Monday, June 3, 2013

Secularism and Social Cohesion: the case of Georgia

Georgia is a relatively small country with a mixed population: the overwhelming majority of Georgians
belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church which has an important role in the Nation building of the
country, but there are some significant religious minorities. Some of them are settled in territories
which border with countries where they represent the majority, and Georgia has already suffered
from breakaway wars in the recent past.
Since its independence from the Soviet Union, there were episodes of religious intolerance. Albeit the
modernization which the country underwent in the last decade embedded an enforcement of secularism, up to recent days some case were still registered of intolerance and of the manipulation of
the religious sentiments for political purpose.
A sound secular and democratic order and a tolerant environment are the best protection for each and
all citizens of Georgia, and a matter of urgency after the ignominious events of 17th of May,
when antigay protesters led by Orthodox clergyviolently prevented an anti-homophobia rally from taking place
full analysis available at

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A third way: democracy reloaded

From the very beginning of its history, the debate about democracy focused on two different models of democracy: direct democracy, where people vote on policy initiatives directly, and representative democracy, where people elect their representatives who will in their turn write and adopt laws.
The latter model is the most common, for understandable reasons: the scale of states, in terms of territory and demography, the complexity of governance, rationalization of tasks, division of labour and so forth.

To be legitimate, representative democracy needs some requisites to be met: citizens should indeed vote, and representatives should be perceived as such, that is to say someone who stands for the voters.
The post-electoral crisis in Armenia looks like a crisis of representative democracy. The ongoing mobilization seems something more than a low peak of consensus against a single political leader, the incumbent and confirmed President Serzh Sargsyan: it is a rejection of a system which is lived with a peaceful but stubborn hostility.

First of all, the issue of electoral results: the opposition claims that the electoral fraud machine has completely falsified the results. Some forms of electoral fraud are not that immediate to be tracked, like vote buying, so further investigations should be carried on. But even if the claims are baseless, maths speaks: allegedly 58%, turnout 60%. Sargsyan has been voted – in the best scenario – by less than 35% of voters. A weak legitimacy, indeed.

On the other hand opposition. Oppositions. Republic Squares in Yerevan. Squares in Armenia.
Observers are puzzled, some forces of the Armenian opposition are cautious. The point is that Raffi Hovanissian is playing a crucial role in fostering a civil awakening, but he is not promoting a color revolution.
He is not just proposing to be the replacement of the current president, a well known pattern, but he is asking. He is asking the President he does not recognize as legitimate to give back power to people, he is asking people what they want.
In line with the approach he has been cultivating for ages with his sympathizers, he is collecting opinions and suggestions; he is proposing his line and submitting it to those who believe he is worthy to be listened.

In a way, he is proposing himself as a coordinator of a direct democracy.
It is an interesting, albeit it is still not clear how hopeful, variant: a third way. And wherever it is leading to, this chance to shake a system - which has clearly a thorny issue of legitimacy to handle - should not be missed.

Some progressive countries have opened the floor to people empowerment and shared responsibilities in the decision making process. Armenia is not among them. This episode, this post-election crisis, is food for thought: apathy is not paying back, Armenian crisis is worsening, demographic hemorrhage tells it all. Representative democracies came to life in the pre- compulsory schooling and pre-IT era. They can be accommodated in order to be more inclusive and more open, in view of reduction of public frustration and tensions.

Let’s keep eyes and minds wide open on the “third way”. Raffi Hovanissian is not the kind of person to give up or to be easily co-opted. And a repression tout court now would be awful costs in terms of international and domestic legitimacy. So let’ see if and how there is a path to progress, if Armenia is receptive to a peaceful people empowerment and ready to implement new processes to make it possible. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Armenia on the eve of elections: foreign policy

Armenia is located in a hostile regional context. On the eve of the presidential election, it’s worthy to look back at Armenia five years ago and now. Armenian Security 2013 is even more precarious than in 2008.

