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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

Crisis in Armenia Provides Fertile Ground for Russian Meddling

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The immediate cause came on February 25, when Onik Gasparyan, Chief of General Staff of the Armenian Army, and other senior commanders released a statement calling for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to step down. Pashinyan responded by firing Gasparyan.

Yet the real cause of the uproar is Armenia’s defeat in the Second Karabakh War last year, which has triggered a deeply troubled and long-drawn-out period of soul-searching and consequent instability.

Delving into the details over what are the real reasons and who is to blame may anyway be futile in the cloudy political world of all three South Caucasus states (including Georgia and its current woes). While many Armenians believe that the protests are more about internal democratic processes, there is an undeniable geopolitical context too. Perhaps what matters most is the international ramifications of the conflict, especially as the early phases of the Russian-brokered November 2020 ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan are now being implemented.

The political crisis in Armenia does not affect the implementation of the agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on February 26. Other statements by the Russian leadership indicated that the Kremlin, which closely follows the internal development of its Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) ally and the fellow member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), is nevertheless remaining aloof for now.

Over the past year, Russia has confronted multiple crises along its border with some finesse, successfully managing near-simultaneous crises in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia-Azerbaijan.

In each case, the Kremlin has sought to extract geo-economic benefits. Take the current Armenian crisis. The opposition has some support, but not as much as the current leadership. Leaders from both sides have connections with senior Russian leaders, albeit the Kremlin was far more comfortable with the pre-Pashinyan Armenian political elite. They understood what Russia likes in the near-abroad – cautious leaders mindful of Russian sensitivities and unwilling to play the reformist and Western cards that Pahinyan has used since coming to power in 2018.

And yet however much illiberal Russia feels uncomfortable with the reformist Pashinyan government, it needs for now because his signature is on the November ceasefire agreement. With the early stages of the deal being implemented, Russia is keeping its eyes on the prize — most importantly, the agreement to reopen Soviet-era railways which potentially will reconnect Russia to Armenia via Azerbaijani territory. Chaos in Armenia can only jeopardize this key aim.

Russia also understands that Pashinyan is becoming increasingly dependent as time goes by and that it can exploit this vulnerability. Equally obviously, the opposition could prevail, and that would ultimately benefit Russia too.

In the long run, Russia has caught Armenia in a cycle. To stay in power, the government would need extensive Russian economic, diplomatic, and perhaps even military support. But any new government formed by the current opposition would likely demand even more weaponry from Russia to prepare for the next confrontation, however hypothetic, with Azerbaijan. In both cases, the price for more arms would likely be deeper integration of Armenia within the EEU. And whatever remained of Armenia’s policy efforts towards the West, already under grave pressure since the Karabakh defeat, would die.

Potentially, there is a yet-greater reward for Russia – persuading Azerbaijan to allow the Russian peacekeeping mission to remain on its soil beyond the end of 2025. In which case, an openly revanchist Armenian government formed by an opposition determined to build a battle-ready military capable of offensive operations would be a useful tool for the Kremlin to justify the continued presence of its units in Karabakh.

Author’s note: first published in cepa.org

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Caspian: Status, Challenges, Prospects

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An Analysis into the Legal Classification, Security and Environmental Concerns, Geopolitics and Energy Flow Impact of the Caspian Plateau

How has the world’s largest inland body of (salty) water escaped the economic and political notice for so long? And it is for a resource-rich area of a unique locality that connects Europe and Asia in more than just geography. Simply, the Caspian Basin is an underrated and underexplored topic with scarce literature on its geomorphology, mineral deposits and marine biota, its legal disputes, pipeline diplomacy,environmental concerns and overall geopolitical and geo-economic interplays.

As the former Minister of the Canadian government and Secretary General of the OECD – Honorable Donald J Johnston – states in the foreword, Caspian – Status, Challenges, Prospects“is a fitting title for a book that masterfully gives an objective, comprehensive overview of the region. The authors have compiled an analysis of Caspian’s legal classification, security and environmental concerns, geopolitical scenarios, and energy flow impacts as they affect the world’s largest continental landmass – Eurasia.”

