YPC Weekly Newsletter

2005


PERSPECTIVE

IS REVOLUTION THE ONLY WAY TO REVOLUTIONARY REFORMS?

On November 21-22 in Yerevan “Promotion of the OSCE Values, Principles and Commitments as a Basis for Security and Cooperation in the OSCE Area: Concrete Steps towards the European Integration of Armenia” conference was held by the International Center for Human Development, OSCE Office in Yerevan and the Office of Special Representative of CE Secretary General in Armenia.

Below the presentation made by the President of Yerevan Press Club Boris NAVASARDIAN at the conference is introduced.

Nowadays revolution and its relation to the prospects of democratization, reformation, Europeanization (or “westernization”) and development are topics of heated discussions in the post-Soviet countries. One of the factors siring “color” revolutions is the dissatisfaction of the more progressive segments of the society – dissatisfaction with the implementation pace of the democratic reforms and commitments that will allow our countries to integrate with Europe.

Unlike other insurgent parties, the intellectual elite that has supported revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, was fighting not so much against sluggishness or entry into power, but rather against the slowness, imitation of reforms, stagnation that appeared under Shevardnadze and Kuchma.

If the presence of the traditionally displeased electorate as a permanent factor of internal instability and tension in our countries is perhaps inevitable, considering the numerous social issues and the challenges of the transition period, the unification of the progressive professionals oriented towards European values with the rebellious masses is not compulsory.

In general, they do not tend to resolve issues in the streets, through public activities. It is the absence of other possible means that provokes them to turn revolutionary. On the post-Soviet territory, in the context of large-scale public and political processes, this small category of people can actually be ignored. However, taking into account the fact that today it is this very category that comprises the ground for the civil society and to some extent carries out the mission of the absent or otherwise very frail middle class (i.e., the source of the stability and harmony of the contemporary social structures) its role should not be undermined.

Many western experts classify Armenia within the group of “slowly reforming countries”. In this respect, the prospects of Armenia are assessed much lower than those of other representatives of the former Soviet family, which are rapidly overcoming (or have already overcome) the transition period (Baltic states) as well as those, the objective indicators of which are not any better or are not much better, but which in one way or another have demonstrated a strong political will and determination to drastically increase the speed of the reformation process (this refers to Georgia and Ukraine which have gone through the revolutions, as well as Moldova, which, conditioned by geopolitical imperatives, made a breakthrough after the recent parliamentarian elections).

What do we gain from the status of a “slowly reforming country” and the tactics of “progress with small steps” in terms of the implementation of international commitments and the construction of our future? Some experts describe the present process of reformation in Armenia and other similar countries as a transition from informal institutions comprising the existing semi-authoritarian, semi-clannish-oligarchic, and semi-criminal system to the formal institutions of European type. Here institutions refer not only to the structures and agencies, but to the legislation, procedures and relations as well…

The old system (and it should be noted that the governing bodies are mainly part of it), pretends that it accepts the reforms. However, in reality it strives to tailor the introduced formal institutes to its own interests and, for its stability, maintains the informal ones, which are based on the authoritarian methods of governance, on concentration of the political power and property in the same hands, corruption, fraudulent democratic procedures, etc. As a result, we end up not with reforms, but its imitation, the aim of which, on one hand, is not to change anything, on another – to avoid the disastrous international isolation of Armenia and get foreign aid.

One of the most vivid examples of such imitation is the situation with the Armenian broadcast media. On one hand, with the active participation of the Council of Europe and within the commitments of Armenia to CoE, several formal institutions have been launched. Specifically, the Law “On Television and Radio” prohibits the ownership one more than one TV or radio channel in the same market; bodies are formed to provide independent regulation of public and private broadcasting to ensure freedom of expression and pluralism. But these institutes were successfully accommodated to the demands of the authorities. Thus, there are facts of media monopolization, obvious for everyone, and the “independent” regulatory bodies not only do nothing to impede this process, but even assist it along with the strengthening of hidden censorship. Considering the significance of media, and the particularly its most powerful brigade, television, for the advancement of democratic reforms, this example allows speaking not of “progress with small steps”, but of a retreat.

