Friday, April 06, 2007

The Rose Revolution

After visiting Tblisi, I couldn't help but notice some very striking differences in the level of development in our neighboring Caucasian capital city. Certainly on the a very surface level the city seems very developed and european. Infrastructure exists, city-planning is paid attention to, the streets are clean, customer service is pleasant, and cops don't take bribes.

It's striking to think that perhaps thanks to the successful Rose Revolution in 2003, Georgia's fate completely turned around while Armenia's attempts to revolt against fraudulent parliamentary elections were violently stamped out in the streets in 2004. How much did that supression affect the will of the Armenian people and undermine their sense of ownership to their state, and how much did the Georgian's success bolster theirs?

There are of course many other factors to consider when comparing the progress of the two countries- such as Georgia's more strategic location with access to the Black Sea, its partership in the Ceyhan-Baku oil pipeline which will undoubtedly make huge profits for the country, and it's very cozy strategic relationship with the US. I also know that Saakashvilli's tactics bordered on authoritarian during the beginning of his presidential tenure, but perhaps that hard-line approach of throwing scores of oligarchs and mafiosos in jail was just the clean-up job that was neccessary.

However, the question is how much of the changes are on the surface. How do actual Georgians' lives compare to their lives pre-rose revolution? Particularly outside of lovely Tblisi?

Just found this very informative, interactive site which discusses progress (or not) in the regions.

"Georgia: Revolution in the Regions"


Onnik Krikorian said...

The EurasiaNet site is 2 years old. Anyway, my last visit to Georgia about 1.5 months ago was to Kutaisi, the 2nd largest city. The mood there was still optimistic and there was a sign of a lot of new investment/construction. Regions of Georgia always look more developed to me than Armenia -- even if you compare Javakheti with Shamsadin or Chambarak, for example.

Still, your main point is correct and this actually relates to Armenia more than Georgia given that the Diaspora only concentrates on central Yerevan to make believe all is well. As in the case of Georgia, and especially Azerbaijan apparently, it's a different world when you compare the heart of the capital to the rest of the country.

Even so, as a whole, development seems more equal and distributed in Georgia compared to Armenia. I've heard that the same is true in Azerbaijan -- huge polarization between a vibrant city swimming in oil dollars and the rest of the country.

Regardless, the emphasis in all three countries has to be on development in the regions. Theoretically, Armenia has an advantage here because it's smaller, but probably a disadvantage in that 2 of its borders are closed.

Even so, even in a perfect world, I think this region is always going to be poor and corrupt as a whole -- and this will always mean that howver pretty Yerevan, Baku or Tbilisi looks, the rest of the countries will always be 15 years behind in terms of development.

Then again, maybe that's how thing are elsewhere. Problem is, the development in all three S.Caucasus republics don't truly represent the economic state of the country. Look at the rest of Yerevan, for example. Roads are worse than they've been in recent years, and it still looks as though its recovering from post-Soviet collapse.

Raffi K. said...

The real attempt at democratic regime change came in 1996 with Vasken Manugyan contesting the results of the election with crowds in front of parliament. They were dispersed by the military and tanks came out in the streets. He might have been the legitimate winner of the race.

The second attempt was not democratic, but when Nairi Hunanyan opened up an assault rifle on the prime minister Vasgen Sargsyan and others in Parliament, killing 8 people in 1999, his stated goal was to get people out of their homes to take back their government from those who had drank the blood of their people. His calls were ignored.

The third attempt that you speak of, the joke imitation of the Georgian rose revolution was ruthlessly stomped out in 1994. The opposition however was protesting election results a year later, with no real reason to believe they might have won the election to begin with, no platform of their own, and just as corrupt a leadership as the ones in power. They had no popular support/backing.

Today, the situation has not improved in the opposition, and now Dodi (ie. Stupid) Gago is running the largest political machine in the country. A very sad state of affairs.

Raz said...

Very interesting post, and congratulations, it was picked up by Google Alerts!


Onnik Krikorian said...

Raffi, your analysis of the state of politics here as we approach the 12 May election is unfortunately true. Hopefully, we'll get some informed debate and discussion now that the pre-election campaign period officially started today.

Anyway, another unfortunate reality about this present system is that when many of the civil society actors talk of democracy, they really mean replacing the Government. For me, this is a mistake. First of all, if you believe in democracy, you have to fight for it even if it means parties you don't necessarily like get into power.

Prosperous Armenia is one such example of that. I mean, look at most of the population here, and you can understand why some of them do look up to Dodi Gago and why they will vote for Prosperous Armenia. Not all, but some, for sure, and maybe more than any one opposition party could manage.

Yet, talk to some of those who are in receipt of grants for the election, and they're mainly working to oppose both the Republican Party and Prosperous Armenia. This isn't right to me. Like I said, democracy is all about accepting whatever the outcome of a democratic vote is.

Instead of pushing to make the vote as democratic as possible, many of those NGOs as well as some opposition parties are instead waiting for the day after election day to launch street protests without even knowing what the outcome of 12 May will be, and without even truly partaking in the process of holding democratic elections.

This is the saddest thing of all, and it makes you wonder. Democracy is a great idea, but are the majority of Armenian ready for it? Do they even understand it? The same is true in Georgia although I believe to a slightly lesser extent. It's also why the West is sometimes happy with the more authoritiarian approaches to leadership in the region as long as it means externally-driven reforms are implemented.

"Managed" or "Guided Democracy" might be the only way of governing for the mid-term. Still, let's see. We have a huge test before us now. And whether Prosperous Armenia wins, although its likely the Republicans will prevent them from doing so by fair means or probably foul, or the opposition stages street protests the most important thing of all is the following.

Was the electoral code followed?

That's all that matters. The rest we'll see after election day.