From comprehensive but content intensive insights on Caspian littoral states Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russiaand Turkmenistan, to external actors like Turkey, EU, China and the United States, readers are presented how separate actors and factors interact in this unique theater. The book elaborates on the legal classification of the Caspian plateau including the recent ‘Convention on Legal Status of the Caspian,’ to the numerous territorial and environmental security concerns.

Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic and his co-authors present Caspian as the most recent, fresh and novel way, in one stop-shop offering broad analysis on the Caspian region. It is a single volume book for which extensive information is exceptionally rare to find elsewhere. Following the read, authors are confident that a new expanse of scholarly conversation and actions of practitioners will unfold, not only focused on Caspian’s unique geography, but its overall socio-economic, politico-security and environmental scene.

Welcoming the book, following words of endorsements have been said:

The Caspian basin and adjacent Central Asian region (all being OSCE member states, apart from Iran) have, since the early Middle ages, acted as a crossroads between different civilizations and geopolitical spaces. In an increasingly interconnected world, growing geopolitical competition, economic interdependence and the emergence of new global challenges, particularly those related to water, energy and the climate emergency, have highlighted the relevance of this region, making it of increasing interest to researchers and academics. This book presents a thorough analytical compendium of historical factors, political dynamics, economic trends, legal frameworks and geopolitical interests which underpin, but also affect, the stability and development of this complex, diverse and strategically significant region.

Amb. Lamberto Zanier,Secretary-General, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2011-2017)  OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (2017-2020)

A thoughtful, comprehensive and balanced analysis of the complex interplay between geopolitics and geo-economics in Central Eurasia, and pivotal energy plateau – that of Caspian. We finally have an all-in reader that was otherwise chronically missing in international literature, which will hopefully reverse the trend of underreporting on such a prime world’s spot.   

Hence, this is a must-read book for those wondering about the future of one of the most dynamic and most promising regions of the world and what it could entail for both reginal and external players. 
Andrey Kortunov Director General, Russian International Affairs Council

Although of pivotal geopolitical and geo-economic importance, Caspian energy plateau represents one of the most underreported subjects in the western literature. Interdisciplinary research on the topic is simply missing.  

Therefore, this book of professor Bajrektarevic and his team – unbiased, multidisciplinary, accurate and timely – is a much-needed and long-awaited reader: A must read for scholars and practitioners, be it from Eurasia or beyond.

It is truly a remarkable piece of work!  

Authors were able to tackle a challenging subject with a passion, knowledge and precision, and turn it into a compelling, comprehensive yet concise read which I highly recommend.   

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Kazakhstan Erzhan Kazykhanov, Ambassador Embassy of Kazakhstan, Washington dc, USA 

ARTNeT secretariat is pleased to see how our initial invitation to Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic to present at the ARTNeT Seminar Series in 2015 evolved. The talk was initially published as a working paper for ARTNeT (AWP 149). Now Prof. Bajrektarevic, in collaboration with another two co-authors, offers a comprehensive study on a nexus of legal, security, and environmental issues all emanating from and linked to energy cooperation (or lack thereof) in the subregion. This volume’s value extends beyond the education of readers on the Caspian Basin’s legal status (e.g., is it a sea or a lake?). It is just as relevant for those who want a more in-depth understanding of an interplay of economic, security, and political interest of players in the region and outside. With the global institutions increasingly less capable of dealing with rising geopolitics and geo-economic tensions, more clarity – even if only about some aspects of those problematic issues – should be appreciated. This volume offers such clarity.   

Mia Mikic, Director UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) ARTNeT coordinator

It is my honor to reflect on this work on Caspian. Comprehensive and content rich, this book of professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic and his co-authors brings up comprehensively all the useful information on Caspian, with the geographical and historical background and cultural, economic as well as security aspects related to it.

Authors’ novel and unbiased approach shall certainly help decision makers in their bettered understanding of the region that has centuries-long history of peace and cordial neighbourly relations. Long needed and timely coming, I warmly recommend this reader to those who want to know, but more importantly to all those who want to understand, this pivotal region of the world.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh Former Ambassador of Islamic Republic of Iran to United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva & Vienna

The book by Professor Bajrektarevic and his co-authors embodies a wide-ranging overview of the intertwined interests pursued by the young democracies of the Caspian basin, battling with inherited land and water disputes, and their interplay with regional and global powers. Apparently, supporting political independence of the formers and promoting their integration into the latter’s markets requires adequate analyses, timely outreach policies and consistent engagement. In this sense the publication serves as one of the scarce handbooks to understand diverse interests of stakeholders, dynamically changing security architecture of the region and emerging opportunities of cooperation around the Caspian Sea.

