World Politics

Research Article

Regime Cycles: Democracy, Autocracy, and Revolution in Post-Soviet Eurasia

Henry E. Halea1*

a1 George Washington University

Research on regime change has often wound up chasing events in the post-Soviet world because it has frequently assumed that regime change, if not simple instability, implies a trajectory toward a regime-type endpoint like democracy or autocracy. A supplemental approach recognizes that regime change can be cyclic, not just progressive, regressive, or random. In fact, regime cycles are much of what we see in the postcommunist world, where some states have oscillated from autocracy toward greater democracy, then back toward more autocracy, and, with recent “colored revolutions,” toward greater democracy again. An institutional logic of elite collective action, focusing on the effects of patronalpresidentialism, is shown to be useful in understanding such cyclic dynamics, explaining why “revolutions” occurred between 2003 and 2005 in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan but not in countries like Russia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan.

Henry E. Hale is an assistant professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. He is the author of Why Not Parties in Russia? Democracy, Federalism, and the State (2006) and numerous articles on issues related to democracy, political parties, and ethnic politics. He can be reached at

* Special thanks are due to Sergiu Manic for research assistance, to George Washington University's Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies and to the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute for financial and institutional support, and to all who read and provided feedback on earlier drafts, including Karen Dawisha, Shinkichi Fujimori, Venelin Ganev, Cynthia McClintock, Lucan Way, anonymous reviewers, the editors, and organizers of and participants in the First Annual Danyliw Research Seminar in Contemporary Ukrainian Studies (September 29-October 1, 2005) and the symposium on “Reconstruction and Interaction of Slavic Eurasia and Its Neighboring Worlds” (December 9–10, 2004) organized by the Slavic Research Center, University of Hokkaido, Sapporo, Japan, where the first version of this article was presented. An early draft was also circulated in a working paper by the Program on New Approaches to Russian Security, for which I am also grateful. All views are those of the author and not necessarily of any person or institution named above.