The Crisis of Institutions in Modern Politics
By Alexander Konkov
  • Alexander Konkov
    Director of Rethinking Russia,
    Associate Professor of
    the Moscow State University, PhD
  • To sum up the Meeting Russia discussions in Vienna this June, Alexander Konkov, a head of Rethinking Russia Think Tank, presents his opinion about the crisis of multilateral institutions.
Institutions are public bodies generated by intensive relations between peoples and aimed at effective social actions. They have always had great influence on progress and any type of cooperation. Instability and fragility which characterize many present-day institutions make us think of their nature and future: should we continue to rely on the institutions, and, if so, which institution might be of greater importance in the face of rising challenges.

In terms of mainstream politics, institutions might be considered as a fundamental element of a comprehensive model of democracy, which got universal and which most countries are following to and aiming at. The idea of being democratic today means having a specific range of institutions that embody such notions as elections, political representativeness, human rights, rule of law, etc.

In the international relations for centuries institutions have been a kind of target landmarks – crucially important frameworks which enable to act collectively, to formulate some common values and to create possible attitudes to the emerging world order. Without institutions these topics would not be on the agenda. Such trends may be observed in longer history, for instance, the Hanseatic League or global actors of the present day. The Peace of Westphalia, the Congress of Vienna or the Yalta agreements were followed by corresponding institutionalization.
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Today traditional institutions quite often become fragile and weak. The easiest way is to call these institutions outdated and rigid and to search for more up-to-date options. However the problem lies in the artificially created lack of trust, triggered by specific policies conducted by some quite obvious actors. Sometimes the trust for institutions is volens nolens undermined by those who have always intended to support them. These countries and regimes, that have always strongly advocated institutionalization of democratic order, continue to pretend to be pure democracies.

Just have a look: they refer to their own top-standard domestic institutions capable to reproduce all the sacred values regardless of a single human being entering or leaving them. But once they deal with international relations, there are specific "bad guys" who always stand on the way of "democratic peace". It seems that for democratic institutions to make people happy, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad or Nicolas Maduro just should be isolated and that's all. Why doesn't it happen and the democratic institutions fail? Because new bad guys step on the stage!

So, they declare institutions to be based upon in their domestic politics, but in the international relations they deal with personalities. If not hypocrisy, it looks like some major powers, which managed to develop their own democratic institutions inside, found themselves not interested in building better institutions outside (both in other countries and globally).
Functioning with no regard to any personal will is a big challenge for any external actor - especially once it enjoys any benefits from the given object. Few would be ready to lose existing benefiting ties. The concept of institution itself is based on the concept of independent functioning, for reproduction with no regard to any personal inputs. Wouldn't it be more preferable to have somebody you could influence or at least bargain with? And even though liberal response would be quite obviously balanced with realpolitik, in terms of the emerging digital agenda the problem of trust for something, which no human being can control, would again and again appear in social dynamics.

Generally, Russia continues to see institutions as the most important element in its system vision, that allow to build any kind of intensive relations. The Russian Federation is a strong advocate of institutions (even though it believes them less and less) as far as they legitimately represent the people. What is more the people of Russia is likely to support those institutions that promote the common will. So the multilateral organizations result to be the last resort for Russian vision. For what they are worth.
The article reflects the personal opinion of the author.