What is a stabilitocracy?

5 May, 2017

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What is a stabilitocracy?

In our latest BiEPAG policy brief, we use the term stabilitocracy to describe the semi-authoritarian regimes in the Western Balkans. We draw this term from Srdja Pavlović, who introduced this term in an LSE Blog on Montenegro in late 2016 to describe a regime where undemocratic practices persist and the "West has... turned a blind eye to this while simultaneously preaching the virtues of democracy and the rule of law."

A similar term has been used by Antoinette Primatarova and Johanna Deimel back in 2012 to describe Albania as a country in which "provides stability externally but domestically oscillates between democracy and autocratic tendencies."

We based our use of the term on these earlier stuides to describe the semi-authoritarian regimes in the region which receive external support, in particular from EU member states, for the sake of the (false) promise of stability. Thus, a stabilitocracy is a regime that includes considerable shortcomings in terms of democratic governance, yet enjoys external legitimacy by offering some supposed stability. This exchange of stability for external lenience on matters of democracy can be called a "stabilitocracy". We are aware that this transaction has characterized Western assistance and support for non-democratic regimes around the world for decades.

What makes the experience of the Western Balkans particular is that the offer of EU accession is based on formal equality and democracy, thus breaking with the early understanding of foreign policy not driven by shared norms and values, but purely by interest and maintaining inequality between the center, such as Western Europe, and the periphery, such as the Western Balkans.

Thus stabilitocracy is a step back from the earlier vision of EU integration based on equality and eventual convergence and emphasizes geopolitical considerations over liberal democracy. These offers of stability by the governments towards the EU, be it in pacifying regional issues, such as bilateral relations, or in regard to external challenges, such as the flow of refugees, are misleading, as the lack of democracy in the region is a main source of instability itself. Semi-authoritarian stabilitocracies are both willing to cause and manage instability with its neighbors or towards the internal other--the opposition or minorities--for the sake of securing continued rule. Thus, stabilitocracies are causing instability, and the only stability they provide is its promise towards external actors.

As a result, they are based on a volatile equilibrium between external demands for stability and the need to create tensions to create legitimacy for their own existence: In a context of consolidated, stabile liberal democracies, stabilotocracies have no space. In this regard stabilitocracies are essentially a paradox: they cannot deliver what they offer without making themselves redundant. Thus, a region of stabilitocracies produce mutually conducive instability to legitimize their own persistence.

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  • Florian Bieber Director, Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz
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