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Title:The revolution will be made public: The effects of international actors on protest movements in hybrid and authoritarian regimes today
Author(s):Chereson, Peter John
Director of Research:Leff, Carol
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Leff, Carol
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Canache, Damarys; Hummel, Sarah; Winters, Matthew
Department / Program:Political Science
Discipline:Political Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
social movements and contentious politics
Post-Communist politics
comparative political behavior
Abstract:Recent years have seen an explosive increase in the number of English-language signs held by political protesters in autocracies throughout the world, signaling activists’ desire to capture the attention and interest of a global audience. Innovations in telecommunications make it easier than ever before for people in one country to know what actors elsewhere are doing, and to solicit their attention and assistance in an increasingly interconnected global context. How does this awareness of a global audience shape citizens’ decisions to protest in authoritarian regimes today? How might support from external support from democracies elsewhere or intervention from dictatorships affect protesters’ perceptions and decision-making strategies? I propose several causal mechanisms to answer these questions in the following dissertation. First, I posit that external support from democracies elsewhere bolsters protesters’ resolve to campaign against the regime. This attention provides protesters with four types of benefits, each of which alters their perceptions and strengthens their decision to maintain their efforts – 1) a psychological benefit of purposive solidarity (the cognitive and emotional sense that they are not alone and that their movement will succeed); 2) a strategic benefit of transnational learning from activists elsewhere; 3) a physical benefit through the credible threat of checking and sanctioning should autocrats’ response to activists become too forceful; and 4) a material and political benefit by establishing strong linkages with diaspora or democratically-minded citizens abroad that provide logistical support to protesters on the ground and lobby their own leaders to support the movement. Conversely, what effects might autocratic intervention have on protesters’ perceptions? I predict two competing effects at the individual level, dependent on the domestic context at hand. Outside intervention to support an embattled leader can signal incumbent vulnerability by suggesting that the regime cannot stay in power without help from abroad, but external support can also cause fear of increased repercussions should the incumbent stay in office. I posit that in semi-authoritarian regimes, the first effect will dominate and cause an unexpected backlash in which protesters see their leader as increasingly fragile, subsequently strengthening their efforts to remove him or her from power. In fully autocratic states where the regime is already equipped with a powerful security apparatus, however, I propose the second mechanism will dominate – intervention will cause deterrence and intimidation as protesters perceive the dangers involved in challenging the regime as even more threatening than before. I test these hypotheses in the following dissertation in three ways. First, I present a case study of Ukraine’s 2013-2014 Euromaidan movement to illustrate my causal mechanisms in action. I spent six months in Ukraine interviewing and surveying more than 120 Members of Parliament, reporters, activists, and civil society leaders to examine how protesters’ beliefs about Western support and Russian intervention shaped their behavior. These interviews illustrated the fact that for many protesters, attention and support from Western states and organizations (particularly the European Union, the United States, and the Ukrainian diaspora) was central in strengthening their will to continue campaigning against the regime. Further, many of my interviews showed how protesters resented overt Russian support for ex-President Viktor Yanukovych; their actions were driven partly by the need to keep Ukraine from becoming “the next Russia.” Second, I independently designed and implemented an original survey experiment at three Ukrainian universities, recruiting nearly two hundred students to learn about their willingness to protest in future movements should one arise. I asked all participants to read a vignette stating that they lived in a repressive state where students had begun to protest against an authoritarian government that was reversing recent democratic reforms in favor of retrenched autocracy. Participants in the first treatment group learned that democracies elsewhere were supporting the protest, participants in the second treatment group learned that autocracies elsewhere were intervening to suppress the protest, and participants in the control group received no information about external actors at all. Following this, all subjects rated their willingness on a ten-point scale to engage in three forms of protest, each of which represented an increasingly intense form of participation. Findings show that for the most intensive type of protest activity, individuals are significantly more likely to protest when they believe that democracies elsewhere support them (p < 0.001). Finally, I provide a series of five comparative case studies- Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, a 2011 uprising in Bahrain, a failed revolt in 2005 Uzbekistan, Lebanon’s 2005 Cedar Revolution, and Venezuela in 2019 – to examine how these trends hold across temporal and geographical contexts. This project has a number of pressing and timely implications both theoretical and normative, given the current crisis that liberal democratic governance is facing across the globe amidst the rise of right-wing, populist illiberal regimes. Supporting movements in authoritarian regimes that champion respect for human rights, civil liberties, and freedom of speech is of critical importance, and I show in this dissertation that such considerations should play a prominent role in the foreign policies of democracies the world over.
Issue Date:2019-12-05
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Peter John Chereson
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-03-02
Date Deposited:2019-12

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