PUBLICATIONS

Academic Journal Article

Østbø, Jardar (2021): “Strategic Transgressions: Russia’s Deviant Sovereignty and the Myth of Evgenii Prigozhin.” Demokratizatsiya. The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization 29 (2), pp. 183-207.

This article is the first academic study of Russia as a “rogue state.” From a moderately constructivist perspective and relying on Nincic’s distinction between primary and secondary deviance, it examines the paradox that Russia demonstratively violates some norms of international relations while insisting on the primacy of international law. After reviewing the literature on rogue states and deviance in international relations, I outline the disagreements between Russia and the West on state sovereignty. In a depoliticized world, Russia’s insistence on Westphalian sovereignty is increasingly considered deviant or criminal. Officially, Russia protests this process. Unofficially, Russia actively defies it by dealing with warlords, supporting dictators, and projecting a criminal image. Key here are business structures that are allegedly linked to the infamous businessman Evgenii Prigozhin, the myth of whom conveys a message that Russia is the global master of “deviant sovereignty.” 

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Academic Journal Article

Galeotti, Mark (2021): “The Silovik-Industrial Complex: Russia's National Guard as Coercive, Political, Economic and Cultural Force.” Demokratizatsiya. The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization 29 (1), pp. 3-29.

The creation of the National Guard (Rosgvardiya) in 2016 represented a striking reorganization of Russia's public order and internal security forces, suggesting a growing concern on the part of the Kremlin that it might need to deploy force onto the streets. It also created a powerful new institution with political, business and even cultural ambitions, one that uses its coercive muscle to capture new economic opportunities. As such, its emergence and evolution can be used to assess not only the coercive capabilities and intent of the regime, but also why and how bureaucratic structures compete, seek to build empires, and extend their influence into new domains. In particular, it offers insights into the continued importance of horizontal politics in a system too often conceptualized in purely vertical terms.

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Academic Journal Article

Østbø, Jardar (2020): “Dignity Promotion and the Revenge of Honour: Security and Morality in Russia-West Relations.” Journal of Extreme Anthropology 4 (1), pp. 198-226.

 

This article argues that the West’s neoliberal “dignity promotion” in other parts of the world is counter-productive and leads to the resurgence of a primordial culture of honour, a concept too often an ignored in international relations research. The author shows how the West has hijacked and neoliberalized the concept of dignity to include abstract notions of individual freedom and, above all, property rights and free trade. The concept of dignity is thus deprived of any social content. The strategy of dignity promotion, i.e. the effort to spread the idea of every individual’s inherent, inalienable worth, is based on the conviction that this will lead to a more secure world. However, sociological and anthropological research on moral cultures and honour has shown that security shapes moral cultures, not the other way round. The rise of dignity culture in the modern West was possible only when security, including social security, was provided. Conversely, honour dominates in insecure environments and resurfaces quickly when security disappears. The case study is Russia, where radical neoliberal restructuring in the early 1990s led to an anarchic brutalization of society, giving rise to a widespread culture of honour in Russian politics. On another level, Western dignity promotion in the former Soviet Union, epitomized by its support for “colour revolutions”, is perceived as an affront threatening Russian security by damaging its reputation for resolve. Within the culture of honour, the only moral answer to this is aggressive counter-attack. 

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Academic Journal Article

Østbø, Jardar (2020): “Corrupt and Honorable, Gangster and Nobleman.” Cultural Politics 16 (2), pp. 171-191.

 

The Russian authoritarian regime is not necessarily immoral, but its morality shares characteristics with that of street gangsters—and aristocrats. As argued in this article, there are two competing moral orders in Russia—the culture of honor and the culture of dignity. The article presents the readers with a case study of General Viktor Zolotov’s challenge of the leader of the liberal opposition Aleksei Naval′nyi to a duel in September 2018. Seen through an analytical lens, this seemingly absurd speech act and its reception reveal the extremes in the spectrum spanning from the ideal-typical culture of honor to the ideal-typical culture of dignity, both of which are present in Russia today. The study points to the hidden reasons behind the failure of the rivals and their respective supporters to engage in a real mutual debate—each side employs moral arguments that make sense only within its respective moral order. The Russian public is divided, not only by political views, interests, class, or even values but also by morality. If we are to understand the Russian regime’s behavior internationally and domestically, it is important to recognize this rupture. After all, even the military and security service officials in the ruling elite, the author argues, to a degree share the moral culture of criminal groups but are strangers to the law-based moral culture of the liberal urban middle class—and vice versa.

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Academic Book Chapter

Østbø, Jardar (2020): “The Sources of Russia’s Transgressive Conservatism: Cultural Sovereignty and Monopolization of Bespredel.” Ingunn Lunde and Irina Anisimova (eds.): Cultural is Political: Intersections of Russian Art and State Politics. Bergen: Slavica Bergensia, pp. 14-36.

 

In this contribution, I offer a novel explanation of this contradiction of transgressive conservatism by looking beyond the allegedly weaponized postmodernism and short-term pragmatic calculations of a power-hungry regime. I argue that the phenomenon is, most of all, rooted in Russia’s experience of neoliberal reforms in the anarchic 1990s, and the subsequent restoration of order, drawing on criminal culture and methods. To this end, I combine two theoretical approaches to sovereignty which have been so far largely kept apart. Namely, that of political science/international relations (particularly Carl Schmitt) and that of cultural theory/anthropology (particularly George Bataille). Using examples from Russian domestic politics and foreign policy, I show why and how Russia, by its very transgressions, seeks to uphold a traditional concept of sovereignty.

Link to chapter (open access)