The Effects of Political-Culture on Divergent Patterns of Post-Soviet Political-Economic Transformation: A Comparison of the Experiences of Latvia and Belarus since 1991
Meadows, David James
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Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, many predicted there would be economic policy convergence, where it was assumed that the post-Soviet states would all transition into liberal-capitalist economies. Over twenty years later, these forecasts have been confounded by the wide divergence in the political-economic policy practices of the post-Soviet states, which has been particularly apparent between Latvia and Belarus. In terms of policy, Latvia made comprehensive liberal reforms to become a market economy and orient its policies close to Europe and away from Russia. Conversely, Belarus has taken a completely divergent path from Latvia, and has followed a consistent and clear pattern of behavior in regards to political-economic affairs, which could be described as being anti-liberal, anti-reform, and pro-Russian in orientation. Comparing Latvia and Belarus provides an excellent case study to build on International Relations, International Political Economy and Comparative Politics literature, because traditional theories have difficulty in explaining these states divergent policies. This dissertation uses political-cultural theoretical arguments to explain the divergent patterns of political-economic development between both countries, and builds on the rich body of multidisciplinary literature on cultural studies found within Social Constructivism to help understand the political-cultural context in which Latvia’s and Belarus’s policies were chosen. Specifically, this dissertation highlights that the predominant political-cultural worldviews in Latvia and Belarus, were shaped by the historic religious-cultural environment in which these states were situated, which have had a central influence on the patterns of domestic political-economic development chosen by each country since 1991. Additionally, this dissertation also shows that such worldviews had important implications for international relations, in that Latvia being historically situated in the sphere of Western Christian culture gravitated towards the West and away from the Russia, while Belarus being historically situated predominantly in the cultural sphere of Russian Orthodox Christianity was more naturally prone to gravitate towards closer relations with Russia, and away from Western Europe. This is important in pointing to the prime influence of religious-cultural worldviews in shaping political-economic behavior. In doing so my work addresses many gaps left by previous theoretical explanations on post-Soviet transformation. In terms of policy implications, the findings will have a wider applicability in helping to understand the types of political-economic development policies that are chosen by other states in post-Communist, post-authoritarian, and post-colonial contexts, which are experiencing extensive transformation and integration into the global economy.
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