Spring 2018 was a watershed period for Armenia. The country had just transitioned into a parliamentary system, and the Republican party had nominated Serge Sarkisian, president since 2008, to the role of prime minister. Sarkisian’s 10 year rule was marked by corruption, growing poverty, emigration, the consolidation of monopolies, and the continuation of the oligarchic rule that had taken root in Armenia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Sarkisian’s nomination to the role of prime minister was met by mass protests initiated by opposition MP Nikol Pashinyan. Eventually, Sarkisian resigned, and the parliament elected Pashinyan as the new Prime Minister, however holding a significant sway over the parliament. Since his election, Pashinyan has maintained the mass public support he enjoys, culminating in the crushing victory of his candidate in the municipal election of Yerevan by gaining over 80% of the votes. His rise to power as well as his call for elections to take place in December 2018 has led critics to claim that Pashinyan is a dictator in making, planning to create a one party rule. Critics have also stated that the “people” are creating a new idol, blindly following a leader.
I believe it is important to take a look at the political and ideological context in which the events in Armenia took place. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Armenia transformed into a free market economy, adopting neo-liberal policies to deal with economic, social and societal issues. It is important to stress here that the package of the policies in general (obviously there are differences as well) have been similar during the tenures of the three post-independence Presidents, starting with Levon Ter-petrosyan, all the way to Serge Sarkisian. Pashinyan has expressed that he does not believe in “-isms,” but he is a liberal to the core, and his plans on tax reforms, and his decision on the privatization of the pensions have demonstrated that.
What Armenia has been lacking since independence is genuine leftist political movements or parties. This has led to the monopolization of liberalism and conservatism of the ideological discourse. Liberalism has captured the people’s minds and hearts, just like anywhere in the world, while any perceived threats to the national identity or culture has been met with a staunch chauvinism/nationalism/conservatism, often directed to the most marginalized sectors of the country.
A lack of leftist politics had led to the de-politicization of the population. The critique that “the people are following blindly” could be traced to this fact. If a country does not have a highly politicized population, it is natural that they follow anybody who speaks to their hearts and souls. The role of any political party or movement that positions itself on the left of the political spectrum, is to politicize the population, to enter its ranks, to engage with them, to listen to their everyday problems, to remain in close contact with them, and eventually to become one with them. It is easy to criticize people for selling their votes for 20 dollars; a leftist political party should look to its causes, be that poverty and a sense of hopelessness, and try to address it. The absence of a genuine left has also led to the weakening of unions and syndicates, which in turn has caused the working class to become more vulnerable to the demands of employers and capital. The vast majority of the population is also vulnerable to the negative effects of capital (local and international), globalization, and international financial institutions, such as the IMF and the World Bank, the two hubs of neo-liberalism. A genuine leftist political party or a movement should be responsive to public opinion, especially from its adherents. Most importantly, self-criticism should be a central pillar of a genuine left; the acknowledgment, even public, of one’s own mistakes, and the commitment to analyze and to learn from those mistakes is the only way to move forward with dignity.
Moreover, it is important to acknowledge that, like any other society, the Armenian society is made up of different social classes, which naturally would have different views and interests. A genuine left, based on the belief that it is human labor that is the engine of history and not corporations and capital, should prioritize the fulfillment of the minimum basic needs of the population, be that education, health, housing, etc, and not indulge itself in the never ending game of “pleasing” big capital, be that local or foreign. A genuine left would scrutinize the idea of entering a coalition, be that a coalition government or forming a political coalition, with ideologically different political forces, specifically if that would lead (it usually does) to compromise on important issues. These compromises have led to the loss of the credibility of the left in general, and made them look not too dissimilar to political forces to the center and/or right of the ideological spectrum.
To be able to counter the neo-liberal policies that appear will continue under the administration of Nikol Pashinyan, those who consider themselves left in Armenia should return to their roots, reconsider their strategies, examine the reasons of their setbacks in the recent past, examine the reasons why the population have lost their faith in them, and offer genuine alternative policies to better the lives of the dispossessed majority of the Armenian population.