Autocrats Buying Time

Clifford J. Levy has a good piece in the New York Times today on the resilience of authoritarianism in the former Soviet sphere.  The only thing I take issue with is that it seems like Levy’s takes it at face value when these leaders pretend not to be disturbed or concerned by the wave of uprisings in the Arab world, toppling once-solid dictatorships.  They are watching very closely, and, judging by Igor Sechin’s amusing accusation that Google was behind the Egyptian revolution, they are already dusting off the old narrative of the besieged fortress.  From NYT:

Janez Lenarcic, a diplomat who heads democracy promotion for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has the taxing job of trying to persuade these countries to loosen the reins.

“The notion of stability plays an important role here,” Mr. Lenarcic said. “They say, ‘We need more time, we need to get there at our own pace.’ We respond that long-term stability will come only with strong democratic institutions, not with personalities, because personalities are not around forever.”

He said he remained optimistic, despite the stagnation. And perhaps views are evolving. A recent poll of Russians asked if they preferred order (even at the expense of their rights) or democracy (even if it gives rise to destructive elements). Order won, 56 percent to 23 percent.

That may not sound encouraging, but a decade ago the spread was 81 percent to 9 percent.