#ElectricYerevan

Photo: PHOTOLURE News Agency
Photo: PHOTOLURE News Agency

The shapes of political culture

After the events of March 2008, the political culture and the fight against the existing regime entered a new phase of formation in Armenia, in which the whole real radical opposition has already been factually destroyed alongside with its tools and systems. The parties, which survived, either have reached the level of political weakness or have become political puppets. 

Moreover, the vast majority of Armenian ordinary citizens have lost the faith in the activities of the opposition parties and their leaders as well as generally in political processes. Sadly, in our reality the attitude towards the political processes has reached nihilism with its despair and negative attitude: within intellectuals and especially within young intellectuals the involvement in any kind of political process or, moreover, the involvement in political work is labeled as dishonorable.

Hope associated with changes, that shine from time to time, are mostly connected not with the activities of political institutionalized structures but with the civil initiatives and mass movements (for example the movements “Dem em”( I am against), “Chem vcharelu 150 dram”(I am not paying 150 dram) and so on). The negative attitude and disregard towards the political leaders and structures grew even more after the 2013 presidential elections (which many called staged) and the final completion of the new political system, in which the regime derives its legitimacy not from the ordinary citizens and the people of Armenia but from the oligarchs, security forces and public officials with all the human and material resources available to them. The whole political field and nearly all the institutions involved in it have been transformed and degenerated. As a result the rising and falling political initiatives at any cost try to stay away from political events and institutions, they try to stay away from politicization in order not to lose the support of the main fighting force-the educated youth. Often realizing this fact and not wanting to disrupt the evolving processes, the opposing forces stay away from them. Thus, street fighting, total lack of leadership and, no matter how strange it may seem, unappeasable desire to stay away from political processes inheres within the newly formed public field of political pseudo culture. The movement against the increase of energy prices originated and began to develop under such conditions.

 

The motives of the movement origination

On June 9, 2015 Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan declared that the electricity price would increase by 16% in the Republic of Armenia: The reason which caused H. Abrahamyan’s decree was the fact that the Public Services Regulatory Commission had come to the conclusion that the electricity price increase was a necessity. 3 days later hearings concerning this matter were held in the National Assembly. By taking into consideration the respective request of the Electric Networks of Armenia (“ENA”) the decision was made in which the latter required to increase the electricity rates-the diurnal by 40%, the nocturnal by 53.6%.This was reasoned by the enormous debts of the company, which reached up to 250 million USD, which gave rise to major public protests because of the following reasons:

  1. Several journalistic investigations thoroughly proved that those debts were the result of poor management of the directorate of the “ENA” (100% ownership of Russian “INTER RAO UES”), unnecessary prodigality and corruption risks.
  2. This was already the third price increase of the last several years in Armenia.
  3. Despite the difficult social conditions in Armenia and the low average wage rates even by the standards of TheCommonwealth of Independent States (the CIS) the electricity prices were already high compared with other countries of the CIS and in case of required price increase it threated to be the highest within the CIS. Moreover, in case of price increase the electricity price would pass the prices of some of the States of the US, Serbia, Latvia and would roughly be the same as the fixed price in Poland.

However the aim of this analysis is not the disclosure of the “ENA’s” requests or the level of validity of the governmental decisions or its causal link but it is the logical analysis of the movement following it.

Despite the public protests along with the decision process, anyway, the latter was partially passed by the Public Services Regulatory Commission of the Republic of Armenia (PSRC) on June 17. In response, the “Voch talanin” (No to blunter) organizational group, (a civil initiative) was created by the group of active young people (mainly using the possibilities of social network), which held its first rally on the Freedom Square on June 17, 2015. Thus, the massive movement against the increase of electricity price began, which appeared in the spotlight of the Armenian, Russian and other media.

