Staging Democracy: Political Performance in Ukraine, Russia, and Beyond, Jessica Pisano

Reviewed by Serhiy Kudelia

With her new book, Jessica Pisano lifts the veil on what she sees as a political theater of post-Soviet politics—a distinct “political practice with its own set of meanings” (4). Behind it, Pisano finds an array of characters responsible for turning routine political events, such as elections or protests, into staged performances. Their success is based on myriad entangling relationships they establish and maintain with factory workers, pensioners, and public sector employees, whose livelihoods suddenly depend on their effectiveness in these new, imposed roles. Even though these political performances are, usually, short-lived, their repeated nature leaves a profound impact on how participants understand the nature of politics and interpret actions of political leaders and government officials. They also transform identities, establish new community boundaries, and produce a reality that remains little understood by outside observers.

Pisano's work builds on several earlier studies of post-Soviet political regimes, which explore the significance of informal exchanges and political manipulation for explaining electoral outcomes and protest outbreaks. Her book, however, probes these phenomena further by explicating the exact mechanisms that sustain them. At their core is the ability of national and local officials to redefine Soviet-era enti

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