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23 2 A Framing Perspective on Democracy Promotion The diverse literature on democracy promotion spotlights the impact of international factors in the process of democratization. It presumes that the political strategies of international actors can shape the nature and outcome of reforms in transitional states.1 This book’s approach to democracy promotion is based on a similar assumption. It maintains that the end results of an individual state’s democratic transformation are not independent of the international context in which the state operates. This is not to suggest that internal factors and circumstances are either irrelevant or less important . On the contrary, the diverse domestic actors and political processes can be a catalyst or a hindrance to political reform. Still, the government’s perception of the risks and opportunities associated with democratization is affected by the broader international context, which encompasses a range of activities performed by international actors in addition to various nonmaterial factors such as knowledge, ideas, and norms. Most studies of democracy promotion focus on the strategies and methods of international democratization.2 In contrast, this book gives prominence to the discursive dimensions of democracy promotion abroad. This change in perspective is driven by the recognition that all international interactions occur through the media of communication. If they are reduced to the lowest level of communication between individuals representing organizations and states, political interactions consist of various kinds of linguistic actions—rational arguments, persuasion, and threats. Another reason for this discursive turn in the study of international democratization is the existence of multiple views on the essence of democracy and democratization in the international realm. The international interactions of the Central Asian republics, for example, are permeated by multiple external agents seeking to influence these countries. This influ- 24   Democracy in Central Asia ence encompasses a strategic dimension, but it also features a normative aspect whereby these agents try to impose their views and beliefs about the nature of international politics, development, and democratization on the target societies and states. The best way to describe this communicativeideational medium where democracy promotion (or, according to some scholars, autocracy promotion) takes place is through the metaphor of the “market for ideas,” where target states can shop around, pick and choose, and internalize some sets of ideas and principles but not others.3 Arguably, no political ideology enjoys greater popular appeal than democracy. It resonates with people, and because of this global appeal, democracy is viewed as an important source of legitimacy for both governments and their challengers. On the one hand, it can be an effective instrument of empowerment for political opponents seeking to revoke the authority of the governing authoritarian regime. On the other hand, authoritarian leaders can add selected democratic features to their polities to neutralize their political opponents. These limited liberalization measures can reduce external pressure for real democratic change and maintain the flow of development assistance from foreign donors.4 Alternatively, autocratic governments can attempt to discredit democracy and democracy promotion by connecting them to the practices of Western imperialism . These engagements with the notion of democracy have produced a variety of interpretations of its essence, with some explanations having negative connotations and themes. As a result, there is conflict between the idea of “universal” democracy, defined by a set of fixed characteristics, and alternative perspectives whereby the notion of democracy is contingent on the particular political circumstances and sociocultural milieu.5 Examining Democracy Promotion through the Lens of Discursive Frames To discern the various dimensions and meanings attached to democracy and democracy promotion by the United States, the European Union, Russia , and China, in addition to the Central Asian states themselves, this book conceptualizes them as democracy promotion “frames.” As a type of international influence, democracy promotion is effectuated through the verbal and written channels of communication. The content of these communications imparts certain meanings to democracy promotion efforts, making them intelligible to the target states. A frame, therefore, is a specific pre- A Framing Perspective on Democracy Promotion  25 sentation, packaging, and positioning of issues related to democracy and democratization. It is made up of a set of values, beliefs, and expectations underlying the practices of democracy promotion. A democracy promotion frame encompasses a certain understanding of democracy, assumptions about why it is important, the desirable goals of democratization, and how to achieve them. These meanings, categories, and dispositions are tightly intertwined with the practice of international democratization, which bears the stamp of these meanings and reproduces them.6 In other words...


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