Consummate expert on the existence of states

borders have been very stable since the close of WWII. (Migdal 2004, 17) According to Joel Migdal a consummate expert on the existence of states, the definition of the “state” in a broader social context and a prolific author on modern state building;

The state is a field of power marked by the use and threat of violence and shaped by (1) the image of a coherent, controlling organization in a territory, which is a representation of the people bounded by that territory, and (2) the actual practices of its multiple parts.” (Migdal 2001, 15-16)

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Migdal states that in the conventional Weber definition of state (the section of his definition preceding image) the emphasis is oversimplified into a situation where definitions of legitimate and authoritative become blurred, without adding the later aspects (image and practice), which he considers inherently contradictory but nonetheless true of states. The image and practice aspects of states are, according to Migdal so important in fact that they define the variations that exist among states, regarding what is considered acceptable and what is not, in any given context. The “image” of the state as cohesive and homogenous is essential to unity.

Actual states are shaped by two elements, image and practices. 30 These can be overlapping and reinforcing, or contradictory and mutually destructive. Image has tended to be homologous from state to state, especially the image of the modern state that has its origins in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries in northwest Europe and came to encompass the entire globe in the last half of the twentieth century. Conversely, practices have tended to be diverse, and, while there are certainly recognizable comparative patterns, they have defied neat categorization. First is the image. I adapt this from Shils, who used the term to describe the “center, ” not the state. “The image, ” he explained, “amalgamates the numerous institutions of which the performers are members and on behalf of which they exercise authority, into an image of a dominant and single center of society. ” 31 (Migdal 2001, 16)

In short we as an international community must accept variations as real phenomena based on history and current context, as well as established laws and standards of what is recognized as a state. Without such recognition it would likely be impossible to demonstrate any sense of realistic observations of transition to statehood.

In the definition here, the image of the state is of a dominant, integrated, autonomous entity that controls, in a given territory, all rule making, either directly through its own agencies or indirectly by sanctioning other authorized organizations – businesses, families, clubs, and the like – to make certain circumscribed rules. 32 Image implies perception. Here, perception of the state is by those inside and outside its claimed territory as the chief and appropriate rule maker within its territorial boundaries. In that regard, the perception assumes a single entity that is fairly autonomous, unified, and centralized.” (Migdal 2001, 16)

This concept of image clearly speaks of the “nationalism” that defines in many ways the post colonial society, where relative boundary stability has been the mark of the period beginning, at the very latest at the close of WWII, with the advent of the state of Israel. (Migdal 2004, 17) Though Migdal does not directly associate “image” with what would be considered modern nationalism, the idea of a state forming and existing without the pride that is associated with nationhood and idealism of cohesiveness few states would likely exists and even fewer would boast relative peace, within. One manner in which this can be illustrated, following Migdal’s own example in his work is through allegory.

When Migdal describes examples of how the image and the practice of distinct situations in states work against one another it brings to mind the idea of the modern incumbent advantage in elections as well as several other examples of the maintenance of the status quo, based almost entirely on the belief by citizens, even in non-democratic states that the leaders have the collective best interest in heart, even when this has been repeatedly shown to be a falsehood or a blurring of reality based upon practice and image conflicts. There is a clear sense that the context of a state is more determinant of real change than the simple assumption, made by many western thinkers that some structural adaptations, most specifically “democratic” elections will transform a new entity into a state, without the challenge of old practices both legal and practical.

Using presidential elections as an example, Campbell and Mann describe in detail what exactly the incumbent advantage is; comparison of the average votes for incumbents and challengers also suggests an incumbency advantage. The mean vote for the eight incumbents seeking reelection since 1948 was 54.2%. Presidential candidates of the out-party, on the other hand, received a mean vote of only 47.4%. And while three of the eight incumbents lost, none was trounced. The poorest showing was Carter’s in 1980, and he got better than 45% of the two-party vote. Five of the nine defeated nonincumbents since 1948 lost by a greater margin. Presidential challengers sometimes lose by landslides. Incumbents almost never do.” (Campbell, and Mann 1996, 26)

The situation being that the incumbent has greater inside influence over resources, influences, the people who have been governed by him or her before have some idea of what to expect and most importantly the incumbent has better name (and some would say brand) recognition than the other candidate.

