Discussions around the possibility of creating a Public Chamber in Armenia, like the one established in the Russian Federation, have been going on for more then a year now. For the Armenian case, it is assumed, that such a body would bring together mostly NGOs, but also businessmen, known public figures, etc. However, considering the huge number of registered NGOs in Armenia, there is no doubt, that such a Public Chamber would basically mean a chamber of NGOs. Supporters of this idea are arguing, that the NGOs would thus gain an effective platform of bringing the issues of public importance to the authorities. Critics on the other hand, are pointing to the fact, that of more the 3000 registered NGOs in Armenia (I’ve also encountered figures between 2500 to 4000), there are only several dozen, who do anything at all. Most of these NGOs are in fact Grant hunters, and do not represent anything or anyone. There are also a larger number of GONGOs – Government NGOs, or NGOs created by government officials, their relatives and friends and serve the distinct purposes of supporting their protectors or laundering government money intended for the civil society.
As a representative of Civil Society, I was contacted at the end of March with the suggestion to take part in a meeting, where the possibility of uniting Armenian NGOs around the need to stabilize the country and find solutions to the political crises would be discussed. Although I was warned, that the initiative is led by a couple of prominent GONGOs, I decided, that the challenges faced by the country at that point called for consolidation, not division, and took part in the meeting. Being a balanced and moderate person by nature, I voiced my concerns at the meeting, with the state of media, freedom of speech, and especially with the news coverage of Public TV of the developments in the country, which at that point had just come out of the state of emergency. While I was sure, that everything I said was reasonable and had no political content, I was surprised to find out, that on the large forum organized afterwards, I wasn’t invited anymore. Moreover, my concerns, sent to the organizers of the discussions via email, never found a response or any reflection in the announcement or document, adopted at the forum of NGOs who supported the initiative.
Yesterday, as one of the prominent bloggers of LiveJournal, Akunamatata_Ser was contacted by a Government representative and was asked to facilitate discussions in the blogs about the possibility and usefulness of the Public Chamber, echoed by Pigh, Mark Grigorian, Ahousekeeper and others, I remembered the developments above, and couldn’t refrain from commenting on Mark Grigorian’s blog. Yes, indeed, the first attempts of creating this “Public Chamber” have so far been quite disappointing, and there is a clear danger of establishing yet another money laundering machine, which will also have a distinct agenda of supporting all and everything our super-democratic authorities undertake.
I also looked at those LJ sites where the discussion on the principles of Public Chamber is going on. Interestingly, practically all participants – as different from each other as they are – stressed the same major point: that there should be good mechanisms of accountability, transparency, and independent authority in order for that Chamber to accomplish anything meaningful.
Now, the voice of the “public” is there and is quite clear. Will the end result be to ignore that voice (as they apparently ignored yours) and do business as usual, or in the “best” case scenario, to play the “civic participation” game and then do business as usual? OR maybe, you and I are cynical bastards and they will do the right thing and put themselves under partial control of non-partisan citizens? We’ll see shortly, won’t we?
The idea of a so-called public chamber is a distraction and attack on the idea of parliamentary democracy. If the Parliament worked as it should, there would be no need for any public chambers; however we know it doesn’t – but the public chamber – whatever it is – is not going to make the parliament work. It is a cunning plan by the corrupt authorities to “keep your friends close and your enemies even closer”. Drawn into such a public chamber critics will be managed and neutralised through seemingly absorbing them into the “establishment” while at the same time giving them no rights and removing whatever edges they had. The idea of the public chamber is a cynical Russian invention which will not be of any help in Armenia – where we have a deficit of public thought and discourse.
Observer – I appreciate your comments, but would kindly ask you to choose a slightly different Nickname – as this is my blog and your comments might mislead people into thinking, that it is me – commenting.
[…] Armenian Observer reports on plans to create a public chamber of NGOs, businessmen and public figures to help facilita…. However, with most of Armenia's many thousands of NGOs inactive and interested only in hunting […]
On the surface it might sound like a good idea, but such umbrella organizations only serve to silence and to discipline dissenting voices. Civil society should be about diverse voices and opinions, that is what keeps it healthy. What is happening in Russia is only serving to tame civil society and bring it into the service of the authorities. Of course, the supporters of such an approach will say that it is better that they serve the authorities than some shadowy foreign masters, but I think we should be careful whenever there are such attempts to organize and discipline. All it will serve to do is to create a semblance of civic participation, but judging from their response to Ditord’s comments that will only be a facade.
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