16:37, January 17, 2015
By Markar Melkonian
The source of Armenia’s misery and humiliation, we often hear, is not capitalism per se, but rather “gangster capitalism,” “a broken system,” “capitalism run amok.”
The goal for the future, then, is to “fix the system,” to reform capitalism, to make it more like regular, pure, genuine Free Enterprise, the kind of capitalism that works. But what if Armenia’s actually existing capitalism already is genuine capitalism?
An economist once observed that the only existential meaning of “enterprise” in the term free enterprise is “whatever capitalists happen to be doing at the time”–and “free” is the accompanying demand that they be allowed to do it.
In Armenia, successive presidents, legislators, ministers, and mayorshave certainly allowed them to “do it.”Post-Soviet cliques have privatized public land, seized factories, and plundered resources. They have shredded the social safety net,unleashed the “job creators” on child labor; eliminated overtime pay; dispensed with job safety standards, trashed even the most minimal environmentalregulations, and generally done everything they can toenrich themselves and their cronies, seemingly without a thought to the welfare of the vastmajority. Over the years, Hetq.am has done a truly admirable job of reporting the daily pillage.
Armenia’s plutocrats justify their actions in the name of free enterprise, and their point is well taken. After all, a law prohibitingthe exploitation of child labor or the poisoning of drinking water is nothing if it is not state regulation of the market. Building public schools and enacting laws that protect forestsmake markets less free.So if Free Enterprise really were as important as the IMF and the advisors from Chicago say it is, then Armenia’s oligarchs really are the national heroes they think they are.
One of the Ronald Reagan admirers who led Armenia’s charge down the road to ruinexemplified the wisdom of Yerevan’s Free Marketeers: “free market reform,” he wrote, is the path “which has been traveled by many other nations and which leads to happiness.”(Vazgen Manukian, quoted in Jirair Libaridian (ed.), Armenia at the Crossroads, 1991, p. 52.) In the years since he made this announcement, we have beheld the happiness that free market reform has wrought in many other nations, from Mexico to Greece, and from Iceland to India, where in recent yearsa quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide.
The oligarchs and their IMF advisors, of course,are willing to pay this price for the sake of their Free Market utopia. Or rather, they are willing to make the poor pay this price. For decades, sensitive commentatorsin the West excoriated Joseph Stalin for his “blood-curdling” suggestion that the end justifies the means. These days, those same commentatorsdo not give a passing thought to the hundreds of millions of lives consigned to displacement,drudgery, fear,and early death in the name of free market reform.
A quarter century ago, the Ter Petrosyan administration set Armenia off on the path to happiness by doling out state property to cronies and racketeers,guttingthe industrial infrastructure, and shredding the social safety net. Hundreds of thousands of workers lost their jobs, anduntold thousands of Armenians, especially the elderly and the very young, have died of exposure, food poisoning, preventable accidents, and lack of access to basic healthcare.
Since then, aparade of alternating opposition figures and national saviors have come into office, enriched themselves and their cronies, and then left the scene with the loot, one after another. Despite the personnel changes, though, economic policy has continued to benefit the rich few, at the expense of the poor majority.
Armenia has undergone twenty-five years of foreign-directed reform: privatization, shock therapy, conditionalities, and so on. Every time we turn around, it seems that more “reform” is needed. And the reform always seems to require further wage cuts, further cuts to social programs, further deregulation, and ever more sacrifice from the have-nots. Consider the much-ballyhooed Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) of earlier years: for Armenia, as for other poor debtor countries, SAPs required:
selling off state enterprises to the private sector;
eliminating price controls and producer and consumer subsidies for agricultural goods;
devaluing the local currency;
cutting consumer subsidies and charging user fees for social services such as health care and education;
dropping protectionist measures and reducing regulation of the private sector;
providing guarantees, state-funded infrastructure, tax breaks, and wage restraints as incentives for investment;
dismantling foreign exchange restrictions (which has allowed wealthy locals to export funds overseas, as capital flight, worsening balance-of-payment deficits).
As a result of these policies, Armenia today can boast of Enterprise that is as Free as anywhere on Earth. Readers of Hetq.am are aware of the consequences: sky-high unemployment; proliferating poverty; the depopulation of the countryside; deforestation; plummeting birth rates; falling life expectancies, and, of course, the catastrophic outmigration of one third of Armenia’s population. Successive plutocrats have lengthened the work week, lowered the legal work age, evicted families from their homes in order to build “elite homes for elite guys,” demanded ever-higher bus fares for a privatized transport system; raised university fees far beyond the means of most families, attempted to privatize social security, and so on and so forth, ad nauseam.
