The past week has been a lesson in the perils and the apparent inevitability of overreach. The most eye-catching example has been in Turkey, where what began as a few people protesting a planned shopping mall has burst into a mass revolt against the governing of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A second case, in Russia, has been on a much smaller scale but in some ways is even more menacing: Sergei Guriev, one of the country’s most respected economists and university leaders, has left the country, fearing arrest if he stayed.
What is striking about both episodes is how costly they are proving to be for the dominating leaders who have provoked them, and how easily it seems they might have been avoided.
Start with Turkey. All other things being equal, the government would prefer to build a luxury shopping mall in Taksim Square. But that objective obviously pales in comparison with the political damage being done to Erdogan by the escalating protests and the police crackdown.
Likewise in Russia, where President Vladimir V. Putin would prefer to discourage academics – and everyone else – from speaking in support of declared enemies of the state, like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia’s richest man, who is now serving time in prison. But it is clear that the criticism provoked by Guriev’s self-exile has far outweighed any benefit Putin might derive from silencing a critic.