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Eastern Europe – The World’s Last Underachiever

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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25 years ago, the Russian historical empire melted down. Although often underreported, this also marked the end of alternative society in Europe. Collapse of the II world, made the 3rd way (of Yugoslavia and further, beyond Europe – globally, of the Nonaligned Movement) obsolete.

That 9/11 was a moment when the end of history rested upon all of us, the day when the world became flat. The EU entered East, but only as a ‘stalking horse’ of NATO. No surprise that Eastern Europe –following the slaughter of its pivot, Yugoslavia – has soon after abandoned its identity quest, and capitulated. Its final civilizational defeat came along: the Eastern Europe’s peoples, primarily Slavs, have silently handed over their most important debates – that of Slavism, anti-fascism and of own identity – solely to the recuperating Russophone Europe.

Terrified and rarified underachievers

Is today’s Eastern Europe a classic case of indirect rule? Is that a deep imperial periphery of nominally independent native rulers, while in reality the true power holder resides outside, although is domestically supported by a dense web of NGOs, multinational corporations and locally handpicked ‘elites’?

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Everything in between Central Europe and Russia is Eastern Europe, rather a historic novelty on the political map of Europe (see four maps above). Very formation of the Atlantic Europe’s present shape dates back to 14th–15th century, of Central Europe to the mid-late 19th century, while a contemporary Eastern Europe only started emerging between the end of WWI and the collapse of the Soviet Union – meaning, less than 100 years in best cases, slightly over two decades in the most cases. No wonder that the dominant political culture of the Eastern Europeans resonates residual fears and reflects deeply insecure small nations. Captive and restive, they are short in territorial depth, in demographic projection, in natural resources and in a direct access to open (warm) seas. After all, these are short in historio-cultural verticals, and in the bigger picture-driven long-term policies. They are exercising the nationhood and sovereignty from quite a recently, thus, too often uncertain over the side and page of history. Therefore, they are often dismissive, hectic and suspectful, nearly neuralgic and xenophobic, with frequent overtones.

The creation of a nation-state (on linguistic grounds) in the Atlantic, Scandinavian and Central Europe was relatively a success-story. However, in Eastern Europe it repeatedly suffered setbacks, culminating in the Balkans, Caucasus and the Middle East, but also remains evident in the central or Baltic part of Eastern Europe.

Above statement might come as a shock for many. Why? For the last 25 years, our reporting on Eastern Europe was rather a matter of faith than a reflection of the empirical reality. This ‘rhetoric’ was dominated by fragmented intellectual trends that are more cultural (e.g. poetry, paintings, film, etc.) than coherently economic and geo-political in focus as they should be. How one defines a challenge largely determines the response – effectively points out Brzezinski. Hence, the arts will always elaborate on emotions, science will search for and examine the facts.

If the front of Atlantic-Central Europe lately suffered (an economic) problem which has been diagnosed as a distributional and compositional, than who and when is holistically and scientifically to examine the Eastern-Rusophone Europe and its burning geo-economic (distributional, compositional), socio-political/ideological (space-time in history) and geopolitical (logical and areal) problem? Where is a serious research on that?

If the equality of outcome (income) was a communist egalitarian dogma, is the belief in equality of opportunity a tangible reality offered to Eastern Europe or just a deceiving utopia sold to the conquered, plundered, ridiculed and cannibalized countries in transition?

What is the current standing of Eastern Europe – state of its economy, the health of its society and the efficiency of its governance?

By contrasting and comparing available HDI data (UN DP’s Human Development Index) and all relevant WB, OECD, UNCTAD, ILO and WHO socio-economic and health indexes including the demographic trends of last two decades, we can easily spot a considerable green, economic and socio-human growth in Asia, in Latin America and moderate growth elsewhere. The single trend of negative growth (incl. the suicide and functional illiteracy figures) comparable by its duration and severity to this of Eastern Europe, is situated only in the sub-Saharan Africa (precisely the CHAD-lake region and partially between Grand lakes and Horn of Africa). Further on, recent generational accounting figures illuminate a highly disturbing future prospect for the youth of Eastern Europe. Neither their economic performance nor birth rates would sustain the financial burden left for the future by the present, irresponsible and defeatist, generation.

Ergo, euphemisms such as countries in transition or new Europe cannot hide a disconsolate fact that Eastern Europe has been treated for 25 years as defeated belligerent, as spoils of war which the West won in its war against communist Russia.[1]

It concludes that (self-)fragmented, deindustrialized, rapidly aged rarified and depopulated, (and de-Slavicized) Eastern Europe is probably the least influential region of the world – one of the very few underachievers. Obediently submissive and therefore, rigid in dynamic environment of the promising 21st century, Eastern Europeans are among last remaining passive downloaders and slow-receivers on the otherwise blossoming stage of the world’s creativity, politics and economy.[2]

East does not exercise its political sovereignty (gone with the EU), its military sovereignty (gone with the NATO), its economic and monetary sovereignty (gone with the massive domestic de-industrialization ‘preached’ by the IMF, EBRD, EIB and eventually ECB),[3]and its financial sovereignty (gone by full penetration of German, Austrian and Swedish banks).[4]Those national currencies still existing in Eastern Europe lost – for already long ago – the vital substance: their anthropological and economic function.

