Transitory Centre-Periphery Relations
Pure peer pressure makes me share my Master’s dissertation. It’s actually kind of related to Nathan’s Kazakhstan section as some people might find. You can download it here. Any feedback would be most appreciated.
The problem I had with writing this paper was the obligation to, well, “craft” a theoretical framework with which to analyse the changing relationship between Kazakhstan’s centre and its periphery. Being in the Development Studies department over here at Cambridge (currently led by the brilliantly heterodox economist Ha-Joon Chang), this has somewhat inevitably led to a critique of mainstream academia’s understanding of transition and decentralisation. I am not entirely sure whether one could call this approach “institutionalist political economy”.
My argument goes something like this: Kazakhstan’s post-independence trauma led to a de facto decentralisation in the power relations between the central administration and the oblasts (not as extreme as in Russia, but sharing several characteristics). Several developments in the 1990s paved the way for the centre to reappropriate most of the authority it had lost, a process that kick-started with the economic (oil-)boom setting off in 1999/2000.
My original aim writing something on centre-periphery relations in Kazakhstan was just that: Show these two trends and analyse the strategies that were employed by which recentralisation was realised after 2000. As being a Development Studies student comes with the obligation to critique IFI policies from almost every possible angle, I argue that this recentralisation as it occured in Kazakhstan would be interpreted as a deviation from a rather linear transition trajectory outlined by rational choice informed economists in the early 1990s. The same could be said about the growing trend of restatification in the oil and gas sector, which I don’t think is bad per se. (But it would of course be damned by free-marketeers since deprivatisation stinks.)
The paper begins with a rather historical account of Kazakhstan’s Soviet history and in how far the prevailing mode of regionalism shaped and shapes Kazakhstan’s political map to this day (an analysis that is lacking in institutional accounts of the country today, but one that proves to be of considerable importance for a sound interpretation of post-independence outcomes). I proceed chronologically and arrive at today’s fiscal and political trends in the penultimate chapter. The final chapter assesses this recentralisation from an institutionalist perspective, finding quite some reasons to endorse it. (Contrary to Fiona Hill, for instance, who calls it, along with restatification, the “Russian Disease”).
At first glance, it all might appear like appeasement amidst the things this blog has grown accustomed to criticise and that many analysts consider a side effect of restatification and recentralisation (think corruption, inefficiency, etc.). The verdict, I find, is inconclusive. Some positive developments can be witnessed, while others point to resource curse dynamics. Above all, the criterion of success of this recentralisation is whether the “reinvigorated” centre will be able to address the country’s stark regional inequalities.
All in all, I found this one harder to write than my rather general undergrad thesis and I’m not entirely happy with the outcome. Above all, I’d like some feedback to maybe improve things here and there. Ah, and I’m looking for a job as well (my CV is here).