Herbert J. Ellison Memorial Lecture Series

The Rise and Fall of People Power in Eurasia



Economic Modernization and the Growth of Political Opposition in Russia
February 28, 2013


Islam and Politics in Central Asia
December 3, 2012


From Great Expecatations to Humdrum Reality: Eastern Europe's Dissapointments with Post-Communism
November 8, 2012


Economic Modernization and the Growth of Political Opposition in Russia

Daniel Treisman
Professor of Political Science, UCLA
February 28, 2013

After giving a brief history of protest in Russia during Putin’s tenure, showing an overall upward trend in the size of protests, Professor Daniel Treisman discussed potential causes for last February’s protest in Moscow. By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of people came out to protest the apparently fraudulent results of the parliamentary elections. Moscow had not experience that kind of protest since the early 1990’s. According to Treisman, one major cause of these protests was the rapid economic modernization of the country’s economy.

Treisman presented a multitude of data showing how average wages and average income had increased dramatically in the last ten years. According to the data, education and internet connectivity increased dramatically. Although Russia’s industry remains in a state of disarray, these numbers suggest that Russia’s economy has modernized in the past decade. Russians, especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg are rising out of poverty as the economy becomes more service oriented. Because most modern developed economies are serviced based, Treisman said the move to a more services oriented economy is evidence of Russia’s modernization.

So if modernization occurred over the past decade what initiated these protests? The answer is fairly simple. The irregularity in the parliamentary election results was just the provocation that the well-educated wealthy Muscovites needed. The protesters that participated in the February protest were in large part better educated and wealthier than the average Russian, or even than the average Muscovite, according the a Levada Center poll. Because of their wealth, education, access to information, and experiences abroad their values are changing. They want to protect their property rights and they want democracy. Their frustration with political stagnation motivated them to protest.

Although Treisman did not prove a connection between modernization and the protests, he did show some insightful trends. The size of Russian protests is trending upwards. Russians are wealthier and much better off now than they were ten years ago, especially in the cities. In Treisman’s opinion discontent is likely to grow as upper-middle class Russian’s are frustrated by Putin’s stagnating regime.


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Islam and Politics in Central Asia

Pauline Jones Luong, Associate Professor, Political Science, Brown University
December 3, 2012

Pauline Jones Luong, Associate Professor of Political Science at Brown University, discussed her current research on Islamic revival in Central Asia for the Herbert J. Ellison Memorial Lecture Series. Because we do not understand the Islamic revival in Central Asia it is difficult to discuss any of its implication, Luong said. She noted that currently there are two views regarding Islam in Central Asia: that there has been a strong Islamic revival, and that there has not been any strong religious resurgence. The first view that a strong Islamic revival has occurred is supported by anecdotal evidence, while the view that no strong resurgence has occurred is supported by systemic evidence. Luong noted that anecdotal evidence, though different, is no worse than the systemic evidence. Her research will develop and improve anecdotal evidence in Central Asia to clarify what is actually occurring.

Each of the two views of Central Asia are based on two different types of data, each of which have flaws. The systemic evidence, which shows no signs of a revival, is based on survey data, but the survey data has no baseline. The same surveys were not conducted 20 or 30 years ago. Also, the questions are based on western perceptions of Islam, and not Central Asian’s perceptions of religion. Anecdotal evidence is weak because it cannot be generalized across all of Central Asia. Luong’s research will improve the quality of anecdotal evidence by building networks across the region.

Luong shared some preliminary results, but cautioned that she is still in the early stages of research. Her results are based on focus group discussions. These preliminary results showed that the state response to religious activity is more intrusive, especially in Uzbekistan. As Religion in the region continues to evolve, religious entrepreneurs take advantage of a lack of clear form of religiosity. People who have gone on the Hajj or who have studied abroad are often seen as religious authorities rather than the state sponsored leaders. Rather than search for causes of religious revival, as Luong continues her research she will focus on what is actually occurring in Central Asia.

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From Great Expectations to Humdrum Reality: Eastern Europe’s Disappointments with Post-Communism
Professor Daniel Chirot
  November 8, 2012

Daniel Chirot is the Herbert J. Ellison Professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Washington. 

Despite significant overall improvements since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, several complaints are often heard, especially in the academic communities in Eastern Europe according to Daniel Chirot. Some academics who were actively involved in pushing for change are disappointed to find themselves left behind, essentially on the outside looking in. Overall pessimism and a rosy memory of the past perpetuate these complaints. Chirot mention the following as the most common complaints:

• Less social solidarity
• Great deal of inequality
• Corruption
• Political instability
• Brightest young people leave
• Thought they would catch up to the west.

Although some of these complaints are justified, they are often exagerated. Eastern Europe is much better off now than it was in 1989. At end of the 1980s the region had not experienced real growth in over a decade, Chirot said. Sincethe initial decline nearly all Eastern European economies have recovered and are well above income levels of the 1980’s. Countries now compare themselves to Germany, but are not satisfied with their overall progress. Chirot mentioned how countries revert to old patterns such as corruption. These patterns were present not only during the communist era, but also before communism.

Dr. Chirot raised the issue of low-birth rates as a major problem. According to him, these Eastern European societies are dying. Birthrates in the region range are well below the replacement birthrate. Unlike in Western Europe, immigration has not been sustaining the population. In addition to the economic challenges that the shrinking population poses as the people age and die, it also stirs up cultural anxiety as the societies try to preserve their identities. Not surprisingly academics and policy makers are frustrated when youth, the future of these societies, leave for better jobs and opportunities in the west.

Professor Chirot’s lecture was followed by a question and answer session:

Q: Is there more crime in these countries today than there was during communism?

Absolutely! Chirot related a story of a serial killer in who was caught in the 1970’s in Romania. This killer was caught, captured, and executed all in the same day. The communist rulers provided a strong deterrent to crime and maintained firm control over the population.

Q: How is enthusiasm for the E.U. in Eastern Europe?

Enthusiasm for the EU is still high, Chirot says, but not for the Euro. Both Bulgaria and Romania have done better as EU members even though their economies are still not thriving. Slovakia has thrived in the EU. The Euro crisis is actually benefiting some Eastern European countries because, unlike countries using the Euro, they can devalue their currency to increase competitiveness and attract foreign investment.

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