Most of the Eastern European states do not control a single commercial bank on their territory.[5]East does not control its own narrative or (interpretation of) history: Due to the massive penetration of Central Europe, East grossly relativized, trivialized and silenced its own past and present anti-fascism. Additionally, this region does not effectively control its media space. Media there (of too-often dubious orientation and ownership) is discouraging, disorienting and silencing any sense of national pride, influence over destiny direction and to it related calls for self-(re)assessment.

East is sharply aged and depopulated –the worst of its kind ever – which in return will make any future prospect of a full and decisive generational interval simply impossible.[6]Honduras-ization of Eastern Europe is full and complete.[7]If the post-WWII Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe was overt and brutal, this one is tacit but subversive and deeply corrosive.[8]

East between Ukrainization and Pakistanization

It is worth reminding that the NATO remains to be an instrument of the US physical, military presence in Europe. Or, as Lord Ismay defined it in 1949: ‘to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down’. The fact that the US remained in Western Germany, and that the Soviet Army pulled out from Eastern Germany did not mean ‘democratization’ or ‘transition’. It represented a direct military defeat of the Gorbachev Russia in the duel over the core sectors of Central and Eastern Europe. As direct spoils of war, DDR disappeared from the political map of Europe being absorbed by Western Germany, while the American Army still resides in unified Germany.[9] In fact, more than half of the US 75 major overseas military bases are situated in Europe. Up to this day, Germany hosts 25 of them.  

Admittedly, by the early 1990s, the ‘security hole’– Eastern Europe, has been approached in multifold fashion: Besides the (pre-Maastricht EC and post-Maastricht) EU and NATO, there was the Council of Europe, the CSCE (after the 1993 Budapest summit, OSCE), the EBRD and EIB. All of them were sending the political, economic, human dimension, commercial signals, assistance and expertise.[10]These moves were making both sides very nervous; Russia becoming assertive (on its former peripheries) and Eastern Europe defiantly dismissive. Until this very day, each of them is portraying the NATO enterprise as the central security consideration: One as a must-go, and another as a no-go.

No wonder that the absolute pivot of Eastern Europe – Ukraine, is a grand hostage of that very dilemma: Between the eastern pan-Slavic hegemony and western ‘imperialism of free market’.[11]For Ukraine, Russia is a geographic, socio-historic, cultural and linguistic reality. These days, this reality is far less reflected upon than the seducing, but distant Euro-Atlantic club. Ukraine for Russia is more than a lame western-flank’ geopolitical pivot, or to say, the first collateral in the infamous policy of containment that the West had continuously pursued against Russia ever since the 18th century. For Moscow, Kiev is an emotional place – an indispensable bond of historio-civilizational attachment – something that makes and sustains Russia both Christian and European. Putin clearly redlined it: Sudden annexation of Crimea (return to its pre-1954 status) was an unpleasant and humiliating surprise that brings a lot of foreign policy hangover for both the NATO and EU.

Thus drifting chopped off and away, a failed state beyond rehabilitation, Ukraine itself is a prisoner of this domesticated security drama. Yet again, the false dilemma so tragically imploded within this blue state, of a 50:50 polarized population, over the question where the country belongs – in space, time and side of history. Conclusively, Eastern Europe is further twisting, while gradually combusted between Ukrainization and Pakistanization.[12] The rest of Europe is already shifting the costs of its own foreign policy journey by ‘fracking’ its households with a considerably higher energy bills.

In short, Atlantic Europe is a political powerhouse, with two of three European nuclear powers and 2 out of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, P-5. Central Europe is an economic powerhouse, Russophone Europe is an energy powerhouse, Scandinavian Europe is all of that a bit, and Eastern Europe is none of it.

 

*   All displayed maps per the author’s idea made by Anneliese Gattringer.

References:

  1. Bajrektarević, A. (2013), Future of Europe (Of Lisbon and Generational Interval), EU Journal Europe’s World, Brussels
  2. Brzezinski, Z. (1997), The Grand Chessboard, Basic Books (Perseus);
  3. Fukuyama, F. (2012), The Future of History, Foreign Affairs Magazine 91(1) 2012
  4. Friedman, G. (2009), The Next 100 Years, Anchor Books/Random House NY;
  5. Ferguson, N. (2005), Colossus – The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, Penguin Books (page 255)
  6. Bajrektarević, A. (2005), Green/Policy Paper Submitted to the closing plenary of the Ministerial (Chairmanship summarizing the recommendations and conclusions of the OSCE Ministerial Summit Prague 2005), OSCE Documents/EEA 2005/05/14857/En
  7. Clark, C. (2013), The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, HarperCollins Publishers
  8. Eco, U. (2001), Eternal Fascism: 14 way of looking at a Blackshirt, Five Moral Pieces – Essays (orig. Cinque Scritti Morali, 1997),Essay first published in the NY Review of Books, 22 VI 1995 (pp.12-15)
  9. Stiglitz, J.E. (2012), The Price of Inequality, Penguin Economics
  10. Wallerstein, I. (1999), The End of the World as We Know it: Social Science for the XXI century, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  11. OECD (2014), Society at a Glance 2014 – The Crisis and its Aftermath (OECD Social Indicators), OECD Paris Publications
  12. World Bank (2014), World Development Report 2014: Risk and Opportunity – Managing Risk for Development, WB Publications
  13. Mead, W.R. (2014), The Return of Geopolitics – The Revenge of the Revisionist Powers, Foreign Affairs Magazine 93(2) 2014
  14. Greco, T.H. (2009), The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, Chelsea Green Publishing
  15. Serfaty, S. (2014) Why we need to be patient with Russia, Europe’s World – the EU Foreign Policy Journal, Brussels (page 73)
  16. Bajrektarević, A. (2013), Multiculturalism is D(r)ead in Europe – MENA Oil and the (hidden) political prize Europe pays for it, Nordic Page, Oslo Norway
  17. Ikenberry, G.J. (2014), The Illusion of Geopolitics, Foreign Affairs Magazine 93(3) 2014
  18. Kagan, R. (2004), Of Paradise and Power, Vintage Books (page 85)

