Pitzer College Assistant Dean of Faculty Barbara Junisbai Challenges Prevailing Theories about Capitalism and Democracy in Post-Soviet Countries

Barbara Junisbai
Barbara Junisbai

Claremont, Calif. (February 13, 2013) — Pitzer College Assistant Dean of Faculty Barbara Junisbai has published an article about the relationship between capitalism and democracy in post-Soviet countries in Perspectives on Politics. Her article, "Improbable but Potentially Pivotal Oppositions: Privatization, Capitalists, and Political Contestation in the Post-Soviet Autocracies," is based on nearly 200 in-depth interviews with billionaires-turned-opposition leaders, regime-friendly elites, academics and political observers from Belarus, Central Asia and the Caucasus region.

Junisbai's article challenges the standard, economic-centered account of political change in the post-Soviet world. Prevailing theories suggest a strong link between privatization and political pluralism, especially the emergence of opposition movements. According to this interpretation, privatization breeds a new class of capitalists—independently wealthy and politically ambitious individuals outside of the regime's control—who are seen likely agents of democracy.

In her research, Junisbai has found that executives in private business rarely emerge as champions of democracy in the region and, when they do, they often pay dearly for it.

"For this reason, post-Soviet capitalists, like capitalists the world over, ought to be considered improbable democrats at best," Junisbai said.

Junisbai's extensive interviews suggest that politics, rather than economics, drive developing democratic norms and actors. Her research highlights the tangible ways in which autocratic governments and the informal practices associated with them, such as extortion and nepotism, ultimately shape individuals' decisions to comply with, oppose or seek refuge from the ruling regime.

An expert on political opposition, authoritarianism and patronage politics in post-Soviet autocracies, Junisbai has published in journals such as Europe-Asia Studies and Demokratizatsiya: the Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization and contributed to the book After the Czars and Commissars: Journalism in Authoritarian Post-Soviet Central Asia. She earned her PhD in political science from Indiana University.

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Press Releases, 2013–14 Academic Year