Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World. Andrew Wilson. : Yale University Press, 2005, 352 pp. $40.00 Reviewed by Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005
Faking democracy is not as good as practicing it, but it is still better than destroying it. Putin calls it "directed democracy," meant to advance the purposes of a state that knows best. More accurately, it is democracy deployed to help those in power stay in power, with "virtual politics" as its agent. By fair means or foul (mostly foul), regimes throughout the post-Soviet region have mastered the art of simulated democratic politics, replete with fake political parties, spectral politicians, illusory competition, and manipulated outcomes. Because real authoritarianism is not within their reach, elections do count, and so to ensure those elections go their way, those in charge resort to various exotica ("administrative measures," "invented opposition," "clone parties," and the like), all plied by "political technologists." Unlike spinmeisters in the West who finesse politics, political technologists manufacture politics. Wilson, with remarkable thoroughness and panache, dissects their ploys, tactics, and tricks, particularly in Russia and Ukraine. Can it last? Yes, he says, as long as the elite monopolizes politics, the public remains passive, information can be controlled, and the outside world does not care. Remove some or all of these conditions, and "orange revolutions" happen.