Neither bread, nor circuses… just ‘tired’ demands

Armenia -- Thousands of opposition supporters demonstrate in Yerevan, 18Feb2011
Armenia -- Thousands of opposition supporters demonstrate in Yerevan, 18Feb2011

Armenian National Congress (HAK) staged one of the largest anti-government rallies Yerevan has seen since March 2008 in an impressive display that it remains the largest opposition force.

Admittedly, the opposition force had nothing to tell thousands of supporters, except for a call to get ready for “very serious events.”

Opposition leaders, euphoric over the recent wave of revolutions that swept away dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, warned Armenian authorities of similar unrest in Armenia.

“The plight of our people is no better than the plight of the peoples of those countries, and Armenia’s regime is no less dictatorial and hated than the regimes in those countries,” opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, Armenia’s first President told the crowd before it marched through downtown Yerevan.

HAK succeeded in gathering more than 10 thousand supporters. At least that’s the figure journalists and opposition supporters told me afterwards, even though the police issued a statement, saying it was about 5-6-thousand strong.

However, I don’t think the crowd, which wasn’t there during HAK’s previous rally, came because they now suddenly started to trust the opposition force more. The opposition movement hasn’t done anything to earn that trust over the past couple of years.

Neither bread…

“Bread and Circuses” (from Latin: panem et circenses) is a metaphor for a superficial means of appeasement.

The Armenian authorities, on the other hand, did everything in their power over the past two months, to make sure HAK gets more people in their rallies. This is how they helped:

  • Inflation is raging in the country. I have mixed fillings of panic and despair every time I refill up my car’s fuel-tank, pay the utility bills or buy my way out of a supermarket. And I’m making a decent salary… imagine how is it for Armenia’s huge population of low-income families? We officially had over 9% inflation last year… to me it feels 30%.
  • Yerevan’s new mayor banned street trade last month, potentially putting 10,000 people out of work in the capital. Protests followed. The city government made no effort to listen.
  • Compulsory car insurance was introduced since January 1st, forcing 430 thousand car owners (most are young and aggressive males) pay an average of 30,000 AMD ($ 80 US) for it. Few see its benefits and view it as a new form of tax.
  • New tax regulation came in force ending a legal loophole that allowed owners of imported cars drive in Armenia without customs clearance. This resulted in angry protests in northern regions of Armenia, where tens of thousands drive cars with Georgian number-plates. Protesters started raising issues with unfair import taxes, bureaucracy at customs offices, corruption. Putting everything in comparison with Georgia, where the tax and import environment is much more friendly resulted in another angry group.
  • This week’s signing of a fresh coalition agreement was the last straw. It came as an indication, that the authorities feel safe and secure and are planning to stay in power for long.

Interestingly, with all the bad things the authorities have been trowing at the people, senior members of the ruling Republican Party (HHK) seem confident that the anti-government uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia will not spill over to Armenia. “There are no grounds for a social revolt in Armenia,” HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov said on January 31.

With this mindset, the incumbent authorities seem determined to further worsen the situation, to a point, when there’s literally ‘no bread’…

…nor circuses

In his speech, Ter-Petrosian said that the HAK has always felt “constrained” by the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the persisting threat of an Azerbaijani military offensive against Armenia and Karabakh. He hinted – HAK is still ‘constrained.’

“But the population, when drawn to the edge and having nothing to loose, may one day choose to ignore the opinion of HAK and even the Karabakh issue” Ter-Petrossian warned. (թքել թե՛ Կնոնգրեսի կարծիքի, եւ թե՛ նույնիսկ Ղարաբաղի վրա).

This was as close as ever to the realization and confession by the opposition leader, that:

  • HAK has been deliberately keeping the political pressure low in Armenia because of being “constrained” by Karabakh issue,
  • HAK feels the authorities are antagonizing the public so much, that it may spill into an uncontrollable unrest, like in Egypt, where no opposition movement was leading the crowd.