There is no better example of allegorical representation of the incumbent advantage in the modern world than the transitional state of Belarus, a former member of the Soviet Union, which despite “free” elections has continually chosen to retain the old guard and repeatedly reelects the communist party leaders of the Soviet, “golden era.”

In the early 1990s, a resurgence of nationalism in the various Soviet republics helped tear the Soviet Union apart. But one former republic, Belarus, experienced no such upsurge. As the intelligentsia across the region — notably in the Baltic republics — used nationalism to fuel democratization, a majority of the ruling elite in Belarus remained hostile to independence and still hankered after the glory days of the Soviet empire. A prodigy of the ruling elite, Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko — in power since 1994 — stifled nationalism, repressed democracy, and pushed for economic and political union with Russia in his first term. Lukashenko will be around for another five years after his victory in the September 2001 presidential elections. (Allnutt, and Znatkevich 2002, 98)

Modern thinkers like to place an emphasis on the lack of nationalism in Belarus, as the sole and simplified cause of the maintenance of the establishment, rather than the election of new independence minded leaders and hope that engendering such nationalism will solve the problem, per se. A more realistic observation would be the definitive acceptance of the status quo, which is inherent in Migdal’s definition of state as an image in conflict with its policy. The image of the Soviet Union, is a far stronger image than that of Belarus, in the hearts and minds of the people voting despite the practice which continues and is defined, by “defenders of freedom and democracy,” from the outside as un-democratic.

Despite the opposition’s dismal defeat, the elections may stimulate democratization and the development of nationalism in Belarus, argues Valerka Bulhakau, editor in chief of the Belarussian monthly magazine Arche. Writing in the independent cultural-political weekly Nasha Niva, Bulhakau contends that, after the election, “people [will] begin not only to live, but to think in terms of an independent state. “Before the 1990s, nationalism in Belarus was already weaker than elsewhere in the region. A larger proportion of the Belarussian intelligentsia was destroyed in the Stalinist purges of the 1930s compared with other Soviet republics. Belarussians, mainly rural dwellers until the 1950s, embraced the Russian language and culture as a means for upward social mobility. As a result, Belarus today has a very large and fairly homogenous population that speaks Russian, regards itself as Russian, and maintains a Soviet-era social and economic outlook. Lukashenko has been a dab hand at manipulating these people — who Bulhakau terms “creoles” because they speak pidgin Russian and still view Belarus as part of the Russian empire — and has capitalized on popular nostalgia for the Soviet Union. The predominance of this mentality, nationalists say, has slowed down the growth of an effective Opposition movement. (Allnutt, and Znatkevich 2002, 98)

To reiterate the point made by Migdal of the relative acceptance of the conflict between image and practice, the Belarus context developed under a system where dominance was the status quo and questioning authority was undermined at every turn. It is therefore understandable that the acceptable situation for many Belarusians even in a modern condition of relative opportunity for independence is a desire to retain the incumbent and the “ideal” of state.

In brief, the state is a contradictory entity that acts against itself. To understand domination, then, demands two levels of analysis, one that recognizes the corporate, unified dimension of the state – its wholeness – expressed in its image, and one that dismantles this wholeness in favor of examining the reinforcing and contradictory practices and alliances of its disparate parts. The state-in-society model focuses on this paradoxical quality of the state; it demands that students of domination and change view the state in dual terms. It must be thought of at once (1) as the powerful image of a clearly bounded, unified organization that can be spoken of in singular terms (e.g., a headline stating, “Israel accepts Palestinian demands”), as if it were a single, centrally motivated actor performing in an integrated manner to rule a clearly defined territory; and (2) as the practices of a heap of loosely connected parts or fragments, frequently with illdefined boundaries between them and other groupings inside and outside the official state borders and often promoting conflicting sets of rules with one another and with “official” Law. (Migdal 2001, 22)

The situation of state building in the context of a modern, relatively stable post-colonial society is significant, as it has rarely been embarked on before and the challenges to such states are many. (Migdal 2004, 17) One expert on international relations and the UN policy of stressing the development of “free” and “open” elections as the end all be all of state building in transitional societies, over that of standards and laws that reflect democratic standards and especially those of human rights and citizenship representation.