 


[1] A sharp drop in LE (life expectancy) in Russia, from age 72 to 59, is something faced only by nations at war. The evidence that Russia has suffered such a steep decline, unreversed ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, is unprecedented in a peace-time history of any industrialized nation. Although not so alarming like in the post-SU Russia, the rest of post-Soviet republics and Eastern Europe closely follow the same LE pattern – not to mention devastating birth rates, brain drain and other demographic data. E.g. the projected LE of the today’s born Berliner is around 100 years, while of Muscovite is only 67 years. Simply, the East is unable to (re-)produce its own life. Or, once it is conceived, to keep (the best of) that life at home. Some would argue that it again is the war for a lebensraum, but this time of the self-imposed Endlösung (final solution).  

[2] With some exceptions of Visegrád countries (such as Poland or Czech Republic, and lately Hungary) sporadically opposing a constant bandwagoning (but even that only in the domain of narrow EU fiscal or economic matters), Eastern Europe of today is unable to conceive and effectively promulgate a self-emancipating, balanced and multivector foreign policy. Fergusson goes as far as to claim for Eastern Europeans that: “they looked at Brussels (of NATO) the way former British colonies obeyed everything said and done in London.”

[3]“The entry criteria for Eastern European states was particularly costly: the so-called small and open economies, de-industrialized and over-indebted didn’t have any chance to be equal partners. For most of them, FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) is the only economic solution, which turned them into colonies…” – admitted even the Nobel laureate, economist Stiglitz in his The Price of Inequality. Moreover, the overly strong and rigid exchange rate of the domestic currencies in Eastern Europe is good only for foreign landers. It awards importers while disadvantages domestic manufacturing base and home exporters. This outdated anti-growth and anti-green economic policy has been universally abandoned long ago, even by the LDC (the UN-listed Least developed countries). No wonder that the GDP in the most of Eastern European states is well below its pre-1990s levels, and their ecological footprint index is of an alarming trend.  

[4]According to findings of the Budapest Institute of Economics (Corvinus University), for the past two decades, the volume of Austrian banking sector has increased 370%. How is this spectacular percentage achievable for the country of a flat domestic economic and negative demographic growth? This covert occupation of south-eastern Europe by the foreign financial sector did not create new jobs or re-create any industrial base there. As the Budapest Institute concluded aftermath, it was only meant to dry-out the remaining liquid assets (and private savings) from the rapidly pauperized, defeated belligerent. In 1914, Austria controlled banks as well; in Croatia, Bosnia, western Romania, northern Serbia, Hungary, southern Poland and western Ukraine. However, at that time, it also had a strict governing obligation as all of them were a part of the Monarchy. By having recognized the formal sovereignty to each of these entities, Austria today (like Sweden towards the three Baltic States in the northeast flank of Europe, and Germany in the central sector of Eastern Europe) has no governing obligations whatsoever. It can easily externally socialize (externalize) all its costs including banking risks, and individualize all profits (internalize), yielding it only for itself. Hence, the EU accession criteria, combined with a nominal independence of Eastern European entities (pacified by the pre-paid media and guided by the post-paid ‘elites’), means that the economic and other assets are syphoned out, but the countries have to take a burden of the state maintenance solely on themselves. “Creating the market economy attractive for FDI (foreign direct investments) in our case meant a de-industrialization, pauperisation, which eventually led to defunding of most of the state social activities. When someone dare say ‘our education, housing and health sectors are knocked down due to this’, they are quickly denounced as socio-romantics and accused for the social conservatism…” says Head of the Croatia’s Economic Institute prof. Slavko Kulic, and concludes: “…suffering of ever larger segments of societies means nothing to the architects of misery, to those Talibans of neoliberalism.” Recently released edition of the Oxfam study on the wealth distribution worldwide, unfortunately, confirms this bleak picture.

[5] Current labor relations in the most of Eastern Europe (Rusophone Europe, too) resembles pictures of the 18th rather than of the 21st century’s conditions, especially in the private sector of employment. It is all with a weak or even totally absent trade unionism, dismal labor standards, as well as the poor protection of other essential social, environmental and health rights. “We have stringent labor conditions to the unbearable maximum, so that the few self-styled ‘top managers’ can play golf more frequently and for a longer time… How can you possibly build any social cohesion when disproportionately many suffer for the dubious benefit of the asocial, predatory few…” – confessed to me the Ambassador of one of the largest Eastern European countries who served as a mayor of his country’s capital, before his ambassadorship in Vienna.

