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Ordinary Fascism with Azerbaijani Variations

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In the midst of the Cold War, in the most dramatic moments of mid-60s, thinking society of USSR was not only deeply touched, but was also given  food for thought by the talented filmmaker Mikhail Romm’s   documentary film called “Ordinary Fascism”  which according to impartial experts is a genius film about fascism origin and development and, most importantly , the potential dangers of the  latter  for future generations. This is a film-meditation about the nature and causes of the emergence of fascism in the country that has given birth to a unique constellation of science, culture and arts.

It is assumed that the Third Reich’s “National Socialism” ideology is a turning point in history. But, alas, his inheritance revives like a tale headless monster. Holocaust, genocide, aggression, racism, “return of territories – today all of this is still hanging over the head of mankind like a sword of Damocles.

“Expanding Germany’s Spatial Territories” was the principal thesis of Hitler’s program, which still does not calm politicians in many countries inspired by fascism’s “expansion to the East”( “DrangnachOsten”) challenge. Only some of them direct the arrow to their neighbors.

They say, “mafia is immortal” and then what about fascism? It is prospering right before our eyes, in our region. We must beware and take measures against it, for modern fascism is not less dangerous and less disastrous than it was in the period of Fuhrer and  Duce.

Now, as the French would say, “Let’s get back to our sheep!”. The fascism machine lives, operates and roles round just  a few kilometers away in our neighborhood. By the classical laws, fascism is a political regime with its internal and external orientation, peculiarities and principles. Today’s Azerbaijan’s political agenda includes all the components and parameters of the fascist system. Usually dictators are charismatic and have special names. Julius Caesar was “the father of the nation” in ancient Rome, Mussolini was Duce in Italy, Hitler was Fuhrer in Germany. Aliyev does not have charisma and is modestly satisfied with the status of a president, probably seeing that Portuguese Antonio Salazar was just a premier-minister.He was also convinced fascist. Like all mentioned dictators, Aliyev did not cancel the Parliament and the multiparty system… However, in the conditions of fascism, the dictatorship is characterized by the fact that a system is created in the country where all the levers of power are concentrated in the hands of the sole leader, as a result of which all the laws adopted by the legislature and the executive are transformed into fiction and the opposition parties are purely decorative in nature. Thus, Aliyev’s reelection in the upcoming elections is 100% guaranteed.

Azerbaijan’s economy holds all fascism segments. Like other fascist regimes, corporatism develops along the path of unifying the state and large capital. And in the conditions of corporatism, economic policy is determined by the sectorial interests. In Azerbaijan, it is, naturally, the carbohydrate industry. These corporations are monsters born of the coupling of the state bureaucracy and oligarchy, which governs the entire capital and reserves of the state. The interests of small and medium-sized enterprises are ignored and the protection of the   population’s interests  by the trade unionists and  the syndicates  is out of the question. They simply do not exist here. Azerbaijan faces militarization of economy. The Third Reich’s favorite slogan ”guns Instead of butter’‘ is widely used.  The social needs of the broad population and the well-being of ordinary people are subordinated to military spending, which according to  the ruling regime is determined by the war with Nagorno-Karabakh. One of the obvious features of Fascism’s policy is repression and censorship. Like other fascist regimes, there is a legal and non-legal police mechanism in Azerbaijan that is protected by the state. Such a terrorist act is carried out not only against active oppositionists. Special websites gather and sort individuals who criticize the authorities. Subsequently they are exposed to moral and, if necessary, physical pressure. In the internal political life Azerbaijani fascism combines the police and state repressions with propaganda, hacking methods, persecutions, arrests and imprisonment.

The “odyssey” by the renowned writer Akram Aylisli takes a special place in the fight against dissidents, which, like many other cases, “missed” the “alert”eyes of Western human right defenders. The most striking feature of fascism is militarism, which occupies a special place in the current political life of Azerbaijan and the propaganda mechanism of the authorities. In order to conceal internal political failures and distract people from the daily problems, the leadership applies to the fascist trials. war is declared a natural, everyday life of man. At the same time, this is done in the background of so described “Armenian aggressor” and “occupant” stereotype. Azerbaijan is building a cult of war and fascist mythology, the basis of which are the fallen heroes of the “liberation war”.Creates an alley of the heroes and so on.  And the crown of that ideology was the cynical and shameful fact of granting the title of Hero to the murderer Safarov and raising the throne of glory. For example, things like a deep economic crisis and mass depletion of the population can give rise to fascism. Among the reasons, in our opinion, is the primary defeat of the state in the war, the loss of territories, and, therefore, its degradation on the international ground.

The conditions imposed on the German side after the First World War , for instance , played a major role in the rise of  fascism in Germany. They created the so-called Weimar stereotype, which was skillfully used by Hitler for a revenge, unleashing the Second World War. German fascism was the result of a destroyed imperium nostalgia, loss of territories and violation of international authority. And what has our neighbor lost and what is the logic of fascism?  Return of the lost territories or the restoration of territorial integrity? Let’s suppose that the common and deceived Azeri believes that Armenians have “seized” their territories.  But Aliyev and his team  do know that Armenians have  ,not yet fully, returned what they were taken away from  a hundred years ago.Revenge? But if Azerbaijan had been convinced of success, especially after the April “blitzkrieg” which was a practice a  la fascism, it would have already taken that step. Baku authorities, especially after the April war, are skeptical about the possibility of losing a large-scale war. Azerbaijani fascism moves with the same laws and psychology that other fascist states act.

Within this context, Baku’s revanchist, imperialist, and militaristic ambitions open up new horizons of confrontation and festive dreams. Fascism’s appetite apparently increases in time and space. Otherwise, how would one explain the Aliyev’s desire to capture Zangezur, Lake Sevanbasin,finally the “lost” Erivan Province   and so on? Once you follow the dynamics of the Azerbaijani fascism, you come to the conclusion that this phenomenon does not recognize a friend or an enemy, neighbor or ally, and like an octopus sea monster, has a tendency to spread everywhere, far from its country and in the places where it does not belong. Thus, besides the Armenian lands, the Azerbaijani political mind often attracts attention to the territories of Northern Iran, considering it to be the “paternal lands”.And Baku political scientist Zaura Mamedov is making a fictional statement comparable to the discovery of Columbus, which sounds as the following “Azerbaijanis have always been the owner of the state, now called Iran.” And don’t be surprised, it turns out that “the Azerbaijanis ruled over Iran for more than 1,000 years.” Not forgetting the eldest friend, the political analyst is trumpeting that “In fact, Iran was a Turkic country from X century to 1924.” No more, no less. And we are still indignant about Erivan. It remains only to suspect the strength of the foundations on which the Azerbaijani-Iranian relations are built, as well as the Russia-Iran-Azerbaijan alliance. The course of history, unfortunately, shows that the change of the fascist regime is almost impossible. Azerbaijani fascism is not an exception. After the Judgment Day, such regimes collapse either because of war or in the case of the disappearance of the regime leader.

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Eastern Europe

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

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Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

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Eastern Europe

Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

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Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

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Eastern Europe

Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

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Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

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