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Democratization in Post-Soviet region: Case of Azerbaijan

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Between 1987 and 1988, democratic movements in the Soviet region had already started, covering mainly the Baltic States, as well as Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. These demonstrations of independence were followed by almost all of the Soviet Republics in the following years, including Azerbaijan.

Like the other oil states created in the ruins of the Soviet Union, post-Communist Azerbaijan faced a complex legacy in the 1990s, which was formed as an outcome of the Soviet inherited trends of economic and political development. These difficulties were intensified not only by the military conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, but also by the harsh actions of the political and economic elites of post-Soviet states.

One point specific to the case of Azerbaijan was the difficulties of transporting oil in order to achieve economic growth. During his research about Azerbaijan in the 19th  century, Russian geographer Pyotr Chikhachev noted the “isolation of Baku from European markets”. In order to provide democratic consolidation to the newly independent Azerbaijan, diversification of transport routes was needed, because that would lead to gain profit and to implement further projects in the country.

This essay will demonstrate that the geopolitical situation of Azerbaijan has had a negative effect on democratization and nation-building processes. A brief history of the first years of independent Azerbaijan will be analyzed in the first section, while the second section will cover post-war period and the projects and reforms implemented on the behalf of democratization. The conclusion will give a brief review of the essay and offer future implications.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF INDEPENDENCE: THE NAGORNO KARABAKH WAR PERIOD

Black January: the enlightenment

On 9 January 1990, neighboring Armenian SSR took advantage of the unrest and voted to include Azerbaijani autonomous oblast of Nagorno  Karabakh in its budget and allowed its inhabitants to vote in Armenian elections. This action caused rage throughout Azerbaijan, thus disregarding Azerbaijani jurisdiction. Demonstrations started against this decision throughout the country – mainly in Baku – led by the newly formed Popular Front of Azerbaijan. On 19 January 1990, a decree issued by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and signed by M. Gorbachev introduced a state of emergency in Baku and some other places in Azerbaijan SSR. Following the curfew, on the night of January 19th, some 26000 Soviet troops entered Baku from several directions, destroyed the central television station as well as radio and phone lines in order to maintain the information blockade. It was already 20 January when the Soviet troops moved inside of city and crushed the civilian population. The death toll was between 131-137, while up to 800 civilians were wounded and 5 people were missing. These actions didn’t stop the people: almost the whole population of Baku flowed to the streets to bury the dead on 22 January.

The violent authoritarian break-down on 20 January 1990 made the re-democratization process stronger – the earlier democratic failure was between 1918-1920, before Soviet troops invaded Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. On 18 October 1991, the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan finally adopted the Declaration of Independence, followed by a nation-wide referendum in December of the same year. Prior to that, Ayaz Mutallibov was elected as the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The Nagorno Karabakh War

The Declaration of Independence did not create a base for democratic consolidation. The clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan that started in 1988 intensified in 1991. On 6 January 1992, a referendum was held in Nagorno Karabakh – which was boycotted by the Azerbaijani community – resulted in the declaration of independence of Nagorno Karabakh from Azerbaijan. Thus, escalated the conflict and eliminated the ability of Azerbaijan to withstand shocks. The war itself roughly lasted 6 years, between 1988-1994, and costed for Azerbaijan 12000 dead, 50000 wounded and 4210 missing soldiers, as well as 167-763 civilian death only in 1992 and 724000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). But the war had other consequences that obstructed the democratization process. This includes fractures within the government itself and a possible military coup.

The political instability and its outcomes

The years 1992-1993 were memorable years in the political history of Azerbaijan because of the power struggle. As a result of Khojaly Massacre – according to official records, 613 civilians murdered by Armenian forces and 366th CIS regiment – in Nagorno Karabakh, Mutallibov had to resign on March 6, 1992. Yagub Mammadov replaced him as executive of presidential powers until Mutallibov regained the power on May 14. But this presidency did not last long either, thus Popular Front of Azerbaijan took control of Parliament of Azerbaijan, thereby deposing Mutallibov, who left for Moscow on May 15, 1992. Moreover, Isa Gambar elected as the chairman of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan and took the duty of acting president until the national elections. Finally, on 7th  of June, Popular Front member Abulfaz Elchibay won the national elections and became the President of Azerbaijan Republic.