[6]Some ten years ago, at the special OSCE forum for demographics, I warned: “…lasting political, social and economic changes including very important technological breakthroughs – throughout our history – primarily occurred at generational intervals. This was an engine of our evolution…Presently, with demographically collapsing East European societies (natality rates, generational and brain drain), the young cohort will never constitute more than a tiny minority – in the sea of aged, backward-looking, psychologically defeatistic and biologically incapable, conservative status quo keepers. Hence, neither the generational change that brings fresh socio-political ideas, nor technological breakthrough –which usually comes along – will successfully ever take place in future of such demographies.” (For a detailed demographic outlook and tentative recommendations/ conclusions, see: Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Our Common Futures: EURO-MED Human Capital beyond 2020, Crans Montana Forum, Monaco, 2005, as well as Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Green/Policy Paper Submitted to the closing plenary of the Ministerial (Chairmanship summarizing the recommendations and conclusions of the OSCE Ministerial Summit Prague 2005), OSCE Documents EEA 2005.)

[7] Eastern Europe is Hondurized – this term refers to an operationalization of Monroe Doctrine in Central America, by which Washington allows its strategic neighborhood to choose their own domestic political and economic systems to an acceptable degree, while the US maintains its final (hemispheric) say over their external orientation. The so-called Brezhnev doctrine (of irreversibility of communist gains) postulated the Soviet (Suslov-Stalin) equivalent to Honduras-ization – Finlandization.

[8] Eastern Europe, the (under-)world of dramatic aging which, is additionally demographically knocked down by the massive generational and brain drain. Passed the dismantling of the communist order, these emerging economies, countries in transition of the new Europe contain reactionary forces (often glorifying the wrong side of history), predatory ‘elites’ and masses of disillusioned (in a life without respect and dignity, humiliated and ridiculed in the triviality of their lasting decline). Even if the new jobs are created or old kept, they are in fact smoke screens: Mostly a (foreign-loans financed) state-sponsored poverty programs where armies of the underemployed and misemployed cry out miserable wages in dead-end jobs. Former Slovakian cabinet minister laments in private: “Our ‘liberated East’ lives on foreign loans, or in the best case as the industrial suburbia of West Europe, having these few ‘generously’ franchised factories like Renault, VW or Hugo Boss. Actually, these are just automotive assembly lines and tailor shops – something formally done only in the III World countries. Apart from the Russian Energia-Soyuz (space-program related) delivery system, what else do we have domestically created anywhere from Bratislava to Pacific? Is there any indigenous high-end technical product of past decades known? … Our EU accession deals are worse than all Capitulation agreements combined that the Ottomans and Imperial China have ever signed in their history.”

[9] Gorbachev’s capitulation helped Germans to further gain confidence: Once territorially extended (or to euphemistically say; unified), Western Germany transposed that new size and its centrality into the advanced version of Machtpolitikdrang nach export-based über-economy. No wonder that the über-Mutti’s cabinet is gradually maneuvering the country out of the NATO-enforced Westbindung (an alliance, it does not see any more as its strategic necessity) towards an old, solely/unilaterally determined Ostpolitik of Wandel durch Kopf-Handel (change via altered mindset). Chancellor Markel’s ambassador Michael Schäfer is even more forthcoming on this eventual post-Western Made in Deutschland foreign policy. In the interview for the leading Chinese press he concludes: ‘I do not think there is such a thing as the West anymore.‘ /Kundnani, H. (2015), Leaving the West Behind – Germany Looks East, Foreign Affairs Magazine 94(1) 2015/

[10] Through the EBRD–EIB conditionalities and EU accession criteria, Eastern Europe was dictated to practically dismantle its essential industrial and service base. This dictatum upon defeated belligerent – euphemistically called countries in transition or new Europe – was followed by loans and assets received from the EU Accession and Structural funds. It was ‘sold’ to the East as award and as such presented to the deceived population. (However, it was rather to tranquilize the population at large and to pacify their local scenes, not at all aimed to modernize, re-industrialize or diversify economy, or to make production and service sector more efficient or competitive. Consequently, it was merely to subsidize the deteriorating purchasing power of the East – to make the peoples there accustomed to and encouraged for the foreign goods and services.) Thus, the funds were predominantly consumed for the western commodities. Ergo, Atlantic and Central Europe extended themselves geographically, while economically they skillfully managed to subsidize their own industrial base. To this very end, Eastern Europe’s elites readily took loans, while –in return– laying down sovereignty by issuing the state-debt guaranties. By doing so, they indebted their own states beyond bearing, and hence, they finally eliminated their own countries as any current or future economic competitor or politico-military challenger.  

