A year with Pashinyan: “Armenia is believing the promises so far”
Political expert Alexander Markarov: about some results of the first year of Nikol Pashinyan
In May, it was a year since Nikol Pashinyan came to power in Armenia — the state that in 2018 was unique for the post-Soviet countries that went through a peaceful coup against the backdrop of large-scale protests. A year later, director of the Armenian branch of the Institute of CIS countries, political expert Alexander Markarov in the interview with Realnoe Vremya tells about the situation in the neighbouring states and some results that one of the heroes of the “velvet revolution” managed to achieve at the head of the state.
“Pashinyan’s slogans were pleasant to hear for the voter”
The events of 2018 passed off without a drop of spilled blood, which is surprising for recent years in the CIS countries. But the police in Yerevan used tear gas and other special means. Why did everything go without tragedies, unlike in March 2008, when protests against the results of the presidential elections brought victims?
In 2008, the continuity of power in the transition from Robert Kocharyan to Serzh Sargsyan was preserved in Armenia, and the victims were both among the civilian population and among the police. In general, the “March 1 issue” is one of the watersheds that were present in Armenia, and looking ahead, I will say former President Robert Kocharian was charged exactly in relation to the events of March 1 last year — we are talking both about the investigation of the events and about the alleged coup attempts.
But speaking about why 10 years later it was possible to do without victims, it should be noted that Nikol Pashinyan constantly stressed that the protest process was peaceful and non-violent. Pashinyan became for Armenia a Mahatma Gandhi of the 21st century. On the other hand, the current government understood that any attempt to suppress the ongoing discontent by force would lead to a process that would be difficult to stop, and then it would be a non-peaceful shift of power. And Sargsyan's decision not to use any special means to fight the protesters justified itself.
Street closures, rallies around the city of various groups that supported Pashinian, also were affecting the power, but the crucial effect was made by almost 70-strong meeting in the central square of Yerevan
Yes, the day before Serzh Sargsyan's resignation, there was an arrest of Nikol Pashinyan and a number of his closest supporters — it was the only use of force by the authorities in response to that a few days earlier the protesters had entered the building of Public Radio of Armenia. Of course, the broken doors are not always non-violent methods of struggle, but Pashinyan always stressed that the protesters seek to act without violent forms. Street closures, rallies around the city of various groups that supported Pashinian, also affected the power, but the crucial effect was made by almost 70-strong meeting in the central square of Yerevan. It showed a serious level of support for Pashinyan, but on the other hand, such a number of people who came to the square showed the denial of the existing government. There was a lot of negativity towards the authorities at the rally, and sometimes it was felt more than the element of support for Pashinyan.
Why didn't people all over the country turn violent? After all, Armenia does not consist of Yerevan alone — clashes could be somewhere on the periphery.
Yerevan, where more than half of the country's population lives, has always been the centre of political activity in Armenia. Besides, today there are no big difficulties with the dissemination of information. Online technologies helped here, namely constant live broadcasts, which were carried out by protesters without any mediators — journalists and analysts who could interpret what was happening in their own way. The authorities did not have time to react to these live broadcasts, did not have time to adapt to them, not to mention the general dissemination of information. It turned out that technically it was quite easy to hear Pashinyan's calls for nonviolent protest — today any sane smartphone is a carrier of information.
So, Pashinyan outplayed the power not only through non-violent principles but also through the smartphone?
Yes, it was a game associated primarily with the use of new technologies and their application in political realities. And these technologies have justified themselves — it is the lack of a mediator in the transfer of information that has been established well enough. Pashinyan himself, having good oratorical abilities and talent to electrify the masses, directly communicating with them, was able to rally all the discontent with the authorities around him and pour it into the transformation of the political system, moving from the rule of the Republican party to the rule of a new political group.
Pashinyan's overplay of power is both technology and the content of his speeches: his slogans were quite clear, pleasing to the ear of the voter. They were aimed at restoring social justice, the fight against corruption, the fight against monopolies. It is clear that in a society where there is a demand for justice, these slogans were heard and transformed from slogans into concrete political decisions.
Pashinyan, having good oratorical abilities and talent to electrify the masses, directly communicating with them, was able to rally all the discontent with the authorities around him and pour it into the transformation of the political system, moving from the rule of the Republican party to the rule of a new political group
“Many promises of the prime minister remain at the level of promises”
How does Pashinyan fulfil his promises to the citizens a year later?
