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Location & Connections

 

Visiting Fellows 2013-2014

Martin K Dimitrov, Department of Political Science, Tulane University, New Orleans, USA

“Dictatorship and Information: Autocratic Regime Resilience in Communist Europe and China”
(August 2013, May-June2014)

DimitrovBiography:
Martin Dimitrov is Associate Professor of Political Science at Tulane University. His books include Piracy and the State: The Politics of Intellectual Property Rights in China (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and Why Communism Did Not Collapse: Understanding Authoritarian Regime Resilience in Asia and Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2013). He is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Dictatorship and Information: Autocratic Regime Resilience in Communist Europe and China. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford University in 2004 and previously taught at Dartmouth College. He is a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations and has held residential fellowships at the American Academy in Berlin; the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Notre Dame; the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford; the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard; and the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard.

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Abstract of current research:
One of the fundamental problems of governance in autocracies results from the dictator’s dilemma, which refers to the inability of autocrats to obtain accurate information on their level of popular support (Wintrobe 1998). In the absence of such information, insecure autocrats resort to frequent repression. However, repression only exacerbates the information problem and increases the probability that autocracies would collapse through unexpected coups or revolutions.

My book project focuses on communist autocracies, which are the most durable type of non-democratic regime to emerge since World War I. The striking longevity of communist autocracies suggests that they have found ways to solve the dictator’s dilemma. These solutions, however, are different from the ones that have been offered in the new literature on comparative authoritarianism, which emphasizes competitive elections, protests, and commercialized media as avenues for resolving the information problem in autocracies. I argue that because of their potential to undermine regime stability, these channels cannot be used for routine information gathering on levels of popular discontent in communist autocracies.

Based on a large corpus of materials that I collected at the Bulgarian and Chinese archives (complemented by materials from the East German and Soviet archives), my book offers a new theory of the channels through which communist autocracies solve the dictator’s dilemma. These documents reveal the actual internal understandings of communist leaders of the information problem and of the strategies that they developed to alleviate it. I argue that information on levels of popular support is gathered involuntarily and voluntarily. The involuntary collection of information is executed by the state security apparatus, by the communist party, by journalists (who write internal reports on the mood of the public that are not for publication), and through opinion polling. In turn, citizen petitions and complaints serve as the main avenue for the voluntary provision of information. My book argues that the involuntarily and voluntarily provided information is used to guide decisions about the targeting of repression and concessions in communist autocracies. The book develops a theory of the collection, transmission, and use of information in communist autocracies both during normal times and during times of crisis. The theory is developed through an in-depth study of pre-1989 Eastern Europe (in particular, I focus on the case of Bulgaria) and is tested through the case of post-1949 China.

My plan for my stay at the Aleksanteri Institute is to complete the final draft of the book manuscript and to send it out for review.


Email: mdimitro[at]tulane.edu

Academic hosts at the Aleksanteri Institute: Katalin Miklossy and Suvi Kansikas