Monday, June 15, 2009
On the state of Armenian “democracy”
Published in Defacto on March 5, 2008
I was deprived of my right to be a proper citizen. I was denied the right to vote in the presidential elections, because of a law passed more than a year ago, prohibiting anyone abroad to vote. It was the first time I was eligible to participate in presidential elections, and I already took the reality check to understand the extent of democracy in my country.
Maybe I was lucky it all turned out this way: at least I have someone to blame for me being an irresponsible citizen. Why? I would probably not participate in the elections anyway. Away from Armenia and all the political campaigns and propaganda, I really had a difficult time deciding which of the candidates was worse. To me, it all seemed a fake show, full of lies, empty promises and defamation of opponents. As we can see right now, even “well-established” and “true” democracies, like the US, are not far from these practices. However, they know how to accept defeat. We don’t.
I am not defending any of the sides, because to me they both are just two sides of the same coin. It seems the “opposition gang” was not trying to get another color revolution, and that is exactly why the whole “movement” was doomed from the start. (I am glad the government did not coin a new term this time: no mention of “Snowdrop,” “Apricot,” or “Sunflower” revolutions appeared.)
Armenia is just too insignificant (or, at least, we failed to make it significant) in great power politics. No one cares about which guy is there, as long as he follows the right path. And yes, the path had been agreed upon a long time ago, and we have met all the foreign expectations. The guy won, and everyone is happy: some congratulated the new president, some praised the “active and competitive presidential elections,” while others stated that despite significant problems with electoral procedures, the election was “mostly in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards.” Somehow they failed to mention whether there is a message to read in between the lines. If not, a logical question would be whether they are applying double standards, and applying the “OSCE and Council of Europe commitments” selectively, bashing leaders who come to power as a result of similar elections elsewhere as dictators.
And what about the people? Sadly, they are still suffering from the “post-communist opposition-exoneration” syndrome, common to many of our unfortunate countries. The underlying logic seems to be justified. The incumbent, or his protégé, use state resources and their power to dominate the pre-election campaign and the actual results, while the opposition is denied equal benefits and, consequently, loses. Hence, the sympathy, support and reverence for our opposition, especially after the elections.
There is an underlying fault in this line of reasoning, which is the somewhat automatic assumption that the opposition is right, or that it had a realistic program it was unjustly denied the opportunity to implement. Somehow, everyone forgets the opposition’s inability to agree and come up with a united stand in the elections, or the fact that some of them even defected to join the current coalition government. So, is the case of the “opposition” losing an unfair battle by itself enough to justify such protests and their repercussions? Can it justify the demands to restore them to long-lost power?
Maybe not, and I hope the people understand it well. And yet, the government itself created the situation it has a difficult time getting out of. The blunt and baseless accusations of the main opposition candidate, the oppression of basic freedoms, tactless propaganda and indecent defamation seemed to contrast strongly with the simple and appealing (though not necessarily grounded) message of the main opposition candidate. But, again, many failed to consider the essence of what he promised, behind the demagogy...
Meanwhile, the outgoing President still uses all his might (and connections with the neighboring “state”) to make sure the right guy stays in the well-deserved place. He managed to find constitutional provisions, allowing him to bring tanks to Yerevan, shoot and kill at least eight people, detain and beat up dozens of protesters, and even limit all the information flow from non-state sources (to the extent of blocking all Armenian news websites, and non-state radio and TV transmissions). If the Constitution allows limitation of the freedom of speech at times of emergency, I suppose it would concern any kind of political expression and information, and not just those of the non-state media. One wonders what the President is trying to conceal...
The result? Nothing. The people, tired and upset, tried to change something, but apparently, without any foreign patronage the so-called “struggle” was organized and dealt with in the usual “Armenian way.” The leader of the opposition, supposedly under home arrest in his mansion, still has the indecency to call for the continuation of protests, while the government will keep its outrageous state of emergency for three more weeks, at least.
Gained nothing; and yet, lost a lot...
So much for democracy. But do we have an alternative?