Many of his promises remain either at the level of promises or at the level of non-incarnate steps and actions. It is clear that a year is a significant period, a time when it is possible to understand the algorithm of actions, but it is not always possible to change the same economic situation in a year, and it is even more difficult to change the situation in which Armenia is.
There is much talk now that the changes have affected the number of monopolies — it has decreased, but in Armenia, with its small market, monopolies are if not a natural phenomenon but then at least a phenomenon that can be formed relatively easily. The authorities still emphasize the fact that the country creates equal conditions for various economic players. It is clear that the previous situation of unequal functioning of the elements of economic policy is difficult to change quickly, although it is possible — yes, some players remain in the “field”, but there are new ones, and here the question is how much they will take advantage of the changing situation. After all, the same possibility of importing various goods is not the only element of economic success, because in addition to that you import a certain product to Armenia, you need to be able to store, distribute and sell it. Therefore, the reduction of monopolies is not a factor that shows the level of economic equality.
As for the other elements, it is constantly emphasized that the population groups employed in the public sector have received an increase in wages. However, Pashinyan's opponents say that the previous government planned such an increase, but the current one only continues this part of the policy of the previous regime, but, nevertheless, the salaries of servicemen, doctors, teachers have been increased by 10 per cent. Pensions have also been raised, but the amounts are not very impressive: the same pension of $100 does not allow us to count on a decent standard of living in the country.
“Kocharian and Sargsyan do not make an impression of people who are ready to escape from Armenia”
Summing up the results of the year after coming to power, Pashinyan stressed that there is no censorship in the media in Armenia now. Is it true?
Online media have been liberated in Armenia for a long time, and if there was a possibility of power control over the media, it concerned only television. On the Internet, people could find not only different interpretations of events but also various facts that were not always found in the state media.
Today Pashinyan and his team emphasize that the opposition is more represented on television than Pashinyan's supporters — the owners of the channels have remained the same, so there is a lot of opposition in the virtual and in the television field, and this is very important. But does the opposition have support? Pashinyan's rating is almost 70 per cent, and the two opposition parties that are in the parliament are only formal opposition. Pashinyan's political and social capital, which was acquired in the wake of the 2018 protest movement, is still present.
Neither Kocharian nor Sargsyan gave the impression of people who, having passed the crucible of the war in Karabakh in the 1990s, would be ready to leave Armenia because they would be afraid of political persecution
“It is clear that Armenia is not a very attractive region for investment”
What is needed to make the country’s economy grow?
Investment is needed, but it needs to create the background, which would involve the use of the laws against all. That is, judicial reform is not only political but also economic because no investor is ready to work in a country where he will not be protected by an independent court.
What investors does Pashinyan rely on?
There are several possible options. The main one is the possibility of attracting investments of the Armenian diaspora, including the diaspora of Armenians from Russia, where it is very active, and Pashinyan spoke about it. As far as it will be possible, the negotiations will show, and not only Pashinyan but also Armenian President Armen Sargsyan is actively working here — a man with a well-established positive aura among businessmen, especially since he himself was a big businessman. Recent conversations about investments were associated with China.
It is clear that Armenia is not a very attractive region for investment — it is a conflict region with political and social turbulence, and it is important for Pashinyan to create a stable situation in the country, which will create conditions for investment. It is quite difficult to advertise the country to investors at the moment.
Can we say that it is not easy for Nikol Pashinyan, but he is consistent in the implementation of what he said at the protests in 2018?
Pashinyan is consistent, but, again, more in promises — it will be difficult to constantly promise. But Armenia is still at the stage when it believes in promises and at the same time understands that it is quite difficult to change something in a year, especially if we understand that Armenia has had an oligarchic period for almost 30 years.
Yes, something has been done, young people have the opportunity of social lifts, and the same faction of Pashinyan's party My Step is the youngest in the parliament (the average age is 40 years). And although not everyone is ready to consider the increase of wages or reduction of monopolies on imports the equivalent of promises, Pashinyan has a lot of support for people to fight, so to speak, the “internal enemy”. But in the future, the legitimization of the government's actions should not be based on the need to mobilize the people against the “enemy”, but on socio-economic indicators.