Street-Level Autocrats: Individual Decisions with Collective Consequences

Led by Kristin M. Bakke
Oct 2018 - Dec 2021

Why do some pro-democracy movements succeed in overthrowing authoritarian regimes, while others do not? Why does the military sometimes 'shoot to kill' when faced with revolutionary movements, while in other cases they refuse to do so? And why are some post-revolutionary regimes more enduring than others? We propose that these questions are interlinked. The overthrow of an authoritarian regime is hard to explain without considering the army's decision to side with the revolutionary movement, just as it is difficult to explain the political trajectory of the new regime without considering the army's role during the revolution. 

Indeed, the loyalty of the security forces is vital for understanding what happens when large-scale social movements challenge the regime. When ordered to use force, members of the police and military do not always comply. If a sufficiently large share of the military and police decide to shirk or even desert and join the protesters, the days of the regime are likely to be numbered. The actions of these 'street-level autocrats' during the revolution also matters for the new regime's legitimacy—and, as such, long-term stability. People's perceptions of whose side the members of the security apparatus were on are likely to have an enduring impact on their trust in the security apparatus and the state as a security provider.

Using both qualitative and quantitative research methods, coupled with new and unique data, including surveys in Ukraine, Serbia, and Georgia, we aim to build a better understanding of regime change and stability. By disaggregating the actors that make up the state—from the incumbent government down to the individual member of the security apparatus—and examining how they interact with civil society, we aim to explain why some pro-democracy movements succeed only in the short run but not in the long run, while others successfully bring about democratic consolidation. 

​This project is funded by the Research Council of Norway (FRIPRO).

Research Groups


Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Cunningham, Kathleen Gallagher; Marianne Dahl & Anne Frugé (2020) Introducing the Strategies of Resistance Data Project, Journal of Peace Research 57(3): 482–491.
Nygård, Håvard Mokleiv (2020) What will the world look like after the pandemic?, Jeju Forum Journal 1(1): 64–71.
Baev, Pavel K. (2019) Revisiting the Problem of Post-Soviet Revolutions: The Armenian Revolution Makes Some Difference, International Relations and Diplomacy 7(8): 363–369.
Baev, Pavel K. (2018) What Made Russia Indifferent to the Revolution in Armenia, Caucasus Analytical Digest. DOI: 10.3929/ethz-b-000277024(104): 20–24.

Book Chapter

Baev, Pavel K. (2020) Preserving the alliance against tall odds: Armenia's Velvet Revolution as a challenge to Russia, in Ohanyan, Anna; & Laurence Broers, eds, Armenia's Velvet Revolution: Authoritarian Decline and Civil Resistance in a Multipolar World. London: I.B.Tauris.

Non-refereed Journal Article

Baev, Pavel K. (2020) Belarus Starts the Series of “Corona-Crisis Revolutions”, Panorama: 1–3.

Popular Article

Baev, Pavel K. (2020) No peacemakers for the new/old Caucasian war, Order from Chaos, 30 September.
Baev, Pavel K. (2020) Dismissing European outrage, Russia turns itself into a "Great Pariah Power", Eurasia Daily Monitor, 21 September.
O'Loughlin, John; Gerard Toal & Kristin M. Bakke (2020) Is Belarus in the midst of a generational upheaval?, Global Voices, 17 September.
Baev, Pavel K. (2020) Russia Alarmed and Awed by the Belarusian Revolution, Eurasia Daily Monitor, 14 September.
Baev, Pavel K. (2020) A Chain of Poor Choices Leads Putin Into a Serious Blunder, Eurasia Daily Monitor, 8 September.
Toal, Gerard; John O'Loughlin & Kristin M. Bakke (2020) What’s driving the Belarus protests?, Washington Post, Monkey Cage, 21 August.
Bakke, Kristin M.; Neil Mitchell & Hannah Smidt (2020) Governments Around the World Are Restricting Rights, Using the Pandemic as Cover, Wahington Post, Monkey Cage, 6 May.
Toal, Gerard; John O'Loughlin & Kristin M. Bakke (2020) Are some NGOs really "foreign agents"? Here's what people in Georgia and Ukraine say, Open Democracy, 16 April.
Dahl, Marianne; Tora Sagård; Haakon Gjerløw & Bintu Zahara Sakor (2019) Twitterrevolusjonens vekst og fall [The Rise and Fall of the Twitter Revolution], Aftenposten, 8 December.

Conference Paper

Nygård, Håvard Mokleiv (2020) Timing Matters: The Impact of Regularity of Election Cycles on Autocratic Stability, presented at Working Paper, PRIO, Oslo, 22.04.2020.
Rickard, Kit & Kristin M. Bakke (2019) Legacies of wartime institutions: Vigilantism and the state in Northern Ireland, presented at Annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Toronto, 27–30 March.
Rickard, Kit & Kristin M. Bakke (2019) Legacies of wartime institutions: Vigilantism and the state in Northern Ireland, presented at Annual meeting of the European Political Science Association, Belfast, 20–22 June.
Baev, Pavel K. (2019) The evolving phenomenon of post-Soviet revolutions: The new "velvet" impetus, presented at Caucasus-2018, Yerevan, Armenia, 21 June.
Sudduth, Jun Koga (2019) Who punishes the leader? Culpability and accountability during civil war, presented at The Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Toronto, 27–30 March.
Dahl, Marianne & Kristian Skrede Gleditsch (2019) Not a one way street: Coups d'état, civil society mobilization and democratization, presented at State-Citizen Interactions during and after Violence, University College London, 29th – 30th of May.

Report - External Series

Baev, Pavel K. (2019) Russia misguided and seeks to restrain the revolution in Armenia, PONARS Eurasia Memo, 599. Washington DC: George Washington University.

Past Events


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