Legitimation through Latinisation: Power, Legacies and de-Russification in post-Soviet Eurasia
Sofya du Boulay (Omarova)
Weber famously claimed that 'every political system attempts to establish and cultivate the belief in its legitimacy' (1978: 213). Debates on standards for assessing the legitimacy of states and regimes are numerous in both contemporary academic scholarship and political practice. The study of power legitimation has become a research field of its own, analysing legitimacy-seeking practices and the reasons behind de-legitimation (Bexell, 2014). Recent research on the durability of authoritarian regimes and the prospects for democratization has put a renewed focus on the question of legitimacy in non‐democratic contexts (Brownlee, 2007; Ghandi, 2008). Legitimacy has been always treated as a secondary factor in explaining the persistence of non-democratic states; it is also too quickly equated with regime stability, and a lack of legitimacy is assumed to automatically mean regime collapse (Hoffmann, 2011). The political mechanics of legitimation are more complex, emphasising a dynamic paradigm with specific properties, discourses and strategies, through which political actors aspire to gain and maintain legitimacy. Regimes need to simultaneously invoke domestic and international legitimation sources to build a robust legitimation strategy, because no single legitimacy claim appears adequate enough or fully self-sufficient. This paper will give prominence to the comparative perspective of ideological legitimation in modern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan by focusing on their alphabet policies since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The (proposed) Latinisation of their alphabets demonstrates the exercise of political legitimacy, personalised power and legacy. It unleashes the problematic nature of national identity, attempts to de-Russify their writing scripts and the desire for modernisation and international recognition that it is assumed Latinisation will bring. The Uzbek and Azerbaijani Latinisation projects in the years immediately after the end of the Soviet Union illustrate efforts for stronger nation-building credibility, coupled with the political legacies of Islam Karimov and Heydar Aliyev in situations of severe inter-ethnic tensions. The recent political decision of Nursultan Nazarbayev to Latinise the Kazakh alphabet creates a new approach to understand its relationship with the Eurasian Union and Russia, intensifies modernisation and legacy issues. While examining the power discourse around the issue of Latinisation in the local press(es) alongside expert interviews, this research will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between legitimacy, legacy and ideology in post-Soviet Eurasia.
State Regulation and Policy