Thursday, 25 July 2013

Armenia: ...when the ‘victory’ against transport fare hikes is good news for the authorities

My first comment about the protest action against transport fare hikes in Yerevan was on Twitter on 20th July:
Re transport price hike in #Yerevan - I wonder if genuine anger was encouraged by #Armenia authorities to distract, solve internal conflicts 
I didn’t comment much afterwards. I could see genuine passion of civic activists and non-activists, ordinary people, who were united for a purpose. What I liked the most re anti-fare-hikes civic action: people stepping up to offer free transportation for those in need.

When you then suddenly see most of pro-regime media, ‘stars’, personalities etc. in support of the action, you realise a relatively safe bet is in place here. The support and encouragement from pro-regime forces was so blatant that at times overwhelming. It was in line with what some high level officials wanted. To deal with their internal conflicts over the control and influences. Presidential administration, PM, government, Taron the mayor, ‘chorni Gago’ the minister, other oligarchs or so called owners of these transport lines...

When I heard today Armenia PM effectively supporting civic protests against transport fare hikes, followed by “suspension” of fare hikes, I could not help myself but go back to my earlier tweet.

I don't want to break the heart of activists, ordinary people who genuinely acted against unreasonable and unjustified increase in transport fare. After all the failures when it comes to bigger, REAL problems, e.g. inability to change the ruling regime via election, these small victories give hope to people and motivate them. This is a good and positive factor in itself, indeed.

Unfortunately, you do not see much similar examples when it comes to politically motivated arrests, dependent courts, corruption, protection of rights and freedom. If only such passion and unity occurs and directed to the root cause of problems...

Unfortunately, the ‘victory’ today was a victory against consequence not the cause... This is exactly what the authorities want. Concentrate on secondary things, get distracted from the root causes of the problem(s). Good news for the authorities, after all.


Ani said...

Well, it’s complicated. There does seem to be an intramural battle being waged by the authorities, and besides those you mentioned who came out in favor of “the people,” the Greek, Assyrian, and Yezidi ethnic minority groups also supported the protests, which I felt was a clear signal that the rate hike would be rescinded, or, as it stands, tabled for now, because these groups never venture out on any wobbly limbs. Another suspicious factor was the timing of the announcement, when both Serzh Sargsyan and Hovik Abrahamyan conveniently took their vacations. That put all the heat and the responsibility on the Mayor and the Prime Minister to be the ones to disappoint the busline owners. Besides those owners, Mayor Taron and some of the more ridiculous Republican Party spokesmen (those mumbling about the usual “dark forces”) are clear losers, for reasons opaque to those outside the privy chambers. I also believe there are probably some behind-closed-doors factors in the simultaneous discussions with the EU on the Vilnius Process, involving some clear anti-monopoly carrot-and-stick deals; we might soon see the oligarchs start spinning off more Armenia holdings and shepherding even more of their money off into offshore accounts or investments out of country (like Tsarukyan’s Belarus investments).

Nevertheless, I think this is a clear victory, because 1) the focal issue was a domestic and economic problem that transcended political leanings; 2) it shone a spotlight once again on the businessmen/oligarchs who are sucking the lifeblood of the Armenian people—this point cannot be made often enough (and naming names as the Armenian Weekly did was quite damning); 3) members of the Diaspora and the Diaspora press took a real interest, rather than ignoring or belittling the problem, as has so often been the case in the past; 4) it recontextualized and intermingled opposition activists with apolitical civic society, showing how police discriminate in whom they detain, no matter what the protest is (here I’m referencing the fact that they managed to detain Areg and Sargis Gevorgyan as two of eight people out of a large crowd, even though they were doing nothing different than anyone else).

But to say as you do that this protest treated the symptom but not the disease, we have to agree on which disease we are talking about. In fact, there are multiple diseases. But the one I’m interested in right now is “apathy,” and the “We won’t pay 150 drams” action really did strike at the heart of it. Now, the next step is to motivate and keep energized the public’s enlightened self-interest so it can perceive that not only economic relief, but also human rights, rule of law, environmental protection, and a right to the pursuit of happiness for everyone are win-win propositions with bigger-pie gains, rather than “someone else’s” problem. Let’s hope so.

artmika said...

I call this: To satisfy people by giving up nothing.

The thing is I am not sure it tackled the apathy in any significant way (apathy is in itself could be considered as a consequence or as a disease, depending how we look at it). The chronic apathy is still there. We just see the ups and downs, starting with 2008 presidential election, then Mashtots park environmental movement, then brief “barevolution” moment, and now this action. They all contain positive signs, for sure, and good as a training ground for future citizen activists, as Babken Der-Grigorian writes in Hetq. However, as the day after the ‘victory’ proved, all those who hoped it will develop into something more substantial, need to think again.

As to Diaspora press started paying more attention to intra Armenia problems, surely a positive sign but it did not start with this protest action, but before, and more so since “barevolution”. In Armenia everyone knows the names of people who own the lines, but as of know this protest action was not aimed at corruption, monopoly, oligarchy, but more as a consequence of these realities.

If I see the signs of changes, I will happily acknowledge it.

artmika said...

"Despite the claims that Armenia’s civil society is gaining strength and has gained victory, it has actually suffered defeat." - Armenia’s ex-premier Hrant Bagratyan speaks of price rise, fares, social movement.

Good points, in line with the key theme of my blog post.