In old Roman terms – Ter-Petrossian warned the authorities, that HAK’s ‘circus’ might no longer work…

Tired demands…

“The only way to avoid undesirable developments is pre-term parliamentary and presidential elections,” Ter-Petrossian said at the rally.

The conduct of fresh presidential and parliamentary elections has been the key HAK demand for the past three years.

It has been HAK’s answer to all the problems in Armenia. It has been pronounced by all members of the opposition force – economists, lawyers, human rights defenders, analysts, former foreign ministers and former prime ministers.

Ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, with presidential elections date set on 2013, this old, hackneyed, tired demand has become so totally uncool and pointless, that HAK ought to stop reiterating it and move on.

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18 thoughts on “Neither bread, nor circuses… just ‘tired’ demands

  1. Do work:
    1. draft legislation – on tax, budget
    2. raise the issue of – e.g. taking control of gaz pipelines and making sure we’re buying cheap iranian gas instead of the increasingly expensive russian alternative
    3. make concrete proposals to curb corruption
    4. make realistic proposals on Karabakh and Armenia-Turkey issues
    5. do a monitoring of Serzh Sargsyan’s campaign pledges and show the people failures, etc
    …a million other things.

    But not the same-old thing which is plain funny at this point already.

    In that regard, Dashnaks are at least doing something with their ‘fair vote’ campaign.

    1. You make some good suggestions, Artur (although I don’t believe that #4 is at all possible…). The “constraint” felt by the opposition about the Karabakh issue is certainly real, and shows why the authorities of both Armenia and Azerbaijan are in no hurry to resolve the conflict; its irresolution benefits those in power.

  2. But that is the whole point Observer: HAK doesn’t exist to do work. They are not interested in elections or working to build trust and credibility. Sadly, until both HAK and the authorities allow it, a true opposition force is going to be difficult to form. To whatever extent the conspiracy theories are true regarding complicity, it is clear that keeping has-beens like LTP around suits both those in power as well as the former authoritarians from HAK.

    They are not interested in elections or democracy or emigration or Karabakh or any other convenient populist slogan. They have proven their position on all those issues through years of (mis)rule. People can shut their eyes and believe all they want, but I believe in data. And we have 2 decades of data staring us in the face.

  3. Dear fellow Armenians, the current regime has cemented its position so that no peaceful change is possible – everything is under their control while the people are downtrodden. The situation will only get worse and there will be only two options left: becoming an impotent protectorate of Russia after the current authorities fail – which will mean a slow death of our culture and identity, or a popular revolution to sweep the current totally corrupt and incompetent regime away and try again to build a state. We cannot forever keep adopting to circumstances – sometimes we need to raise and create them. If people of Armenia don’t change their government nobody will.

  4. Thank you for this very well written post. I visited Armenia two years ago and we travelled all over. I was profoundly affected by the stories of suffering and fear inflicted by the government I heard from people there. I met people outside the cities living off the land to survive in a world that doesn’t care about them. In Spitak I saw some 1988 earthquake survivors still living in containers and the like. I saw men cry when they talked about the “rape of my country”. The people are crushed and see no way out. They fear for their country and their future. They are sad that the country and heritage they are so proud of is being nibbled away and their pride being taken them from them day by day, year in, year out.

    I was also inspired and deeply moved by the courage and ingenuity of the people, the abundance of cultural arts and other activities and the willingness of the young to bring about change.

    It is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited and yet the visit left me in despair because I couldn’t see a good future for these people who have seen so much suffering in their history. I hope to visit many more times and I wish them well, will follow their progress and hope with all my heart that a peaceful solution can be found and that it won’t take too many years for the changes they need to happen.

    1. It’s non-violence on steroids. A process like that is frustrating for some as the results are not very obvious and apparent but it’s a long term push for change. Also, the degree of sacrifice is not as great – you contribute patience and intellectual effort, and sometimes a bloody nose. But you are not asked to spill blood. The government may spill blood as we saw on March 1, in Iran, in Egypt, Bahrain and most recently in Libya but you are not the one doing it.

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