The following was originally published in the Armenian language in Aravot on January 29, 2020. It was translated by Weekly staff.
Some individuals and political forces in the Armenian society believe that it is easy to govern Armenia because it is a small state, smaller than a district in Moscow, Tehran or New York.
It is true that the Republic of Armenia is a small state, but nevertheless has a myriad of problems the likes of which even the largest states or territories of the United States or Russia don’t have. Problems facing our country, which require urgent solutions, are by far more complex than problems in any average, mid-size European country. In spite of this, the ongoing political debate in Armenian society (including compatriots living abroad) rarely rises above emotions and is always driven by how one feels about the previous or present government. The real problems of Armenia, some of which are illustrated below, seem to be of less or no interest to people at all.
Armenia’s energy security depends heavily on the nuclear power plant. Suppose in the next few years we managed to extend the operating life of the nuclear power plant for another short period of time. What happens next? Whether we like it or not, even in the best-case scenario, it takes 15 years to build a new nuclear power plant or set up an alternative source of energy that will provide 40 to 50 percent of the demand. And in order for that to happen sometime in the 2030s, a great deal of work and planning will have to be completed in the next five years.
Is anyone in Armenia thinking and addressing this issue? Who, we wonder, will come up with a solution to this problem?
We seem to ignore or not remember the immeasurable feats of Armenian aviation in the first half of the 1990s during the war with Azerbaijan exasperated by the blockade by Turkey. These include the transportation of refugees, supply of fuel, food and weapons, and maintaining a vital aerial link with Artsakh. In the case of even a slight escalation of tensions in the region, let alone a full-blown war, foreign airlines will suspend a significant (if not all) number of their flights to the country. In a scenario like that, who will ensure the country’s aerial transportation needs and security? Let us remember that recently we faced great difficulties organizing a timely transport of a mere 100 of our stranded compatriots back to Armenia from a resort town in Egypt. A competitive national aviation fleet that meets the real needs of the country will require years of planning and hard work that must start today. The field of all other forms of transportation can at best be described as in dire need of total reform.
Is anyone in Armenia interested in addressing this issue?
Demography requires long-term planning and institutional solutions to issues such as urban development, health, education, income, social issues and of course, employment. Putting aside optimistic romanticism, let’s point out that in the absence of real progress in this area the country’s population will at best number 2.5 million by the year 2040. This will not only exclude the possibility of sustainable development, but will put the physical existence of the state and nation at the forefront of the national agenda.
The current mandatory contributions to the pension system will continue to oppress the people and the country’s budget, waste funds and feed a foreign investment vehicle that does not serve the financial interests of the country. Currently, the state’s contribution alone to the mandatory retirement pension fund is about 60 billion drams annually, excluding the mandatory contributions from individuals. This amount will naturally grow every year. Twenty years from now and if the economic development of the country is not put on the right track, people will face the problem of not only safeguarding billions worth of their mandatory contributions invested in foreign funds, but also the problem of maintaining their standard of living.
Abandoning the current pension system and substituting it with a new one that serves the interests of the state and the people will require years of extensive professional diligence, as well as political will and determination.
Poverty and Employment
It is understandable that it is easier to institute a very simple flat rate taxation system compared to a progressive system. In the upcoming years, flat taxation will most certainly create a wider gap between the rich and the poor, the financially secure and insecure segments of the society with all its dire consequences.
Relying on the private sector alone and not involving the government in a wise investment policy to solve the issues of employment and job creation is nothing more than a typical and naïve neo-liberal approach that all successive governments adopted since independence.
Agriculture and Food Security
It is no secret that the security of food sources in our country is vulnerable. Furthermore, the sheer magnitude of the problems accumulating over the past several years in the agricultural sector where one third of the population is employed (or more precisely, merely survives) is becoming more and more apparent every day. Improving the irrigation system and overall efficiency of the sector requires years of hard work, big investments, patience and perfect command of the problems facing the sector. To achieve tangible results in 10 years, planning has to start today.
The problems in this area, a much larger issue than simply protecting nature, range from healthcare to urban planning and mining. Here, implementation of effective policies requires conviction and the will and ability to think about the safety and security of future generations. Lack of focus in this area will slowly but surely turn the capital city and the regions into undesirable places to live for future generations.
Many Real Challenges
Among the many problems facing the country, cyber-security and Turkey’s overt desire to harm the nation are areas of paramount importance that require daily attention and measures to safeguard the existence of the country and the people.
By now it is obvious that the many problems facing the country require long-term planning and the implementation of long-term strategies. The absurdity of the situation is that such problems, including the most important foreign policy agendas, lack a systemic approach, solutions and consensus-building public discourse. This phenomenon is a reflection of a society ill-prepared to face the country’s challenges and rise to the task of building a modern and effective state.
There is no question that some will, and rightfully so, see the root cause of the problems facing the country today in the ineffective policies and rampant corruption in the previous governments who were unable or unwilling to appropriately resolve them. But it is also a fact that no urgency is noticeable even today to address the many issues facing the country and to implement effective solutions. We must remember that merely pointing to the past and blaming the past governments for all the woes of the nation does not make the problems go away.
History teaches us to accept governments, past and present, with their good as well as their bad.
We must agree that all future political campaigns designed to win over the public must seriously address the above-mentioned problems and propose paths for their solution. While the ordinary citizen may find character assassination and or blitzing the media with harsh criticism of past governments interesting and entertaining, that strategy will never be able to respond to the most important questions that a conscientious citizen may pose: What solutions to a myriad of problems facing the country are the messengers offering and how do they intend to accomplish their campaign promises once they come to power? Why this intense drive to take over the government? Why do people want to come to power?
There was a time that citizens believed that the most important thing was “change.” Change the government and things will be better. But the aftermath of the purported revolution of 2018 has come to demonstrate that the question of who will come to power and what they propose to do and how is much more important than just change itself.
If the correct answers to these most important questions are not there, then the political campaigns and their struggle to power will simply mean selfish drive at best, to occupy the governmental palace and perhaps waste the state’s budget. We all know that we can’t afford such luxury anymore. The next 10 to 15 years will go by fast, and we will ultimately find ourselves staring into the abyss.
The future generation of 2040 may also argue that many of their problems were inherited from the first president’s tenure and point out the mistakes of the second or third presidents and the opportunities lost during their terms in office. They could also point out the fourth government’s childish, arrogant and amateurish behavior as the main reason opportunities for real change were wasted. Moreover, twenty years from now they may even decide who to execute for the collapse of the pension fund system with its compulsory component? Execute the central bank’s team who first proposed it during the reign of the previous regime but couldn’t implement it for lack of public and political support or the team that came to power after the 2018 purported revolution and without hesitation implemented the previous regime’s (characterized as criminal by the revolutionary government) questionable program?
History teaches us to accept governments, past and present, with their good as well as their bad. This is the law of time and history. In the days of all former governments we have had a mixed bag of achievements, mistakes, victories and losses. But all that is now history. Maybe it’s time to think of the future that is approaching much faster than we think?