It is a sad commentary on the state of intellectuals in Armenia today that few of them are even aware of the work of the great social geographer David Harvey, who has so accurately described the process of “capital accumulation by dispossession” that characterizes scores of countries like Armenia. When is someone going to translate Harvey’s book, The New Imperialism, into Armenian?
In Armenia, as we know, “free market reform” has taken place against the background of official impunity, the jailing of dissidents, electoral manipulation, and fraud so pervasive that it would have astonished even the most cynical Armenians of the Soviet period.
Let us remind ourselves that these measures were undertaken under the tutelage of the IMF and the World Bank, in strict adherence to Free Market doctrines. All the while, Western agencies and bureaucracies have heartily congratulated their Armenian followersfor rapidly privatizing state property, “making hard choices,” and faithfully carrying out Washington’s directives.
David Brooks, one of the more thoughtful American Free Market columnists, recently acknowledged that, curiously, post-Soviet success stories are rare. (“The Legacy of Fear,” New York Times, November 10, 2014.) Despite the generalized “wreckage,” however, he was able to identify several success stories, including none other than Azerbaijan and Armenia! That’s right: according to Brooks, Armenia today counts as one of “only five countries that have emerged as successful capitalist economies” from the former Soviet bloc.
This should surprise the Free Market faithful in Yerevan, who were hoping that ultimate success lay in the bright future, not in the dark present. If this is what a successful capitalist economy looks like, then the question naturally arises: What was the point of letting capitalists take over the country in the first place?
The Free Market coercion and rhetoric has come full circle: right-wing politicians in the USA, exemplified by Scott Walker, the governor of the state of Wisconsin, have tried to enact many of the same policies in the USA that the IMF, the CIA, and the economists from Chicago have foisted on vulnerable countries like Pinochet’s Chile and today’s Armenia. In their arguments for, say, privatization of social security, the Scott Walkers have pointed to policies in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet republics as examples of an irresistible global trend that America must follow.
When the Scott Walkers have failed to achieve their maximal demands, it is because traditional constituencies in the United States with independent organizational presence—notably labor unions—have fought against free market “solutions.” Here, ironically, America does provide a valuable lesson to Armenia: resistance to Free Market reform must be organized, sustained, and based in the working class.
The tide of misery rises ever higher, and there is no good reason to hope that further reforms along the same lines will change the trajectory. And yet capitalism still escapes blame for the disasters it has created. Instead, we are told that “capitalism run amok” is to blame, and that the only antidote is—more capitalism! This has happened over and over again.
At what point will skepticism kick in?
Free Marketeers love to sermonize about accountability and the responsiveness of the market. But the Free Marketeers escape all responsibility for their policies and get to prescribe more of the same poison to the patient.
As long as we are unable to describe the problem accurately, we will not even begin to address it in an effective manner. The first step is to start calling the thing by its name: the main source of Armenia’s devastation in the past twenty-five years is not “capitalism gone amok”; rather, it is capitalist rule.
(MarkarMelkonian is a nonfiction writer and a philosophy instructor. His books includeRichard Rorty’s Politics: Liberalism at the End of the American Century(Humanities Press, 1999),Marxism: A Post-Cold War Primer(Westview Press, 1996), andMy Brother’s Road(I.B. Tauris, 2005, 2007), a memoir/biography about Monte Melkonian, co-written with Seta Melkonian)
Photo by Sara Anjargolian
Source: Hetq – Originial Article
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21:45, December 15, 2014
Ukraine’s ministry of internal affairs has launched a campaign against illegal casinos amid fears that a large network of underground gambling dens could be providing an income source for the son of the country’s disgraced former president Viktor Yanukovych.
The new crackdown on unlawful casinos – an ongoing scourge for law enforcement agencies in Ukraine since regulation was made stiffer with a 2009 law – was launched on Dec. 8 after an announcement on Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov’s official Facebook page.
Avakov, who keeps a lively and occasionally angry Facebook commentary on current affairs, pledged to put a complete stop to the establishments within ten days; first in the capital of Kyiv, then the rest of the nation.
“The police will no longer be either arbitrator or guard for all the cunning dubious schemes of gamblers and lottery players,” he wrote. In the past week, the ministry has announced raids on casinos in the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk.