[11]This is further burdened by the imperialism in a hurry – an inflammable mix of the Lithuanian-Polish past traumas and German ‘manifest destiny’ of being historically yet again ill-fated; impatient for quick results – simply, unable to capitalize on its previous successes. One of my German students recently very vividly satirized: “The irony of unintended consequence is that the intense relationship between Über-mutti (Chancellor Merkel) and boxman at large Klitschko is interpreted by Moscow as asexual, but not as apolitical.”To say, overly cosmopolitan interest for a faith of foreigners living in Germany for someone who infamously said: “multiculturalism is dead in Europe…” (Sarkozy, Cameron and Merkel openly and repeatedly viewed and diagnosed ‘death of multiculturalism’), as if the cluster of Atlantic-Central Europe’s national-states lived a long, cordial and credible history of multiculturalism on its soil.   

[12]Ukrainization could be attributed to eastern and western Slavs– who are fighting distinctions without significant difference. Pakistanization itself should describe the southern Slavs’ scenery: In lieu of truth and reconciliation, guilt is offered as a control mechanism, following the period of an unchecked escalation, ranging from a hysteria-of-a-small-difference to a crime-of-otherness purge.   

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

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Eastern Europe

“Ukrainian Spring” Zelensky style

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The spring of 2019 may someday go down in the history of Ukraine as a time when Ukrainians experienced what could be described as a period of a “psychological thaw.” No matter who may be saying what about his or her “sixth sense,” or all sorts of quasi-scientific analyzes, hardly anyone either in Ukraine or elsewhere in the world could imagine the country’s top job ending up in the hands of a buffoon! The main hopeful was Yulia Tymoshenko, followed by Yuriy Boyko, with Petro Poroshenko trailing far behind in fifth place. Volodymyr Zelensky was just a virtual candidate, one who could only be voted for “just for fun,” as young people use to say these days.

How come? Tymoshenko had her electoral victory stolen by Poroshenko, who was still president then. Even funnier, he actually handed that pilfered victory to an absolute outsider, and long before the first round of elections to boot. That is why ordinary people turned away from the traditional candidates and voted for Zelensky in protest against the oligarchic president’s disregard for the rule of law and the very lives of his people.  This is what lies on the surface though, but there have been much deeper changes going on in Ukrainian society than what just meets the eye.

What happened in the spring of 2019 actually ushered in a whole new era!  By this I certainly do not mean the end of the “Poroshenko era” and the advent of the “Zelensky era.” Too much credit for both of them! Small wonder, that the new president feels so ill at ease in his newly-acquired job. Quoting William Shakespeare, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

I have heard a lot of enthusiastic praises sung to the new Ukrainian president, as well as his absolutely wrong and manipulative comparisons with the Russian president by ordinary and not so ordinary people here in Russia. It won’t be long, however, before all this enthusiasm is replaced by disillusionment once President Zelensky’s first 100 days in office are over and his popularity both in and outside Ukraine has waned.  My question is whether his enthusiastic supporters in Russia are ready to publicly admit their mistake.

Let’s get back to the whole new era that made its entrance in the spring of 2019. In fact, Poroshenko’s departure and Zelensky’s election signal the start of a new era, when the old generation politicians step down making way for new, younger ones. That this transition occurred without another Maidan does not attest to its evolutionary nature though. On the contrary,  there have been more than revolutionary changes going on in Ukraine, and this primarily concerns the consciousness of the Ukrainian people. Indeed, Zelensky’s inaugural speech fully answered the aspirations of three-thirds of his compatriots, because it was exactly what they wanted to hear from their newly-elected president. Moreover, an analysis of posts in social networks revealed another very interesting phenomenon: all of a sudden, the generation of forty-year-olds began to seriously consider the possibility of participating in the workings of the country they live in, not for the purpose of personal enrichment or satisfaction of their own ambitions, but for a chance to work for the benefit of all.

So what, you might ask: a generation change is something every country goes through. What is the “trick” behind Zelensky’s election? Well, the “trick” is that people hope that there will be no relatives of Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, Yanukovych or any other well-known politician and official among the new generation of managers; that all these newcomers will be self-made people. People are fed up with the powers-that-be where corrupt and thievish dads hand their posts over to their equally corrupt and thievish offspring. This is the main reason for the choice Ukrainian voters made in March and April. I do not deny the effectiveness of political technologies or the veracity of conspiracy theories, of course. I’m just trying to explain why people voted for Zelensky and what they hoped for. Take a look at the so-called “ZE-Team.” Yes, many of them are “childhood friends,” “partners,” someone’s “protégés,” etc. But there are also people with scientific degrees and excellent professional reputations, not someone’s children, but people who have achieved something with their brains. This is the only thing that inspires a cautious hope for a generally positive trend now emerging in Ukrainian society.

What will happen next? Well, there will be disappointment. War, economy and diplomacy will most likely continue to weigh down the new government.  Moreover, the period of universal admiration of Ukraine by the collective West will prove rather short-lived and will make way for indifference, irritation or even hostility, which could ultimately force Kiev to gravitate away from its present geopolitical course. The life of ordinary people will not become any better either. The big question, however, is the impact that the advent of a young productive class will have on the state of affairs inside Ukraine. Will today’s sixty-year-old elites wish to turn to the emerging generation of forty-year-old leaders? What I would like to know, however, is the name of the country these sixty-year-old elites actually live in…

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Armenia’s position blurred the progress for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and leads to an escalation

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The conflict between two South Caucasus countries – Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh became as one of the bloodiest and long-lasting conflicts contributing to instability in the region. After a ceasefire agreement signed in 1994 halting the armed skirmishes in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, Armenia and Azerbaijan pursued, albeit a fragile, diplomatic negotiations to reach a peaceful end to this bloody conflict.

However, peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries (namely the US, France and Russia) have been lasting for decades without any tangible results to achieve total peace. The current status-quo in the conflict zone was mainly favored by Armenian leadership until today in order to continue illegal activities in the occupied territories and seek for legitimacy for its occupation policy.  However, four-day April 2016 fights demonstrated once again that status quo in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone is very indeed dangerous.

All these developments clearly show that the status quo in the conflict zone should be changed as soon as possible, because such situation cannot be kept “frozen” any more. Any tangible result on the conflict resolution requires, first of all, Armenia to take finally result-oriented actions in order to achieve peace and prosperity in the region.

Following the government change in Armenia in 2018 with the fall of the government of Serzh Sargsyan composed of so-called “Karabakh clan” and take-over of ruling by Nikol Pashinyan (as a new Prime Minister) through mass protests against corruption and cronyism in Armenia, there was hope that the new government in Yerevan would change the situation and choose peace instead of sticking to the previous government’s policy of occupation.

The first high-level meeting (since the velvet revolution in Armenia) between Azerbaijan and Armenian foreign ministers took place on 11 July 2018 in Brussels with the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs. Actually, in the first meeting the Ministers discussed the certain parameters for re-engaging in substantive negotiations and vowed to take confidence-building measures. These meetings were conducted regularly until and after the first official meeting of head of states of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Vienna in 2019.

The first official meeting between Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was held on 29 March 2019 in Vienna. In an interview to the Russian TASS news agency President Ilham Aliyev noted “we have discussed the issues related to strengthening trust measures during contacts between people and the negotiating process should be supported by humanitarian measures”. President Aliyev also emphasized that “it is of huge importance that the format of talks remained unchanged and only Armenia and Azerbaijan discuss their problems as it was many years before”.

Prime Minister Pashinyan also regarded “the meeting as positive”, but he ruled out “that there has been a breakthrough in the negotiation process, or an evolution”.

Unfortunately, despite all aforementioned talks and positive thoughts, Pashinyan changed his position and started to support the previous Armenian policies on the conflict. Later, he even said that he will not engage in any discussions of “land for peace”. Pashinyan also demands that the format of negotiations should be expanded from the current bilateral format to include officials from the separatist regime (so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”) established in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. It is very obvious that Pashinyan’s that proposal aims to maneuver in the negotiations or to preserve the status-quo in the conflict zone. Whereas, it seems unacceptable for Azerbaijan when Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh region, which were forced to leave their homes and became refugees, are not considered in this regard. 

The process clearly illustrates that new Armenian government is not ready for compromise to reach a peace with Azerbaijan. Instead of constructive engagement, they opted for sticking to hate speech. For instance, during the UEFA Europa League Final in Baku (29 May 2019) Arsenal’s player Henrikh Mkhitaryan (of Armenian origin) refused to visit Baku despite all high security guarantee promised by Azerbaijani government. His choice was regarded as being part of a “dirty” political game instead of playing football. Nikol Pashinyan even hailed his position in his twitter feed. Whereas, until now, many Armenian athletes participated at the Baku 2015 European Games, and many others at the international events hosted by Azerbaijan, and there were no threats and incidents for them.

In general, sportsmen may have a very positive role in conflict and hate situations. For instance, according to researchers from Stanford University, Liverpool’s Egyptian football striker Mo Salah effect is having an impact beyond the stadium walls, who found a drop in hate crimes around Liverpool since Salah signed with the club in June 2017. Mo Salah often celebrates goals by dropping to his knees and touching his forehead to the grass in the sujood (an Islamic prayer position), while Liverpool fans have a chant that goes: “If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim, too”. Henrikh Mkhitaryan with arrival to Baku could also use this opportunity to convey a peace message to other Armenians.

The short-term environment of peace was deteriorated by another provocation by Armenia against Azerbaijan. On 30 May 2019, during the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs’ visit to Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani officer was killed by an Armenian sniper shot. On 9 June 2019 another Azerbaijani soldier was killed by the Armenian side, and Armenian Defense Minister awarded that who executed the Azerbaijani servicemen. These military incidents were followed by proportional casualties in Armenians’ side as well. Moreover, on June 12, 2019, Azerbaijan’s trainer plane has been detected and targeted by Armenian anti-aircraft missile system at the frontline (on Fizuli direction), but no incident was registered.

All aforementioned facts confirm that Armenian new government sticks to old mechanism, and all attempts to change the format of negotiations to present de-facto Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent party are just a maneuver to maintain the status-quo in the conflict. It is necessary to consider that, the conflict hitherto causes violence and human suffering for both nations, and without tangible results, further civil and military causalities will be from both sides. Both Armenian and Azerbaijan people suffered enough from this bloody conflict, and it is very time to achieve a peace in the region. As the Armenian journalist, social activist Susan Jaghinyan emphasized – “Sargsyan and Kocharyan destroy[ed] the people, if they continue[d] their rule, the Armenian people [would] not exist in the future”.  After Velvet Revolution, Armenian people managed to change a regime, and now Armenian new government has all chances to prepare its population for peace and benefit from the regional economic cooperation. As soon as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolves, the Armenian people will be able to benefit from the opportunities of the current regional economic cooperation of Azerbaijan with other partners.