The origination, rise, separation and fall of the movement

On June 17, during the massive demonstration on the Freedom Square organized by the “Voch talanin” (No to blunter) civil initiative, Serj Sargsyan was demanded to denounce the decision about the electricity tariff increase till June 22, 16:00 (It is remarkable that the president of the Republic of Armenia has no such power). Till the set date and time it was decided to organize a sit-in strike with shifts. On June 22 without getting the answer to the sounded claims, the activists marched to Baghramyan Avenue desiring to continue the protest near the presidential residence but the police special forces detained the activists with water cannons and armored cars. The latters announced a sit-in on the road in front of the building of the Writer’s Union of Armenia.

The President of Armenia Serj Sargsyan turned to the activists with the help of the police and announced that he was ready to accept a delegation consisting of 5 people at the presidential residence. The participants of the sit-in rejected the offer partially because of not reaching an agreement, and partially because of the lack of obvious leaders (to represent the demonstration during the negotiation process) and finally because of considering their own demands too simple and deciding not to make them a subject of negotiations. On June 23, at around 5:30 AM, the special police units used disproportionate force to disperse the sit-in organized on Baghramyan Avenue, 237 people were arrested (including journalists). More than 25 people were hospitalized as a result of this operation. In the evening of the same day, the activists regained their position on Baghramyan Avenue and resumed the sit-in by showing impressive unity and self-organizational opportunities (this time the number of participants was considerably bigger and according to several calculations, it reached from 15 to 20 thousands). In order to avoid sudden attacks of the police on Baghramyan Avenue, the barricades were constructed out of the surrounding garbage containers which blocked the Avenue from one sidewalk to another. The movement continued. Demonstrations and protests started in other cities of Armenia- Gyumri, Vanadzor, Kapan, Abovyan, Charentsavan, etc. On June 25, Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, trying to ease the tension, announced about the Government’s decision to financially support socially vulnerable families, which, however, left no impression on the protesters. 26th and 27th of June can be described as the period of maximum expansion and rise of the movement: the protesters also closed the access to the France Square and the upper part of Mashtots Avenue, thus completely stopping the traffic in Yerevan. But already in the evening of June 27 the President announced the stay of the Public Services Regulatory Commission’s (PSRC) decision, he also annunciated the international auditing of the “ENA” and the financing of the price increase consequences from the Government’s reserve funds till the end of the latter.

On June 28 some of the organizers of the protest with the group supporters announced that the movement reached its victorious end with the President’s decree and there was no longer any sense in staying at Baghramyan Avenue, so they left positions and moved to the Freedom Square, but the vast majority of the movement participants preferred to stay at Baghramyan Avenue because of not trusting the President’s statement and demanding the cancelation of the PSRC’s decree instead of its stay. The movement split. Despite the continuous warnings and threats of the police, no serious incidents were reported till 4th of July. But the phase of dilution and fall had already started. On July 4 the protesters put forward a new require though the number of activists was extremely small. 2 days later the police dispersed the remains of the demonstration consisting of a few dozen people without any difficulty, dismantled the barricades and restored the traffic of the Avenue. All the initiatives organized afterwards failed without showing any significant organizational success.

The behavior of media and intelligentsia (ft many other oddities): the deceived movement

The inexplicably gentle treatment of the police towards the participants was remarkable and greatly odd during the period of rise. Not only is it an unusual thing to shot down Baghramyan Avenue in Yerevan, but it also ended up with arrests and bloodshed for those who shut down the Avenue in the past. Whereas especially during the last days of the movement, when at Baghramyan Avenue not even more than 500 people gathered during any hour of a day, the police showed unprecedented restraint. The collaborative relations of some of the movement’s leaders and the police chiefs were highly dubious already those days, when the police dictated many rules within the movement. There are many examples like the command to open Mashtots Avenue and the France Square which was directly sent to the organizers and was executed, the decisions of RA Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan about the presence and non-presence of several people at Baghramyan Avenue, when V. Gasparyan demanded to bring intoxicated  people to him one by one, or when the police officers conducted raids among the protesters in order to find the so-called extremists and mischief-makers a rhetorical question arises-who are these mischief-makers? (As a rule these people are the ones sent by the police)․ We also can note the contribution of the police in the organization of cleanliness and food distribution, inexplicably tolerant approach of the police towards the barricades, etc. The experience later showed that those (the barricades) were not serious in organizational and strategic terms and could not play any defensive role but they rather looked great on the camera especially under the artificial light with Armenian flags attached to them. But first things first.