It was after the Dec. 13 shutdown of one such establishment in Kyiv that the ministry warned of a possible Yanukovych connection.
“It cannot be ruled out that Oleksandr Yanukovych, the ex-president’s son, could be behind this and a lot of other clandestine elite gaming establishments in the capital city through figureheads,” said Zorian Shkiriak, an advisor to Avakov. OCCRP has previously reported on Oleksandr Yanukovych’s connections to illegal coal mining operations in the country.
In his Facebook post, Avakov said the problem should be made into a profitable industry. “Legalize the casino!” he wrote. “Get strict regulations, limited amounts of points and legal billions of hryvnias [Ukraine’s currency] into the state budget, instead of dirty money in the pockets of different people providing cover!”
The 2009 law “On the prohibition of gambling business in Ukraine” was passed after a fire killed nine people and injured 11 others at a gambling hall in Dnipropetrovsk.
Source: Hetq – Originial Article
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13:05, October 3, 2014
Here it is dear readers, the debut of a weekly column I hope to maintain on a regular basis.
It’s sort of a catch-all of news snippets, irreverent commentary, and personal observations on what’s happened during the week here in Yerevan, and throughout Armenia.. Hopefully, you’ll find it interesting, if not slightly diverting.
Your comments and suggestions are welcomed.
Regards – Hrant
Oct. 2 – Protests Throughout Armenia: A Game of Numbers & Solidarity
Three separate protest rallies took place in Armenia today.
As Hetq reported earlier, business owners in the town of Sevan kept their stores and factories shut to protest changes to the so-called volume (sales) tax. Local residents flocked to the bread factory to wait on line for a loaf or two.
Merchants and small retailers again gathered outside the government building in Yerevan to voice their opposition to the changes in the volume tax law that requires that they keep receipts for all inventory purchases and sales.
In Yerevan, vehicle owners who have bandied together in a group calling itself “Keep Away from Our Pockets” tried to drive through the city in a convoy of cars to protest paid parking spaces many argue is just a ruse for some oligarchs to make money. Police stopped them before getting too far.The bulk of the fines and fees don’t even go to the Yerevan city coffers but is kept as income by the corporation overseeing the parking spots. The drivers are also complaining about traffic fines they say are too exorbitant.
Taking you grievances to the street is a growing trend in Armenia – whether in towns or villages.
The largest and most successful to date were the sustained protests that took place in the summer of 2013 in Yerevan that eventually forced the municipal government to rescind public transportation fare hikes.
But ever since then, demos and protests seem to have lost their verve and vigor and are more and more issue specific. While this is to be expected (those immediately affected by this or that government decision are the first on the streets), the general citizenry once again seem resigned to whatever fate awaits them.
While attempts were made to broaden the participation of these mini-protests and to link their specific interests under some kind of umbrella movement, they proved unsuccessful.
Numbers and mutual solidarity remain elusive. Strategizing and innovative tactics are also lacking.
Three opposition political parties are gearing up for a joint rally on Oct. 10. Let’s see if it will be more of the same old, same old…
Oct. 1 – Government Reappoints Thug as Syunik Governor
Hetq readers will know that SourikKhachatryan, the publicly disgraced and much maligned former Syunik Provincial Governor, was reinstated to his old job this week. Khachatryan was forced to temporarily step down after being implicated in a June shoot-out near his Goris home in which an Artsakh Army commander was seriously wounded and his brother killed.
Here’s a tit for tat exchange between HAK (Armenian National Congress) MP NikolPashinyan and Armenian Prime Minister HovikAbrahamyan in parliament regarding Khachatryan’s reinstatement.
Pashinyan (and I paraphrase here) – That man has been charged with expropriation of public property through fraud, auto theft, the beating of several individuals, one incident when he hit a prominent woman in a Yerevan hotel was caught on tape, the beating of a child because he had a quarrel with the father…Recently, this individual murdered a man by shooting him from such a position from his house that the cameras didn’t catch him…”
Abrahamyan – Who is this man you refer to? Oh, SourikKhachatryan. Well, I nominated him for reinstatement based on his years of experience in provincial governance and organizational skills.
The prime minister added: “I’ve also taken into account the wishes of the people of Syunik. Our studies show that a majority want him as their provincial governor.”