As mentioned before, war itself brought other troubles. The retreat of Soviet troops from the region created a weapons vacuum, thus former soldiers traded their weapons for cash to either sides, sometimes even sold tanks and armored personnel carriers.   Taking the advantage of situation, a commander named Surat Huseynov created his own military brigade, purchased many weapons and vehicles, opposed against the Popular Front of Azerbaijan. He was a successful commander in the war since the beginning of 1992. As a result of conflict between him and Popular front, Huseynov orders to disarm the 709th military base in Ganja, which is commanded by himself, then marches towards Baku, the capital on June 1993.

The increasing political tensions in the country and a possible military coup made Elchibay to invite Heydar Aliyev – the head of Supreme Assembly of Nakhchivan during that time – to Baku in order to solve the internal conflict. On June 15, 1993 Elchibay appointed Heydar Aliyev as the chairman of the National Assembly of the Azerbaijani Republic. After this event, Elchibay retreated to his hometown and this action deepened the political crisis in the country. Heydar Aliyev proposed  Surat  Huseynov  as  prime minister and  after the approval  of the National Assembly to the requested office, his supporters backed up. After another coup d’état attempt against Aliyev by Huseynov’s units on 5 October 1994, which was immediately suppressed, Huseynov fled to Russia.   On 1997 Russia extradited Huseynov to Azerbaijan, where he was charged  with  treason  and  attempted  coup,  among  other crimes.  On 1997  Russia extradited Huseynov to Azerbaijan, where he charged with treason and attempted coup, among other crimes.

After Elchibay’s retreat and Aliyev’s assignment by the National Assembly as acting president, he became 3rd  elected president of the Republic of Azerbaijan by a nation-wide presidential election on 3 October 1993. Up until this time Armenian forces already occupied the whole Nagorno Karabakh and 11 surrounding districts. Finally, after long discussions in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, a provisional ceasefire agreement was signed by representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and as a mediator, Russia on 5 May 1994. On the one hand Bishkek Protocol, still in effect, ended Nagorno Karabakh War, on the other hand did not solve the conflict once for all. But the ceasefire was a necessary action for a country that gained independence recently, in order to stabilize the government and strengthen democratic roots.

The first years of democratic Azerbaijan were too fragile. There was almost no democratic consolidation to enforce the regime transformation. Several events prevented democratic consolidation, including the war, internal conflicts and absence of democratic roots. Although Burnell and Rakner explain that “just as there can be political transition without transition to democracy, so there can be democratic transition without democratic consolidation”; this scenario was impossible for the case of Azerbaijan because of the above-mentioned issues. Azerbaijan needed strong democratic consolidation in order to withstand shocks, both internal and external, so that the transition period could be completed. A democratic country cannot arise just by declaring independence, it needs stronger motives and hard work.

POST-WAR PERIOD: REFORMS AND ENERGY PROJECTS UNDER THE TWO PRESIDENTS

Azerbaijan and Heydar Aliyev

Finally, in 1994, the war ended and the government was stabilized. But this was not the end, there were further challenges for Azerbaijan. As Nikolay Dobronravin mentioned, Azerbaijan also encountered issues with the transport curse, mainly because of the war with Armenia, that closed the route to Europe by dividing the country in two parts. Azerbaijan also suffered from the ongoing instability in neighboring Georgia and the conflict in Chechnya.

Azerbaijan was a natural resource rich country and during its first years of independence, there was not so much technology and investment for the allocation of resources. War was costly and the country needed investment, so the best option was involving foreign companies for oil extraction.

As a result of this, Aliyev’s government implemented 20 production sharing agreements, which concluded Azerbaijan oil strategy’s integral part. This International Contract was signed by the president and other participants on 20 September 1994 and ratified by the National Assembly on 2 December. In 1995, Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) – a consortium that included BP, Amoco, Lukoil, Pennzoil, UNOCAL, Statoil, McDermott, Ramco, TPAO, Delta Nimir and SOCAR (Azerbaijan) – was formed. Because of the volume and strategic importance for Azerbaijan, this contract was labeled the “Contract of the Century”.

