Publicised Repression

In person and zoom: (Meeting ID: 933 1045 9956; Passcode: 582070)

Research in comparative politics and conflict agrees that preventive repression is most effective when it is invisible. Yet contemporary autocrats often publicize their efforts and failure to prevent dissent. Using quantitative analysis and case studies I develop and test a theory of how publicized repression aids authoritarian survival. I propose that autocrats’ decision to publicize preventive repression, even when repression does not deter dissent, aims to shape mass beliefs and behaviours. Like propaganda, publicized repression communicates information about attributes of the opposition and of the authorities and influences the public through persuasion and not just fear. This blurs the boundaries between propaganda as a tool of persuasion and repression as a tool of fear. I illustrate this argument with an analysis of the protest authorization process in Putin’s Russia. The empirical analysis draws on a decade of original protest-notification and protest-event data. It also leverages evidence from a decade of news coverage on state-controlled media and uses multiple rounds of opinion surveys and novel survey experiments fielded in Russia across 2012-2023.