Oct. 1 – Diaspora Minister Receives “Good Job” Watch
Armenian Prime Minister HovikAbrahamyan visited Diaspora Minister HranoushHakobyan at her office bearing gifts. Well, one gift in particular. The PM bestowed Hakobyan with a commemorative “prime ministerial” watch for a job well done.
Now c’mon folks.A stinking watch? A grandfather’s clock would have been more appropriate.
Oct. 1 – Armenia is Getting “Old”
This is the view of GarikHayrapetyan, who heads the Yerevan Office of the UN Population Fund.
On Wednesday, which marked the International Day of the Elderly (we’ll all get there sometime), Hayrapetyan told journalists in Yerevan that 13% of Armenia’s population is over the age of 60. (That’s practically bordering on senility).
Anyway, he claimed that the country is fast approaching what is termed the ranks of “old countries” (you know, where the president or dictator walks around on crutches).
Right now, thank god, Armenia is merely considered “growing old”.
Khachatryan attributes the age imbalance to the fall in the birthrate after independence.
Less young people means less people to take care of the elderly. But I only know of one old-age home in Armenia. Who’s looking after the rest?
Sept. 30 – Aznavour Wants Turks and Armenians to Reconcile Before He Dies
In an interview with RTS (Radio Television of Serbia), Charles Aznavour is alleged to have said he hopes to see Armenians and Turks reconcile before he dies.
Bonne chance, mon ami.
Source: Hetq – Originial Article
- Activists Launch Petition Calling Environmental Ministry to Account
- Decision 2013: Ruling party rep. calling for end to ‘political upheavals’ in Armenia
- Main opposition CHP to cease calling Erdoğan ‘Mr’ or ‘Prime Minister’
- Brand Train “Armenia” of Yerevan-Batumi-Yerevan Route Closes the Season
- Barev, Yerevan bloc to start reforms of Armenia’s government system from Yerevan
21:31, July 30, 2014
Zhou Yongkang, one of China’s most powerful former leaders, is under investigation in the highest-level corruption inquiry since the Communist Party came into power in 1949.
Under current president Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is investigating Zhou for “serious disciplinary violations,” as the officialXinhua news agency reports. Media has not yet, however, specified the allegations against him.
The probe is an attempt to show the length to which Xi and the party will go in order to combat abuse of power reportsThe Wall Street Journal.
A commentary published in the officialPeoples Daily makes the point that regardless of an official’s rank or supporters, punishment will result for violating laws or the party’s discipline.
In recent years an agreement has been in place ensuring that for the sake of party unity, most senior figures would not be investigated. Zhou’s case has been the first to break the agreement and is aimed at party purity instead. Communists are hoping to stay legitimate and to win more supporters.
The anti-corruption campaign has realized its vow of no off-limit targets, says political scientist Zhang Ming in The Guardian.
Source: Hetq – Originial Article
- China: Anti-Corruption Probe Targets Top Officials
- Over 182,000 officials punished in China graft crackdown
- China: Victims Claim Anti-Corruption Probe Employs Torture
- Civic Activists Demand Action Against ‘Corrupt’ Ex-Minister
- Jailed Former High Ranking Armenian Officials Deny Bribery Charges
19:15, July 12, 2014
By Marineh Khachadour
“The whole thing started with a scene straight out of a mobster movie. It was around 6 p.m. when more than a dozen men from two organized crime groups opened fire on each other in a North Hollywood parking lot. Witnesses say nearly everyone was armed, and the shootout quickly went mobile. The men took off in cars, exchanging fire as they weaved through the Whitsett Avenue traffic.”
Stories such as this are not unique to Armenians in the American press, but this investigative report recently published in the LA Weekly is about Armenian Power, the Los Angeles based Armenian gang that operates in the heavily Armenian populated communities of Glendale, Burbank, and North Hollywood.
The writer describes the members of the group as “gun-toting defendants” driving flashy cars “and connected to elaborate schemes in bank fraud, identity theft and other highly sophisticated white-collar crimes.”
Armenian Power originated in the 1980s by young Armenians, mainly from Soviet Armenia, to protect themselves from Mexican gangs in Los Angeles high schools. In time the organization developed working relations with the latter and shifted focus from fighting for territory to fighting for money and power.
My initial reaction to the report, like to all things Armenian, is visceral. Besides the fact that the horrific nature of the group’s actions turns my stomach, I feel angry. There are many positive contributions Armenians make to the communities they live in, so why point out the negative?
