Artsakh is in the pre-election period for the 2020 elections. Our conversation with the American University Lawyer, Legal Expert at the American Chamber of Advocates, Expert at the Armenian Analytical Institute on International and Security Affairs Artashes Khalatyan is about elections, the formation of an active civil society, the establishment of democratic values.
- From the legal and expert viewpoint, how do you assess the fact that the campaign has not officially started yet, but there is some activity?
- Electoral offenses can be varied, a significant proportion of violations are hidden, in all countries there is a problem of how to differentiate, for example, charity from electoral bribery, how to distinguish whether an individual is engaged in public, official activity or is already engaged in propaganda. It's hard to separate them. Even the legislation does not sufficiently delineate. In Artsakh, as far as we are aware, everything is still within the law. The concern is only with some foundations that allocate money on certain privileged terms. And beyond that we can say that during these years the elections in Artsakh were more organized than in Armenia. And here there was not polarization among the people, like in Armenia. Let me make a bold statement: here the authorities were more accepted by the people than in Armenia. In democratic countries in general, there is such an expert analysis: establishing democracy in countries with a minimum population is a problem taking into account the interpersonal relationships that exist. People are naturally more positive about their friends, partners, and forcing them to ignore these relationships is difficult, especially against the backdrop of democratic values or newly created democratic values. For example, in Luxembourg, because it's a small country, judges are invited from the outside to ensure impartiality. However, if the administrative resource is limited by the loyalty and trust towards the official, I do not see any particular problems there, as it also reflects the attitude towards the individual. It is another thing if they are forced to hold rallies, make lists, campaign in schools, hospitals, which is not allowed by law. But if the administrative resource is at the level of personal loyalty, I see nothing condemnable there.
The scope of real choice in Artsakh is wide, that is to say there is competition, which is very welcomed. For example, there were background candidates in Armenia who created more of an illusion of competition than they actually claimed. But there are at least 2-3 candidates in Artsakh who, not for the sake of democratic imitation, are going to have a real fight, they tend to run for parliament and fight for the presidency. Even after the Velvet Revolution there was only one force in Armenia which was natural after the revolution. In Artsakh we can consider the spectrum more diverse as the revolution was not immediately followed by this election, the transformation phase has passed, which allowed to take only the positive elements from the revolution, reformat many ideas, and do all this without euphoria.
- Let's also look at the issue of having an active civil society and shaping it.
- Here we cannot ignore the factor of non-recognition of the Artsakh Republic, which restricts Artsakh's involvement in international democratic structures as well. Naturally, this is very important for the establishment and development of civil society. Experience sharing and access to education are very important in this regard. Public activity can be traced, for example, to NGOs, the media. Even if the press and NGOs are easy to control for the authorities, they must still prioritize the development of civil will and the liberalization of those circles. There, of course, the Armenian authorities also have a responsibility. In this case, an institutional environment should also be created, with the proper use of the media, designing the right platforms, counteracting, separating real information from misinformation or anti-propaganda. As Joseph Goebbels, the king of disinformation, said: A lie repeated a thousand times becomes truth.
- And what about the claim that our society is not consolidated, is more intolerant than before?
- Those who make such claims make a serious methodological mistake. In democratic countries there is no unity in the classical sense. Some people imagine the cohesion as in North Korea, China, where pluralism is suppressed. This does not unite the public, but prohibits to express one's opinion. If everyone thought the same way, there would not be a state. Consolidation is about protecting the interests of the broader public, rather than tackling the agenda issues of some narrow groups.
- There are elements in the democratic system of values that are unacceptable to our country, to the ethnic thinking of the people, to traditional views. Is it possible to build democracy specific to our people?
- Of course it is possible; you just need the same tools again, both in the media field and in terms of expertise. Democracy is a struggle, the rules of the game are within democracy, which excludes violence and oppression. There are countries today, such as Italy, where democracy is accompanied by a national, traditional, family structure. Unfortunately, we do not have a democratic toolkit in our country, but an ineffective extremist one. There is no need to artificially contrast the scales. Today there is a distinction that some European countries are atheistic, some Christian, and there are more liberal states - Sweden, Norway, Denmark. Why do we take such examples, which are inappropriate to our way of thinking? We have instead examples of Italy, Ireland, Greece, where democracy is accompanied by the preservation of the traditional family.