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Eastern Europe

Armenia-Iran: Good neighbourly relations absolute necessity

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Some experts believe that Iran’s cooperation with Armenia could become costly for the latter owing to the ever increasing hostility demonstrated by US President Donald Trump towards the Islamic Republic of Iran. They predict that American sanctions and extensive pressure on Iran could throw Armenia into a kind of blockade.

What comes to mind in connection with this is the words that are thought to have been said by Napoleon Bonaparte: geography is destiny. Even though it could not always be the case but it definitely is with the Caucasus. There are few if any regions whose military, strategic and economic significance would combine with unprecedented ethno-religious diversity on a fairly small territory with historically conditioned disputable issues. This naturally creates all the conditions for an atmosphere of permanent tension which over the last two centuries has repeatedly exploded in armed conflicts and wars.

In the 21st century, the situation in the Caucasus is formed by a most sophisticated political gamut of bilateral and multilateral relations among three former Soviet republics of Transcaucasus – Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, and also, not in the last place, by the Caucasian states of Russia, Turkey and Iran. Besides, one should not forget about the military and political influence of non-regional countries, first of all, the United States, the European Union and Israel.

Undoubtedly, today we are witnessing the influence of multiple forces in different areas of  Caucasian politics, and these forces are dragging Caucasian states into various alliances. Moreover, the regional policy of each of the South Caucasian states is determined by a variety of factors that spring from the specifics of bilateral and multilateral relations.

But we will not analyze the whole spectrum of complicated and entangled relations between groups of countries and within groups proper. We will focus on relations beween Iran and Armenia.

What is the role of Armenia, taking into account the US anti-Iran sanctions?

Iran is the largest multi-ethnic state in the Middle East. Present day Iran is home to more than 40 nationalities, each at a different level of socio-economic development. The multi-million population of Iran is ethnically related to the peoples of the Transcaucasus and Central Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia.

For centuries, Iran has been maintaining close economic and cultural ties with the peoples of the Transcaucasus. But its relations with Armenia stand out as somewhat specific.

Significantly, the first state formations of Armenia and Iran appeared in the VII – VI centuries BC, that is, nearly 3 thousand years ago. Since then their territories and regimes have undergone numerous changes, but Armenians and Persians, as state-forming ethnic groups, have passed through the centuries unchanged.

An idea which is deeply rooted in both the Iranian and Armenian consciousness is that Persians and Armenians boast ancient culture that cannot be thrown into oblivion. This explains cultural ties between the two nations and a comprehensive respect for the specifics of each other’s national and religious mentality.

At present, Iran is home to more than 200 thousand Armenians. Iranian Armenians enjoy substantial rights. Under the Constitution of Iran, they have guaranteed representation in parliament and local councils. Not so long ago, Russian Orientalist Karine Gevorkian reported that in 2018, a young Armenian woman was appointed head of the financial department of the Iranian oil company.

The Armenian Christian community is the largest of its kind in Iran. Functioning throughout the country are about 200 Armenian churches and about 30 Armenian schools. Some universities have departments of the Armenian language and culture. Iran publishes books and magazines in Armenian. Also, there are Armenian theatrical, cultural, and sports societies, and the Armenian Club.

It should be pointed out that Iranian Armenians are taking an active part in the social and political life of the country.

Naturally, Iranian Armenians maintain permanent ties with the Republic of Armenia, which undoubtedly cements Iranian-Armenian relations at the state level.

Although Iran and Armenia are not comparable in their scope and position, as history and current geopolitics show, they need each other.

Iran is interested to maintain ties with Armenia, in the first place, because, as it was already mentioned above, the country is home to an influential Armenian community. Secondly, given that the Armenian diaspora exists in many countries of the world, it could become a kind of bridge connecting Tehran with the capitals of other, not always friendly, states where an Armenian community is also active. Also, it is through authoritative Armenian lobbies that Iran could secure favorable political and economic solutions. Thirdly, the territory of Armenia, as a neighboring country, is important for Iran as a corridor to the North (through Georgia) and further to Russia, which is clearly beneficial for Iran considering the current  geopolitical situation.

Armenia, in turn, is also interested in friendly relations with neighboring Iran, not only on account of links between the Armenian diaspora and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran assumed a fairly balanced position regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, by refraining from backing fellow believers from a neighboring country and complying with the Minsk format, the decisions of the Minsk Group (OSCE).

Moreover, the continuing trade and economic ties between Armenia and Iran have become, to a certain extent, a lifeline for Yerevan. Blocked by Turkey and Azerbaijan from two sides, Armenia  has only two windows to the outside world: via the borders with Georgia and Iran. Therefore, for Armenia Iran is of vital importance. The Armenian-Iranian border, running through the Araks River, is the shortest for two countries – a mere 35 km. Nevertheless, this border is of great importance, both for Armenia and for Iran, being used for developing trade and economic relations between the two countries and promoting touristm. Statistical data say Iranians (and not only Armenian) enjoy visiting Armenia.