I think and catch myself in doing something very typically Armenian: reacting defensively when a non-Armenian criticizes my people. I immediately want to blame someone, mainly the person who is pointing a finger in my direction. This is a natural reaction for those of us who take pride in belonging to a lineage older than Noah’s Ark.
Ancient is the Armenian archetype – our intuitive behavior that has proven to withstand the test of time. We’ve been around so long, we consider ourselves to be wise and flawless. It is in our ethnic genome to revere the old and be doubtful of the new, to respect the elder as authority and dismiss the young as naive and inexperienced, to move in time and space, but not leave the past and the home we left behind. Any divergence from what has history and is the norm, we perceive as deficient, abnormal, lacking.
Young Armenians in American public schools faced with anything but the norm, as they know it, are caught by surprise like objects uprooted by cyclonic winds.
When life throws us into the realm of the unexpected or takes us out of our element, when it forces us to question our truths and face our shortcomings that make us seem not so perfect, we feel ashamed and become unforgiving. This quickly leads us on to the path of self-loathing. Our genesis, the very thing that is the source of our pride and the reason for our being, becomes our handicap in the youth-crazed, ever changing culture of the new world. We feel betrayed.
Additionally, we have been conditioned to put on our best face in public, regardless of what is going on inside. This archetype was reinforced during the Soviet era. We do not air our dirty laundry in public, but proudly display our clean, shiny load in front of our balconies and windows literally and figuratively. We even pride ourselves in the way we pin the pieces next to each other on the clothesline!
So, regardless of our circumstances, we find ways to put on a front like the well choreographed parades of the Soviet government. For God’s sake, we were the first people to adopt Christianity as our state religion! Never mind that our church is void of spirituality and our God cares more about the dead than the living.
Then we boast, and when others dare to not appreciate our genius with expected enthusiasm, we resort to demeaning, deprecating commentary and are not shy about projecting our negative feelings. No one is good enough, smart enough, deserving enough as Armenians. We’re the oldest and the wisest, and therefore most deserving of respect and appreciation.
More than once I have had to counsel a distraught Armenian parent complaining about how people make fun of their perfect child because he/she does not look or act like them.
When our expectations are not met, we are wounded and insulted. This is when the daredevil gene kicks in, and we don’t hesitate to give our perceived enemy a piece of our mind, or show off a flexed muscle.
We call this taseeb (honor): a sentiment that forces an Armenian to pick up a rifle and defend his physical and psychological turf. It is the same sentiment that drives a young Armenian to defend himself from insults and aggression, real or perceived, from a person of a different ethnicity in an American high school.
These archetypes are some of the underlying factors that lead Armenian youth into conflicting situations outside their circles.
In a new and changing world, old archetypes no longer serve the needs of the people, while the new ones are constantly elusive. Coupled with the desire to belong and to fit in, this drives people to adopt clichés that are readily available in a world congested with material, ideas and attitudes. Thus, to be accepted by the out-groups, to measure up and to be competitive, they quickly adopt what is more accessible to them for putting on the “perfect face.”
Designer clothing and accessories, Mercedes, BMW, Porches, attitudes and gestures we don’t quite grasp but admire, just about anything that we perceive as distinguishing and defining the out-group we are so eager to be a part of and be appreciated by, we collect. Clichés are easy to launder, polish, and pin on one’s life’s “clothes line”. Life in the new world becomes a long string of clichés.
In the absence of archetypes, reality is re-imagined, improvised like life on a theater stage, Marshall McLuhan explains. On this stage, young people are the characters of their own show, and there is nothing in the world more important than that until new archetypes take form.
The mafia or its modern day version – gangs that are a common occurrence in societies constantly in flux – is the stage where young people play out their roles. There have been Irish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Mexican gangs in America prior to the Armenians.
Every wave of new arrivals, every wave of change, brings with it a new set of expectations and challenges. While families try to decipher the laws, rules, and traditions of their new environment, the young tend to gravitate towards groups that fill the need for belonging and provide a security network.
Some, more than others, in every group are willing to break rules often to their own detriment while caught between archetypes of the old world and the clichés of the new.
Marineh Khachadour is an educator, writer, researcher working in a public school in Pasadena, California. She lived in Armenia from 1992-1998. During that time she provided educational services and resources for Armenian women and children including refugees and served as Gender in Development Expert with UNDP, Armenia from 1995-1998.
Source: Hetq – Originial Article
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