Interview with Stepan Danialyan, head of Collaboration for Democracy Centre NGO
Stepan, this time the vote to the program of the government was synchronal, criticism was heard, they say Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan is concerned about the criticism by the opposition. Can you notice a change?
Yes, change can be noticed but the question is what change means to different people. It is very important that the bankruptcy of the government is confirmed in the parliament. This confirmation is highly important because it shows that the Republican Party is not ready for a political debate, it does not have a political agenda. The program of the government which is devoid of content is also a program. What does this mean? It is clear to me that Armenia is given the status of a raw material state which has been tried out in some African and Latin American states which requires quality change, such as lack of social, environmental consciousness, establishment of government programs to help those who have mental potential to leave the country, as well as similar education programs. The ambiguous situation is part of the same program when the same tax policy is applied to publishing which does not generate a more or less significant income and to sausage production. Foreign debt is boosted, there are no government programs of development. Education and high tech are replaced by building churches, bishops appear at the table of presidium in meetings of the national academy. This is a step by step repetition of what took place in the abovementioned countries. It is one thing when the society theoretically understands that this government leads the country to clear collapse, it is another thing when the political forces, still uncontrolled by the government, are able to form a political agenda and point to solutions which are hindered by the government. The first is political stagnation, the second is revolution. We must ensure transition from stagnation to revolution. This is the demand of politics in Armenia, and the discussions at the National Assembly may be useful.
Things are getting complicated for both the RPA and PAP. On the one hand, Vartan Oskanian’s scandal, on the other hand the incident in Harsnakar Restaurant. What are the ways out when the RPA avoids condemning this incident?
It is not clear to me why we think Vartan Oskanian has appeared in a complicated situation. They are trying to bring action against him but we have seen a lot of other cases when the government tried to bring charges but got caught in a trap. The government is trying to present the fight of the RPA and PAP as a fight of pro-West and pro-Russian forces but Oskanian’s appearance in the PAP, then the support of the EU and U.S. ambassadors to the Civilitas actually questioned this thesis. On the other hand, the detection of Mormon trace in the Civilitas was thought to discredit the PAP in the eyes of Russia. This shows that the external and internal campaigns of the government are independent and may contradict, which misleads the poor public while the authorities appear in controversial situations. I do not see any complicated situation for PAP.
As to the incident of Harsnakar, this is real crisis for the government. What is “government” in Armenia? Today’s government is not based on the vote of the society, it has been formed in the result of cooperation of a group of people who have agreed on how the government will be formed with what ensuing consequences for the society, local government, the law enforcement bodies. One of the important links is the oligarchy. The oligarchy is a highly specific system. In order to understand the essence of this system we should remember the Soviet government. This was based on the soviets, local self-government bodies, and the Communist Party which controlled them. Meanwhile, the party’s organizations were formed above. In Iran there are self-government bodies and the clergy who control the system. In Armenia the controlling and punitive functions are performed by the oligarchy with the difference that the role of the Communist Party and the clergy was defined by the Constitution while the Armenian Constitution does not state anything about the oligarchy therefore in Armenia it is purely criminal, and this system has to regulate itself. Emergency cases in this system are frequent, which is the defective product of the system. Why is the case of Harsnakar dangerous for the government? Because the groups of oligarchs who are referred to as bodyguards are an important link of the system and public discussions of this link are dangerous because we deal with a non-constitutional phenomenon about the structure of which we cannot speak loudly. It is not accidental that these groups were constantly mentioned during the events of March 1 and these groups received uniform and equipment from the law enforcement bodies which the committee examining March 1 stated. In this regard the government is facing a serious challenge, considering the upcoming presidential elections where the final word will be reserved to those groups. Along with these groups new groups are forming. I mean non-formal nationalistic groups which are obviously supported by the government. The case of Harsnakar is a serious challenge to the authorities, and if we add to this the general lack of public confidence, as well as the tough and unpredictable situation, I will not envy the ruling group.
Stepan, will it be possible to rid of the criminal and oligarchic pyramid if Serzh Sargsyan’s government loses?
I think this issue must be the key issue of the political life in Armenia. The other issue, the technical one, i.e. change of government, depends on the answer to this question. I think it is meaningless to criticize the government. The impression is there are people who doubt the nature of the ruling regime and they need arguments or explanations on how bad the government is. This criticism is already an end in itself. It is necessary to discuss the action plans. Of course, there must be guarantees, and what we want will be after the change of government.
Today politics means to seek for solutions of two issues. The first is to work out the roadmap of systemic, including constitutional change and give real guarantees to the society and then go on to undertake technological steps of change of government. The answers to these two questions must be reached through a participative public discussion. The same scenario repeats in Armenia from election to election. Considerations of supporting a joint candidate, falsification of elections by the government, followed by demonstrations and marches, then a state of emergency, arrests, and victims in 2008. The same scenario should be expected in the next election and the opposition forces have not offered an alternative though it exists.
What is the guarantee that the change of government will ensure democratic transition? There is one guarantee – selection of a joint candidate of the opposition through democratic ways, not by parties. In other words, the “people’s candidate” must be elected through nationwide primaries. By the way, unlike the government’s candidate, the people’s candidate will have been elected by the public before the Election Day. If the Armenian public is unable to choose a presidential candidate in this way, it will not be able to defeat the “government’s candidate” on the election day.
The roadmap I mentioned also must be discussed during these primaries and adopted by the society. Without self-organization of the society it will be impossible to achieve any change.