Pipeline diversity was a further strategic objective for Azerbaijan. Firstly, northern route was used for delivering oil to Europe through Novorossiisk, Russia. The oil transport diversion started in 1999, when Baku-Supsa pipeline opened. In 2005 another pipeline – Baku-Tbilisi- Ceyhan (BTC) – was constructed for delivering Azerbaijani oil to Europe and the world. in 2007 Azerbaijan became one of the Europe’s gas exporters by building Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline.

These projects developed Azerbaijan’s hydrocarbon reserves and also brought lots of ‘unearned state income’. In order to manage this money flow and overcome the resource curse, a national resource fund – State Oil Fund of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ) – was founded in 1999. The main objective of SOFAZ was to save financial assets earned from natural resource for current and future generations.

In order to provide democratic consolidation, Aliyev held several reforms, mainly on the agrarian sector, with the privatization of the sector as the primary goal. Several laws and reforms were adopted: “the Basis of Agrarian Reform law” (18 February 1995); “Reform of state and collective farms” (18 February 1995); “Land Reform” (16 July 1996); “State land cadaster, land monitoring and structure law” (22 December 1998), “Land rent decree” (12 March 1999), “land market law” (7 May 1999). Moreover, The Land Code of the Azerbaijani Republic was adopted on 25 June 1999.

The successor: Ilham Aliyev

In 2003, after the death of Heydar Aliyev, his son, Ilham Aliyev succeeded his father. He also continued to develop the economy through energy projects, as economic development is considered one of the best guarantors of durable democracy. He reportedly stressed the importance of the Southern Gas Corridor – consists of several projects, including South Caucasus Pipeline extension (SCPx), Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) – because of the importance of this project for Azerbaijan to transport natural gas to Europe. At the time, SCPx was already completed and ran alongside BTC oil pipeline. In addition to this, presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey inaugurated TANAP on 12 June 2018. The country’s GDP increased 5 times between 2003-2016, reaching 37.848 billion USD from 7.276 billion USD.

Aliyev, since the start of his presidency in 2003, has adopted 5 anti-corruption plans, including State Programme on Fight Against Corruption (2004-2006),  National Strategy on Strengthening Transparency and Fight Against Corruption (2007-2011), National Action Plan on Fight Against Corruption and Promotion of Open Government (2012-2015) and National Action Plan on Promotion of Open Government (2016-2018). On top of these actions, the Law on Fight against corruption came into force and the Anti-Corruption Directorate under General Prosecutor Office was formed on 3 March 2004. According to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013, 69% of respondents say that government’s efforts are effective to fight corruption.

CONCLUSION

In general, during Heydar Aliyev’s mandate, the political stability recovered in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan became a part of the GUAM bloc (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova), which presented a counterbalance to Russia in the region. Under the conditions of political stability, several reforms and privatization were implemented and economic growth was observed during this time.

As a result of these democratization efforts, Azerbaijan was elected as a non-permanent member of United Nations Security Council in 2012, thus being the first country in South Caucasus and Central Asia region to take this function. In order to strengthen democratic consolidation, Aliyev implemented several reforms in the recent months, which resulted in the replacement of old ministers and government officials, who were holding office for 20-25 years, by a younger generation. Public opinion towards the president’s actions also seems to be positive as well. According to a survey conducted by Opinionway, a French research center, 85% of the people appreciate President Aliyev’s actions as positive, while 80% of those perceive that stability in the country is due to Aliyev’s positive moves.

Furthermore, one expected outcome is the creation of more democratic institutions. On 5 December 2019, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree on the dissolution of the parliament and a new parliamentary election. The latter will be held on 9 February 2020 and results are expected to be positive as well.

One negative issue remains: Nagorno Karabakh. Despite more than 20 years of mediations through the OSCE Minsk Group, no political result to this conflict has been found yet. Sometimes escalation can be observed at the border, leading to death for both sides.

Azerbaijan’s way to democratization has been tough and even bloody at times. But lots of progress was made, especially on democratic consolidation, while Azerbaijan continues on the path of nation-building with new reforms and policy perspectives. Democratic widening has been achieved under the corporation of democratic principles in public and private areas. Under the roof of new executive and future legislative bodies, the country will show a more positive image on the basis of democratic consolidation.

Abbas Zeynalli is the MA Student of University of Bologna and the Research Fellow from Topchubashov Center, Azerbaijan. His areas of interest cover Middle East, Chinese foreign policy, South Caucasus and European integration.

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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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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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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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