In recent years, Armenia and Iran have seen a successful implementation of various economic programs. One of the first projects was a bridge erected across the Araks River. Also, two high-voltage power transmission lines have been built, a third one is currently under construction.

One of the key areas of economic cooperation between Armenia and Iran is provided by an interim agreement signed in May 2018 between Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) on the creation of a free trade zone. Thus, there have appeared opportunities for merging the 180-million market of the EEU with the 80-million Iranian market. Since Armenia is the only EAEU country that has a land border with Iran, it plays a crucial role in cooperation between the EAEU and Iran, which provides it with an opportunity to develop its relations with Iran.

Undoubtedly, Armenia and Iran’s shared interest in bilateral cooperation envisages good prospects for the future. However, it is not that simple, as there have arrived new times, both for Yerevan, and Tehran.

In 2018 Armenia saw a change of government, as a result of which Nikola Pashinyan was elected Prime Minister. There have been changes in domestic policy. As for foreign policy, at least in relation to Iran, there have been no particular  changes and, in all likelihood, there will not be any. Given the present-day conditions, good-neighborly relations between Yerevan and Tehran are not a luxury, but an urgent need.

In this regard, Nikola Pashinyan’s official visit to Iran in February 2019 is of special significance. During the visit the two parties held high-level talks with the participation of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who rarely receives foreign guests. The negotiations were held in a fairly warm atmosphere, with both sides underscoring the importance of bilateral relations and expressing readiness to exert efforts to develop them.

In the course of above-mentioned talks, representatives of Armenia and Iran signaled the high level of political cooperation, emphasizing yet again that the current level of economic cooperation does not match the full potential of the parties involved. Although by the end of 2018, trade turnover between Armenia and Iran had reached $ 364 million, which is the highest figure since 1991.

Among major projects of the Armenian-Iranian bilateral economic cooperation program is  the construction of the third power line, the implementation of the Meghri hydropower project, the North-South highway corridor, trilateral and quadrilateral economic cooperation with Georgia and Russia.

What makes the visit to Iran by Armenia’s Prime Minister Pashinyan special is that Iran is under the US sanctions. In 2018, a transitional year for Armenia, the United States subjected Iran to unprecedented pressure. In addition, the US “secondary sanctions” were imposed against all countries, legal entities and physical persons of foreign countries which dare to maintain relations with Iran. This meant a challenge for Armenia, in many ways economically connected with Iran.

In October 2018, US National Security Advisor John Bolton visited Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to secure support for US plans to further isolate Iran. Reports say Washington is lobbying for the closure of the Armenian border with Iran through opening the border with Turkey.

While in Yerevan, Bolton told Prime Minister Pashinyan that since the United States will pursue the policy of sanctions against Iran, the Armenian-Iranian border is a “big problem.” Pashinyan responded by saying the following: “We respect the requests and national interests of any country, but Armenia has its own national  interests, which do not always coincide with the interests and ideas of other countries.” But as they say, there could be options.

It is necessary to emphasize that Washington, despite its hostile policy towards the IRI, has always had to tolerate cooperation between Armenia and Iran. Such tolerance is due to the US awareness of the geo-economic situation of Armenia, which, without extensive ties with Iran, will face social and economic problems. In addition, as said before, the Armenian lobby has a lot of sway in Washington, especially in the US Congress, which does not give much say to Iran’s opponents with regard to Armenia. That this is true is confirmed by the absence of any US sanctions against Armenia. That’s why John Bolton all but voiced proposals, and not warnings or threats. Suren Sargsyan, Chairman of the Armenian Center for American Studies, said recently, “Washington is fully aware of the situation and the realities that exist in the region. This means that the United States will never pressure Armenia into rejecting Iran or Russia. And this is good, because Washington knows that we will not survive without Iran and Russia … “

As is known, besides the United States Iran has another “big friend” – Israel. Apparently,  the strengthening of Armenian-Iranian relations is not welcome in Jerusalem, and Yerevan is aware of this. The Armenian diplomacy has taken sophisticated measures to neutralize the negative Israeli reaction. Right after Prime Minister Pashinyan’s visit to Iran, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigor Hovhannisyan paid a visit to Israel, where he discussed opening an embassy in Israel “in order to bring bilateral relations to a new high”. The Armenian delegation also focused on organizational issues related to the upcoming visit to Israel by Armenian Prime Minister Nikola Pashinyan and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.

In all likelihood, the main point of Prime Minister Pashinyan’s foreign policy agenda and the main goal of his government is tolerance and absence of problems in relations with foreign countries: with Moscow, with Tehran, th Washington, with Brussels, with Jerusalem.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that the change of government in Armenia and large-scale US sanctions against Iran and its partners did not affect the stable nature of Armenian-Iranian relations. In these conditions, the Armenian-Iranian border is unlikely to ever be closed – a complete blockade of Armenia is highly impossible. Moreover, the small Armenia, pursuing a multi-vector foreign policy, has become an important factor in ensuring security in the South Caucasus. 

From our partner International Affairs

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