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Free University of Berlin

Bucerius Dissertation Completion Scholarship

Illiberalism Beyond Borders? Scrutinizing Russian and Turkish Influence in Bosnia and Georgia


In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared the “ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy” based on the “total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives”. Almost 30 years later, however, global declines of political rights and civil liberties indicate that the end of history will not arrive anytime soon. Grounded in research on the foreign policies of autocratic states, this dissertation sheds light on the ways in which illiberal international actors actively and passively bolster illiberal tendencies in the domestic arenas of other countries. To that end, it examines Russian and Turkish influence in Bosnia and Georgia between 2010-2018 and its facilitation or obstruction by local elites. It is based on around 100 interviews conducted in Bosnia, Georgia and Russia as well as document analysis and process tracing.

Sonja Schiffers is a Ph.D. candidate at Free University Berlin and member of the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies. Her dissertation scrutinizes global challenges to democracy by examining Russian and Turkish illiberal influence in Georgia and Bosnia and the role of gatekeeping elites. Besides foreign policy, autocracy and democracy in (South-)Eastern Europe, Sonja also works on gender, peace and security. She is a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and highly active in civil society, particularly with Polis180 and as a member of the German Government’s Advisory Board on Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding. 

2018: “Under Attack? European Values and Normative Power in the EU and Georgia” with D. Hegedüs, S. Minesashvili, T. Bakakuri, L. Tchipashvili, L. Gelhaus, V. Le Grix, F. Seebass. A policy paper of Polis180/Georgian Institute of Politics/Argo Think Tank, 11/2018.

2018: “Russia, NATO and the Western Balkans: Alarm in Macedonia?", Europäische Sicherheit und Technik (European Security & Technology), 10/2018 (in German). 

2018: “Divided Bosnia and Herzegovina? Supported by Moscow, the Republika Srpska blocks the Country’s Euro-Atlantic Integration Processe”, SWP Comments. German Institute for International and Security Affairs, 09/2018 (in German). 

2018: The 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Dekoder, 08/2018 (in German)

2018: “German Responsibility in the Security Council. A Feminist Foreign Policy for the UN”, with V. Lamprecht & K. Lunz. PeaceLab Blog. Global Public Policy Institute (ed.) 06/2018 (in German) 

2017: “No Dream in Georgia? Domestic Quarrels and Local Elections Show: “Winner Takes All” Likely to Continue”, with F. Smolnik. SWP Comments. German Institute for International and Security Affairs, 11/2017.

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