-Soviet Central Asia and of contemporary informal governance.