How does the international community, to which Armenia has voluntarily assumed certain commitments and signed them, respond to this? Here there are grounds to talk about certain difference of approaches, if not of controversy. The most important international “agents of change” (OSCE, Council of Europe, organizations to the activities of which this conference is dedicated, UNDP, World Bank, USAID, European Commission) implement all or almost all of their activities through the government. In other words, they are directly involved in the introduction of those formal institutes. They have implemented numerous projects, have invested significant resources, and assess the outcomes against the huge work done. According to them, serious institutional reforms are accomplished and the progress is obvious.

However, their assessments do not correspond with the rankings of the leading international non-governmental, in particular, human rights organizations, which focus on specific external manifestations. For instance, according to “Freedom House”, Armenia has retreated to the very bottom of the list of “partly free countries”, and since 2002 Armenian media have moved from “partly free” to “not free”.

The tough competition for resources continues in the world, and among these resources is the aid of rich countries to poor ones. The pace of reforms is an important factor in this contest. For instance, among the significant resources that Armenia has to fight for in the near future are the funds to be allotted by the European Commission within the European Neighborhood Policy and the US Government within the framework of Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). At this stage we, with much effort, have been involved in both programs. However, the volume of this assistance and its continuity depend on the future “behavior” of the country and the assessment of the international community. The opinions of the international organizations can be decisive in this respect.

In the last annual report of Freedom House, particularly in the section on international assistance, Armenia thrice has been mentioned in a negative context, which implied the organization’s disagreement with the US Government’s decision to include Armenia in the Millennium Challenge Account. This time we somehow slipped out, but Washington will refer back to this issue every year, and since the formal eligibility criteria of the Millennium Challenge Corporation are largely based on the rankings of international NGOs, our future is rather vague. This is only one example of how the attitude of “major agents of change” may alter, influenced by international human rights organizations.

From the above-mentioned one must clearly and realistically understand the price of “slow reforms” and “progress with small steps” which actually turn into imitation. This understanding is of special importance to Armenia, since the issue for us is not only securing international assistance, but also solving the crucial problems in the relations with our neighbors. I believe everyone knows what I mean, so I shall not go into details, for it will take us off the topic and in a different direction.

It is these very factors that define the indifference of a part of civil society in Armenia towards the constitutional reform. Reformation of the most important institutes through amendments carries the imprint of “sluggishness” or, more precisely, of incompleteness. In this process the dialog between the group representing Armenian authorities and Venice Commission of the Council of Europe went on in a way, typical of the whole implementation of Armenia’s commitments to CoE. The first conceded only in cases when it could clearly see how the successive proposal of reforms could fit into the current system. The latter, as it was obvious for an outsider, at the final phase would make only such proposals that were acceptable for the Armenian authorities. Not incidentally, in Armenia strong terms like “bargain” and “trade” were used to describe this dialog.

Negotiations between Yerevan and Strasbourg regarding the Constitution would have been more effective in terms of real reforms, if both parties were more attentive to the civil society in Armenia. Proceeding from the experience of democratization processes in its country, the latter could have assessed, and with quite high probability rate, what in reality would come out of certain, seemingly progressive provision of the changing Main Law. Thus, some solutions would have been found which would eliminate the possibility of reform imitation. However, neither Yerevan, nor Strasbourg duly used the potential of the civil society. This outcome involves the peril of a quick disappointment with the results of the constitutional reform and negative assessments regarding Armenia’s completion of her international commitments with all ensuing consequences.

The above-mentioned arguments allow concluding that in the countries lagging behind the progressive world community in their development for both subjective and objective reasons, “slow reforms” cannot be effective. Only consistent and deliberate radical steps, aimed at breaking the outdated system, are the best alternative to both imitations and revolutionary insurgencies. The countries themselves should initiate these reforms, supported by the international assistance, domestic intellectual elite and civil society institutions. Whereas in countries where the authorities try to extinguish the signals of reformation coming either from abroad or inside the country, instead of generating them, additional havens of dissatisfaction and instability are formed, to say nothing of the risk of serious losses in the fight for the resources above.

Thus, “color” revolutions are not mandatory or desirable for “slowly reforming countries”. The positive outcome of changing governments through revolutions is that for a short time it allows cleansing the arena of regressive informal institutions and the outdated system, and it creates an opportunity for innovating the country rapidly. The negative aspect is the unpredictability of any revolution: never is there a guarantee that in the clean field new and better seeds will be planted in time. However, this does not insure anyone from other possible unrests and does not discard from the agenda the necessity of resolute reforms, allowing to throw out the ties of outdated systems and to integrate with the civilized world.