Thus, with all of its corruption schemes, the “ENA” for sure performed a significant part of its activities above the low. It is not a secret that the corruption in Armenia is a pyramid-like (i.e. when breaking a law, an official of any position or a businessman necessarily pays internal taxes to its superior). The years of irregularities and illegalities of the “ENA” could not remain without consequences unless the latter paid its share of “black” tax on time. That is where the dark side of the story began: the “ENA”, which alongside its engagement in illegal activity, was likely to transfer some percentage of the share to the regime, which perceives its internal budget (for solving the problems and implementing goals of the regime) with the term typical for the criminal world “obshyag” (the integrity of overall companionate amounts of allies or organized criminal groups). But at some point these transfers did not satisfy the increasing appetite of the officials and in order not to suffer from the increased “black” taxes, the “ENA” made a decision to increase the tariff or maybe the Russian Management of the “ENA” determined to disguise part of its real “black” income even from its friends and as a consequence it decreased the share given to them the addition of which is again connected with the increase of the tariff. It should be noted that the authorities and the services under their full control were the first to speak about the electricity price increase and to make the first steps of popularization. One way or another, later on the regime strongly supported the establishment of the movement with its tools. The “H1” news is a vivid example which in its essence and dedication shown to the regime does not differ from the governmental propaganda machine of semi-restricted countries. But all of a sudden the latter began to report not only about the movement’s origin and logical bases of it, but also an unprecedented thing – about a massive street protest movement in Yerevan and even in a positive light. The involvement and activeness in those days of the clergy, those representatives of intelligentsia who never hid their support of the authorities, the state officials were also memorable. The fact is that the movement in the provinces went under the patronage of the local self-governmental leaders. For example, in Syunik and Kapan it would be impossible to organize and hold a rally for a few days without Suren Khachatryan’s agreement and support. Throughout the republic the impression of huge demonstration and its upcoming victory was set up.

And now imagine for a moment what kind of impact all these had on our strategic allies: when arriving in Armenia, Russian journalists witnessed the barricades, flags, the out crying youth and the movements in many cities. In the haste they urgently prepared special programs about the new Maidan emerging in Armenia and about the violent crowd. These rumors in the Russian Federation found a fertile ground in the brains of analysts and officials who were terrified of the Ukrainian Maidan and the chances of its repetition. Moreover, the Russian expert mind, which has reached the extremes in seeing USA State Department’s “ghost of long hands”, acted quite predictably: the ongoing processed in Armenia were immediately qualified as a future anti-Russian movement organized by the West and Russian media named it “ElectroMaidan”.

It is noteworthy that Armenian authorities did not make any visible step to put an end to these delusions, moreover, they apparently confirmed the news by internal diplomatic channels. Only a few Armenian analysts and specialists delivered speeches against the “Maidanization” of the movement and the demonization of the image of the Armenian protesters within the framework of Russia but they did it not very successfully.

Now we will examine the motives of these all. It is not a secret that in Russia political and economic decisions or decisions about other matters are made not like in countries with classic institutionalization of power and management experience, but often by one person (according to their position and the importance of the issue)  frequently guided by totally different considerations.

