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April 9, 2009

ACNIS Director Richard Giragosian Comments on the Lessons for Armenia from Developments in Moldova

Yerevan—Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) Director Richard Giragosian issued a statement today commenting on the recent post-election crisis in Moldova and assessing the implications for Armenia.

Less than two months before a crucial municipal election in Armenia, the sudden emergence of a serious post-election crisis in Moldova offers important lessons for Armenia.

“Moldova Calling: Lessons for Armenia”

Reflecting the tragic events of Armenia’s own post-election crisis in March 2008, the recent confrontation between demonstrators and the authorities triggered by Moldova’s parliamentary election demonstrates three specific lessons for Armenia.

The first lesson from the Moldovan crisis for Armenia stems from the nature of the crisis.  As with Armenia’s post-election crisis, the April 5 election for a new parliament in Moldova triggered a wave of demonstrations and protests over the election results, which saw the return of the incumbent Communist Party to power with about 50 percent of the votes.  But similar to Armenia’s crisis, it was not the election itself that was the central issue.

In fact, Moldova’s recent election was assessed by OSCE observers as taking place “in an overall pluralistic environment, offering voters distinct political alternatives and meeting many of the OSCE and Council of Europe commitments.”  Although the same preliminary assessment went on to note that “further improvements are required to ensure an electoral process free from undue administrative interference and to increase public confidence,” the ballot was viewed as an achievement.

But if the election was such an improvement, then why did it spark such an intense reaction among ordinary Moldovans?

The reason seems to stem from an overall sense of frustration, compounded by the accumulation of several factors: the slow pace of reform, the state’s failure to effectively battle corruption, and a lack of hope or optimism for real change or improvement in the lives of ordinary citizens.  Sadly, each of these factors has now come to define politics in Armenia.  Yet the situation in Armenia is even more fragile, as the country now suffers from a pronounced “crisis of confidence” and the government remains hindered by a profound lack of legitimacy, driven by an unresolved internal political stalemate.

Second, the origins of the crisis in Moldova reveal the inherent danger of maintaining a closed political and economic system, which, like Armenia, affords little space and even less patience for the expression of dissent or opposition.  From the context of a closed political system, where any healthy dissent or constructive opposition is seen as direct threats to state power and authority, protests tend to become radicalized, fueling illegal acts of violence and defiance, as seen by the storming and destruction of the symbols of Moldovan state power: the parliament and presidential palace.

A related observation from this perspective is the sad state of affairs when such energy and effort is not channeled into political activism prior to an election, thereby only robbing the country of a dynamic and vibrant democratic political process.

The third lesson for Armenia is rooted in the underlying divisions within Moldova that have exacerbated the crisis and that have only transformed a political crisis into an open confrontation.  For Moldova, this division is one of both demographics and geography, defined by a younger, more pro-Western population concentrated in the capital, and a more rural, less-educated Russian-leaning population with few links to, and even less interest in Europe.  Armenia also reflects similar divisions, although disparities in wealth and income are much wider and even more obvious in the case of Armenia.

Thus, there are several important considerations for Armenia from the crisis in Moldova.  But for Armenia, the most significant aspect is the warning from Moldova.  This is a clear and concise warning—that unless the May 31 election is truly free and fair, unless the closed political system is allowed to include an empowered and constructive opposition, and unless the widening socio-economic divisions in Armenian society are addressed, then Armenia should brace itself for a repeat of a Moldova-style crisis, at best, or for a March 1-style confrontation, at worst. It remains to be seen which scenario will emerge, although it remains evident that Armenia is facing another severe test that will determine its future as an emerging democratic and pluralistic country.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) is a leading independent strategic research center located in Yerevan, Armenia.  As an independent, objective institution committed to conducting professional policy research and analysis, ACNIS strives to raise the level of public debate and seeks to broaden public engagement in the public policy process, as well as fostering greater and more inclusive public knowledge. Founded in 1994, ACNIS is the institutional initiative of Raffi K. Hovannisian, Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Over the past fifteen years, ACNIS has acquired a prominent reputation as a primary source of professional independent research and analysis covering a wide range of national and international policy issues.

For further information on the Center call (37410) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; email root@acnis.am or info@acnis.am; or visit www.acnis.am.

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Armenian version