Statecraft is a word no longer often heard. We have become so cynical that we don’t even recognize it when it happens. Everything is now perceived as politics, that is, calculating, dirty, sleazy, “special” interest—or worse, self-interest—motivated. This negative mindset renders us impatient and uncomprehending. Coupled with the instant gratification most people in the West (and increasingly elsewhere) expect and the ever increasing impact of money in electoral politics, we have a toxic brew making good governance damn near impossible.
The opening of an exhibit displaying Armenian political/activist/advocacy art by three of its practitioners—Patrick Azadian, Mher Tavitian, and Harry Vorperian—coupled with the avalanche of developments in Armenia got me thinking about this issue. (By the way, if you can, go see the show at the Tufenkian gallery – 216 S. Louise in Glendale, Calif. It will open though May 16, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., except Sunday and Monday).
The potent images, harking back mostly to the late 1970s and 1980s served not only as a trip down memory lane—I remember using some of them in Philadelphia and New York. They also prompted me to realize that we had a much longer-term view of our politics. We knew nothing was going to change overnight. We knew that tremendously powerful forces we arrayed against us. We knew not to expect massive changes in our lifetimes, rather seeking incremental changes eating away at the edges of the “great wall of China” sized barrier between us and full Armenian liberation and restitution.
On that last one, we turned out to be wrong in two ways—how fast the re-independence of Armenia occurred, and the fact that it was Eastern Armenian in which the progress came, not Western, where the brunt of our efforts were directed. Now, a generation later, I think we have become spoiled in some ways. Because Yerevan was key to the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, and that over the course of roughly a mere two years, we now think that change, political progress must always come in huge doses and short order.
This mindset was only reinforced by the “toppling” of the Serge Sarkisian/Republican Party regime in less than a month! Yet this impatience ill-serves us at this stage. A poignant example in the form of a Facebook discussion serves to demonstrate this. There are strident calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Armenia. Yes, we have those, too—sad but true. But what is missed in making this demand is the reality that the newly seated prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, unquestionably has a crushing load of decisions to make, people to meet, and actions to take. He must assemble his slate of ministers to populate the Republic of Armenia’s government agencies’ top spots. He has less than ten days left to present his plans to parliament. He has to interact with international leaders who, quite naturally, are going to be skittish around a new government leader, especially one who came to power not through an election but massive public protest—something that makes any office holder squeamish about her/his own position.
Yet the demands for immediate release of the political prisoners persist. On some level, it is entirely appropriate that they do. But, those making the demands must realize that governing is all about balance and prioritization. It may not look pretty or be pleasing to those of us outside the halls of power, but we must understand that it’s not easy being in that position.
Of course, this does not mean pressure should not be maintained to keep our elected officials “honest” and serving the public good. But if the pressure and expectations run too high, then the risk of poorly considered and implemented policies rises because the politicians/statesmen feel compelled to rapidly satisfy their constituents. In the case of our homeland, the lack of ultimate success of this round of street actions, coming a generation after the Artsakh Movement and the catastrophe of oligarchic klepto-capitalism that took hold as the country’s economic-political-social system, would spell disaster for people’s confidence in democracy and independence. The psychological hit to the country’s polity would be immeasurable.
Thus a reasonable, tempered, patient yet constantly pressing approach to public engagement is necessary. But endless, ongoing, engagement is something that citizens must recognize is necessary. The quote, by I-forget-whom, “the cost of liberty is eternal vigilance” comes to mind. It will allow and enable good statecraft rather than pandering.
This brings us full circle back to the Los Angeles basin. Last week, after a long process, Austin Beutner was chosen over Interim Supt. Vivian Ekchian as the new Superintendent of LA Unified School District. This is the result of a mix of school board members that leans in the direction of “let’s run things like a business” and is supportive of charter schools. The charter school lobby was heavily involved in last year’s elections. As a result of their success:
- Students in the system will suffer because of the business, not education, background of the district’s new leader;
- The Gulenists will have more access and better chances of success when they apply to set up more Turkish-propaganda-spreading charter schools within the district (remember, that the charter schools movement is supported by the Gulen people);
- The new prevailing mindset of the school board led to Ekchian, one of our community members, not getting the job she was eminently qualified for through her years of training and experience in education, and which she had already held for many months as the interim superintendent.
This is instructive as to how important constant political engagement and attention are.
Please, let’s always remain judiciously and energetically engaged in the political systems we inhabit. It the right thing to do out of self-interest, as good citizens, and for the building of a glorious future of a free, independent, and united Armenia.