2011: When Civil “Horizontals” Break Authoritarian “Verticals”

By Ruben MEGHRABYAN
Armenian Center of Political and International Studies
Yerevan

Observers named 2011 an “Arab spring” year. However, the following question remains open: whether “spring” is really specifically “Arabic” or we face a more universal process?

The past months gave us a lot to think about and the time for, at least preliminary, observations.

The authoritarian regimes in the Middle East that lasted for decades, being handed over to the “successors” or “heirs,” have differed from each other by their specifics, based on local conditions, pre-histories and, let say, “birth traumas.” But, at the same time, they have a lot of common features that may be schematically displayed the following way:

– unacceptability of losing power; readiness to do everything, up to mass violence, for keeping it;           the fear of any uncontrollable public activity;

– the centralized corruption and nepotism; political and economic division between “ours” and “theirs;”  administrative “conservatism;” the fear of swift changes, a strong informal  vertical of power, based on the decision of the “chief,”  and ruling out development and normal functioning of the formal institutes: parliaments, courts, etc;

– availability of the primitive, superficial ideological and propagandist structure, including a controllable, well-measured anti-Western – “anti-Imperialistic” content that can be strengthened or weakened “by command,” depending on the political urgency and the threat to the existence of the power; accentuation of the “stability,” even to the detriment of the obvious constitutional rights and freedoms.

Although the “dressings” of the local specifics vary from one place to another, it is easy to notice similar features among the non-Arab autocracies as well.  In particular, it is true with the biggest group of authoritarian regimes on the world map: the post-Soviet countries.

The recent decade of the information revolution age has provided the people in the authoritarian countries, or, as they are now called the countries of “manageable democracy,” some unique virtual areas to exchange information through the Internet: websites, blogs, social networks (Facebook, Twitter), which have drastically raised the significance of a person in the public processes, and have played a really revolutionary role in the worldview and mentality of that person. The process of such, let say, “electronic” socialization continues to spread and broaden in the geometric progression, engaging millions of “subjects” and turning them into interested or concerned citizens. So the “spring impulses” are just a consequence of the mentioned revolutionary transformation of the mass consciousness, caused by the unprecedented widening of the publicly significant capabilities of a person, who is now not only a consumer of information to be “given” or “shown:” such a person has started to speak, pass, analyze, evaluate and make decisions about his or her own future.

New flows of alternative information, refuting the idyllic “picture in TV,” thoroughly painted by the rulers, have uncovered their whole systemic mendacity, breaking down the traditional inertia regarding the developing reality and substantially cutting the distance between what is personal and what is public. The Arab revolutions had no leader; there were no charismatic chieftains either. It is an ordinary Arab who has become the main subject of public processes for the first time ever: that Arab is usually a young, confident in his case, in his intention to change life, despising the whole awkwardness of both – the regime and the “standard” or “systemic” opposition activists, who would become collaborationists at home, or “honorary” emigrants, for example, in London.

It seems that the situation and processes in the post-Soviet countries are much resembling the above. In the most important country of the post-Soviet world, Russia, the raising wave of the civil protest undermines the fundamentals of Putin’s “vertical” with every new large-scale action. Tens of thousands of Russians in dozens of towns and cities have held organized protests against the systemic lie and for the sake of the human dignity. And there is no notorious “leader” there, as far as he is not needed: for the first time it is an ordinary Russian demanding changes in a country with a powerful monarchic tradition; not a faceless “people”, but a person with a Facebook account or blog, a white ribbon on the breast, fire in the heart and eyes; such a person is his/ her own head, “chief” and guide.

Observing the rapid development of the civil creative in the social networks, the swift atrophy of the collective and individual fear of the regime in Russia, the accelerating and strengthening civil self-organization, which has already displayed itself in the convincing mass actions, the helpless and inadequate reaction of the authorities to the processes, it is possible to insist that shaping popular, civil “horizontal” has started to simply breaking the authoritarian “vertical.” And each strike on that “vertical” irreversibly exhausts its safety margin, which even two years ago seemed endless.

Against this backdrop, some new elements have obviously started to appear in the international relations, now substantially lacking what is traditionally called “geopolitics.” The internal political aspect can be seen on the forefront now.  Suffice it to follow how Russia and China vote in the UN Security Council, or Russia does it in the Council of Europe, the OSCE. Regardless the geographical location, as soon as one becomes an illegitimate regime, falling down in the ratings of human rights organization, it gets such “advocates” and supporters as Russia, and, consequently, China. So, Moscow and Beijing consider supporting the pariah regimes as an important objective to preserve “stability” within themselves.

Certainly, history, including the most recent one, as they say, teaches only that it teaches nothing, however, the question what the Armenian society can learn from the stormy events of the past year, requires answering.

Armenia, which is now a regional leader by penetration of the Internet has also become a leader of the generally global process of formation of “civil horizontals,” and the power system, currently existing in the country, sooner or later will be unable to withstand the strikes on its own “vertical.” The main question will certainly be the prices of the inevitable changes, and this question will require everyone’s answer, regardless his or her position and views. Well, it seems that it is better to be “orange” than “Libyan.”

The second aspect is that the process, as it can be followed by numerous examples, is characterized by the fact that the presence of an all-national leader or leaders is not necessary at all. As it was mentioned above, a citizen, as, undoubtedly, the basic person of the public process does not need “Revolution leaders.” Thus, the loss of adequacy in the answer to the demand of that basic person by the formal opposition will lead to its pushing off to the margins of the process with marginalization of such leaders. And as a result aggressive mobs will “come out,” as we could see in Egypt and Libya.

And the third, foreign political aspect is that official Moscow (it is good enough that Beijing for Armenia is not relevant for Armenia in this issue, so it can be “omitted”) cannot be an ally to any struggling and self-organizing society. Our citizens have pity on Mubarak in the cage and on the stretch in the Egyptian court, or Gaddafi, tortured by the infuriated crowd; but official Moscow, unlike citizens, has a fear, the fear for the future. One should simply feel and realize this difference.

 

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