A few months after his troubled inauguration at the presidency Serzh Sargsyan found himself confronted with the least desirable scenario: the country on which Armenia is dependent for most of its imports at war against its key ally: in August 2008, the war broke out between Georgia and its breakaway regions backed by Russia. As a consequence, Russo-Georgian borders were closed. Surely if the Armenian diplomacy in the last past five years scored a success it is the reopening of the crossing point of Verkhnij-Lars in 2010, that actually had been closed before the war, in 2006. The opening - obtained by Armenian and Swiss mediation - marked one of the rare moments of post-war detente and ensured an almost continuous transit of goods and people to and from Armenia.  

The unresolved issue of Nagorno Karabakh
On the other hand, the main regional issue for Armenia is for sure not what’s going on in its North West. The major crisis is represented by the protracted conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh. Because of conflict, the borders are closed with both Azerbaijan and Turkey, the country is permanently under threat, its perception of safety and quality of political debate are far under their potential developments.
Public opinion is strongly radicalized on the issue. Armenians have emerged victorious from the war, and so its willingness to compromise - the only way to a peaceful resolution of the dispute around Nagorno-Karabakh - is very limited, if not absent. Any politician who would dare to pace the path of compromise should be ready to take very unpopular steps.

It is therefore understandable that at the very beginning of his mandate, after the unrests that had marked his inauguration, Sargsyan was very cautious. However as his mandate strengthened and his presidency consolidated, he could have tried to take advantage of a number of benefits he enjoys, compared to other politicians. Firstly, Sargsyan is a Karabakhi. Then, he took part in the war. Last but not least, he was a man of the institutions, in Karabakh, having held key positions in the defense sector. Therefore he’s the kind of politician whose faith in the Karabakhi cause can not be questioned, a person who has a wider margin of action. He has strong links in and with Karabakh, including its social network. He’s one of the few who could have tabled some pragmatic issues, such as the one of the “security belt”, those regions surrounding Karabakh that are occupied primarily for strategic reasons, but which are less connected with the territorialisation of identity and are less perceived as historical Armenian lands.
Now an open debate about these lands sounds futuristic, but until 2010 it could have been at least discussed.

Since 2010 violations of the ceasefire are reported on daily basis, including along the borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Alongside this gradual thawing of the conflict there has been a resurgence of the war rhetoric on both sides. Negotiations continue both within the Minsk Group, and upon the initiatives of the Russian presidency, the latter being clearly concerned about a possible eruption of a war in the Caucasus before/during Sochi Olympic Games. But the results are disappointing.
On the occasion of the recent celebration of the twenty-first anniversary of the Armenian Army Sargsyan noted that Armenia will not be the one to declare war ( Still, especially in 2012, the President has repeatedly stated that the country will be ready, in case of attack. The times of the Joint Declaration, signed immediately after the war in Georgia when images of bombings were still vivid, seem gone forever. From crisis to crisis, the mediation over the past five years had to regress from the topic of a peaceful solution to the one of conflict prevention.

The Turkish front
Also with regard to relations with Turkey the last five years are a missed chance. The increasingly maximalist positions of the Erdoğan Government in foreign policy haven’t certainly facilitated a dialogue. However, they were chances which were not optimized. The year 2009, with the Protocols and the football diplomacy, looks like a century ago.
The reconciliation is stalling after the crisis of the ratification of the protocols, and no new channels, perhaps less ambitious, are being opened.

While the debate surrounding the G-word progresses in Turkey, undoubtedly, although more in connection with a domestic need for a serene historical memory, the proximity to the Armenian cause and the debates of civilization and democracy associated with as they emerged when Hrant Dink was killed (http :/ / collide with a growing nationalism. This becomes particularly visible, in terms of anti-Armenian attitudes, on the anniversary of the controversial massacre of Khojali.. In 2012, the year of the twentieth anniversary of the massacre, Istanbul hosted a Turkish-Azerbaijani commemoration with a significant number of participants (

In such a difficult regional context, lost opportunities weigh significantly. And that’s – with shared responsibility of all the parties involved - what seems to have happened in the last five years.