As we enter a new era with vast new possibilities, it is time to reexamine our peacekeeping goals and the means we have chosen to reach those goals. The end of the Cold War has brought not only the ability to conduct more operations free from the Cold-War Security Council veto, it has also brought a political climate that will allow the United Nations to structure many peacekeeping operations to focus on free and fair elections and to assist the country in forming a government that will “control itself” after the elections. It is time for the United Nations to explicitly embrace the second half of Madison’s formula and seek ways to build a lasting peace around a government that is based on democratic principles and the rule of law. Recently, the United Nations has begun to recognize the role of “good governance” for meeting the objectives of sustainable development, prosperity, and peace.(5) However encouraging this may seem, it is still not clear that this good governance requires a form of government that is designed to control the power of the ruling elite, nor is there any indication of how good governance is to be achieved. (Gibson 1998, 1)

Reflected in the statements above, about Belarus is the “ideal” of free elections as a source of mental independence among participants. Gibson asserts that, thouh free elections are a good start when such elections are not reflected in practice, they dop not have the ultimate power, which the international community and specifically the UN attribute to them.

In the past, the idea of holding free and fair elections has dominated the thinking and therefore the means and the goals of most operations.(7) the United Nations has developed specific, mandatory tools for bringing about free and fair elections; what it has not developed are the tools for developing stable governments after the elections. While the United Nations feels it can dictate the conduct of elections — down to suspending incompatible laws, running its own public information radio station, or initiating prosecutions (8) — it is powerless to do anything stronger than encouraging good governance once the elections are over.(9) in some cases, the United Nations is powerless even in the face of pre-existing framework agreements that set the terms for U.N. intervention and contain specific requirements for the new form of government.(10) (Gibson 1998, 1)

Ultimately in Belarus and other “new” nations of the 1990s, many which are attributed to the former Soviet Union, the “ideal” of the nation’s inhabitants is for stability, a stability which was seen, in their generations only by the security of the larger nation, i.e. The Soviet Union and has not been seen in the Russian split ideology. The context of change is therefore not ripe in Belarus, despite the idea that “free” elections even in the face of corruption and limited questioning of authority will engender the kind of independent mind that will develop into a “true” democratic state.

The idea that state building is a new and demonstratively different situation, in the modern world, is supported by the “state-in society” definition of the state, in both its democratic and non-democratic forms. Looking at the state as a situation in context of both ideal and practice is essential to understanding, even from a western democratic ideal why some states succeed in what Western thinkers see as ideal (i.e. democratic society) and what others consider ideal is essential to understanding modern states and modern state building. Migdal has offered the social sciences a far more effective, if not confusing template for the development of a state and why so many do not conform to democratic ideals at the onset of relative freedom, even in the face of secure and recognized stable borders.

Works Cited

Allnutt, Luke, and Alex Znatkevich. 2002. Belarus Plays Catch-Up. Foreign Policy, January/February, 98.

Campbell, James E., and Thomas E. Mann. 1996. Forecasting the Presidential Election: What Can We Learn from Them Models?. Brookings Review, Fall, 26.

Gibson, Susan S. 1998. The Misplaced Reliance on Free and Fair Elections in Nation Building: The Role of Constitutional Democracy and the Rule of Law. Houston Journal of International Law 21, no. 1: 1.

Migdal, Joel S. 2001. State in Society: Studying How States and Societies Transform and Constitute One Another. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Migdal, Joel S. 2004. State Building and the Non-Nation-State. Journal of International Affairs 58, no. 1: 17.

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