Ambassador GalibIsrafilov Permanent Representative to the UN Vienna and to the OSCE Embassy of Azerbaijan to Austria

Caspian: Status, Challenges, Prospects

An Analysis into the Legal Classification, Security and Environmental Concerns, Geopolitics and Energy Flow Impact of the Caspian Plateau

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As Georgians Fight Each Other, Russia Gleefully Looks On

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Earlier today, the leader of Georgia’s major opposition party – United National Movement (UNM) – was detained at his party headquarters by government security forces, the most recent escalation in a drawn-out political crisis. This could well be the beginning of a new troubled period in the country’s internal dynamics, with repercussions for the country’s foreign policy.

The optics favor the opposition. Images of armed and armored police storming UNM’s headquarters was damaging to the ruling party, Georgian Dream (GD). Western diplomats expressed grave concern over the events and their repercussions. Protests have been called, and will likely be covered closely in Western media.

What comes next, however, is not clear.

Much will depend on what long-term vision for the country the opposition can articulate in the aftermath of the most recent events. It was not that long ago that UNM was declining as a political force in Georgian politics. There is a real opportunity here. But the burden is on the opposition to make a play for the loyalty of voters beyond its circle of already-convinced supporters.

Appealing to ordinary Georgian voters is ultimately the key to resolving the crisis. Beyond the intra-party clashes about the legitimacy of the most recent elections, there is a growing chasm between political elites and the challenges faced by people in their daily lives. And tackling these challenges successfully will not be easy.

Both the ruling party and the opposition have been facing declining support from the public at large. Long-term economic problems, which have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic, have not been credibly addressed by either side. Instead of solutions, both sides have engaged in political theatrics. For many voters, the current crisis is more about a struggle for political power, rather than about democracy and the economic development of the country. No wonder that most people consider their social and economic human rights to have been violated for decades no matter which party is in power. These attitudes help explain high abstention rates during the most recent election. Despite remarkable successes in the early years after the Rose Revolution, Georgia has lacked a long-term policy for reimagining its fragile economy since its independence and the disastrous conflicts of the 1990s.

None of this, however, should minimize the threats to Georgian struggling democracy. Today’s arrests reinforce a longstanding trend in Georgian politics: the belief that the ruling party always stands above the law. This was the case with Eduard Shevardnadze, Mikheil Saakashvili, and is now the case with the current government. For less politically engaged citizens, plus ça change: Georgian political elites for the last 30 years have all ended up behaving the same way, they say. That kind of cynicism is especially toxic to the establishment of healthy democratic norms.

The crisis also has a broader, regional dimension. The South Caucasus features two small and extremely fragile democracies – Armenia and Georgia. The former took a major hit last year, with its dependence on Moscow growing following Yerevan’s defeat in the Second Karabakh War. Today, Russia is much better positioned to roll back any reformist agenda Armenians may want to enact. Armenia’s current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has been weakened, and easily staged protests are an easy way to keep him in line.

Georgia faces similar challenges. At a time when Washington and Brussels are patching things up after four years of Trump, and the Biden administration vigorously reiterates its support for NATO, Georgia’s woes are a boon for Moscow. Chaos at the top weakens Georgia’s international standing and undermines its hopes for NATO and EU membership. And internal deadlock not only makes Georgia seem like a basket-case but also makes a breakthrough on economic matters ever more unlikely. Without a serious course correction, international attention will inevitably drift away.

At the end of the day, democracy is about a lot more than finding an intra-party consensus or even securing a modus vivendi in a deeply polarized society. It is about moving beyond the push-and-pull of everyday politics and addressing the everyday needs of the people. No party has risen to the occasion yet. Georgia’s NATO and EU aspirations remain a touchstone for Georgian voters, and both parties lay claim to fully representing those aspirations. But only through credibly addressing Georgia’s internal economic problems can these aspirations ever be fully realized. The party that manages to articulate this fact would triumph.

Author’s note: first published in cepa.org

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