In my opinion, this kind of approach, behavior and undertakings adopted by our government were pursuing only one goal-to create a conviction among any particular official or officials in Russia that in Armenia there was a real danger of radicalization on social background and the best solution of this issue would be the transfer of the “ENA” to either the Republic of Armenia or to the individuals named by the RA. Coming to such conviction, officials of the Russian side (who are at the same time either businessmen or sponsors of businessmen, in the very Russian style) ordered to make a deal with the Armenian side. In all probability the situation was finally settled most likely at the top cabinet of Moscow on the level of oral communication. As a result, soon Russian “INTER RAO UES” sold its subsidiary to Samvel Karapetyan’s company “Tashir holding” (who had already manifested itself as a close ally of the regime during the war between the Republican Party of Armenia and Prosperous Armenia Party). As a consequence the local governing elite got rid of losses of financial flows and established its control in the lost fields: money began to flow into their pockets again. But one must perceive and comprehend that

  1. This was done not based on the interests of the Republic of Armenia but entirely on the narrow interests of the regime.
  2. We witnessed an extremely deplorable phenomenon: the latest method of the public political involvement, which is the youth street fight, was used by the regime.

This is an expected and inevitable result for a form of fight-style, which tries to stay away from politicization. The lack of competence, naivety, maybe even as a result of a criminal agreement the movement leaders’ were not only politically used by the regime, but also they allowed to use the movement for the sake of the regime’s interests. And this is only a precedent for the further use of the unpoliticized movements of the youth avoiding the word “politicization”. They will be used by those involved in politics and those professionally engaged in it. The mankind has not invented yet another way of solving public or social problems rather than policy (excluding violence, which can also be described as politics).

***

As a result of the movement the regime reached all of its goals- the owner of the “ENA” was replaced and for the first time it was possible to control the movement and it served for its own objectives. Whereas the situation for the movement is double-natured: on the one hand, this was another victory to some extent which allowed to raise the spirits of the youth, it also let the youth to gain a foothold and to believe in their own mobilization resources, but on the other hand, we witnessed how the inexperienced, overly self-assured and withdrawn from the political processes youth was used by the regime through the flexible policy. You should agree that it was an awful precedent. And once again the opposition was simply left out of the political processes, moreover it is not essential whether it was willingly or not. People forming and ruling the political opposition, as the components of the political field of the RA, have totally run out of stream.

What can we do?

There is a way out, which, instead of revealing any kind of new truth, is the fact that the issues worrying the society should be solved through political processes. The political authorities (especially the opposition authorities) should take part in the political processes. The society should actively participate in the political life, not separate itself from it. One should not get disappointed in politics and announce that they are not going to be interested in it ever again, because as a result of it only your role changes but not your presence in the political processes. The processes continue to relate to you but now without taking into consideration your will or approaches. New leaders should appear instead of the old leaders of opposition who have reached the limit of their resources, in Armenia the generation change of the political opposition should take place at the expense of massive movements, young leaders and young parties. The social protest can and must become a political one: there are numerous precedents of it. Only work of the intellectual groups and the elucidation of it must be done in this direction.

***

Social demonstrations started in Armenia have reached the limit of their resources. Their historic moment is over. It is time for the political fight, political institutions and political processes, it is the time for institutionalization, ideologisation and activation of the youth and its movementsit is time to take serious actions.

Bibliography

  1. Electric Yerevan vows comeback, as ‘Moscow’s soft power has been lost’
  2. Small Electric Yerevan Spark “ A Big Challenge for the Armenian Government
  3. Armenia’s ‘Electric Yerevan’ protests enter seventh day
  4. Armenia’s ‘Electric Yerevan’ Protesters Return to Streets Despite Arrests and Water Blasts
  5. Armenia energy protests: Electric atmosphere in Yerevan
  6. The Bear in the Room
  7. #ElectricYerevan: протесты в Армении
  8. Электромайдан
  9. «Золотые» киловатты:
  10. Ոստիկանները հեռացրին ցուցարարներին, Բաղրամյանում երթևեկությունը վերականգնվեց

Author: Areg Kochinyan: © All rights are reserved

Translated by Tatevik Tumanyan

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