- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
May 7, 2004

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

Across Europe this week there have been celebrations to mark the accession of ten new members to the European Union, including eight from the former Soviet bloc in the days when the Iron Curtain split the continent.

Those new members include the three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which like Armenia were subject peoples of the Soviet Union just 13 years ago. Now they are full members of the world's largest free-trade zone and already there is talk of a "Baltic tiger" phenomenon in imitation of the economic miracle that has propelled Ireland from among the poorest to one of the wealthiest EU states in a single generation.

Lithuania 's population of 3.6 million makes it roughly the same size as Armenia and both countries enjoyed similar living standards during the Soviet era. It is arriving in the EU as one of the poorest states with a GDP per capita of only 4,200 Euros, about an eighth of the average across the member countries.

This already makes Lithuania three times richer than Armenia, however, and the gap is now certain to accelerate as investment and EU aid pours in.

How did this happen? Geography clearly plays its part - Lithuania has access to the sea and is close to EU markets, while landlocked Armenia still suffers under the blockades imposed in particular by Turkey. History too - Lithuania has faced nothing like the challenges of independent Armenia, which has borne the burden of the 1988 earthquake and of fighting the war for Nagorno-Karabakh.

But recent events also provide useful clues. Lithuania became the first state in modern European history to sack its president last month. Its parliament voted to impeach Rolandsas Paksas after an official inquiry into corruption allegations over his links with a businessman said to have ties to the Russian mafia. The businessman had contributed nearly $400,000 to the president’s election campaign.

Clearly, Lithuania’s political culture is far from perfect. But it has acquired sufficient strength and independence over the past decade or so to challenge, peacefully and constitutionally, a president that it believed was no longer fit to hold office.

Lithuania 's streets were filled with people celebrating their accession to the EU last week, not with demonstrators disillusioned by the power structures that govern them. There has been no economic crisis to accompany this political drama, another sign that Lithuania as a state is mature enough to cope.

In Armenia, the struggle over power continues to be played out on the streets. Bitterness over the disputed presidential election result is being compounded by a sense of impotence that neither the National Assembly nor the judicial system seem able to restrain a regime that meets rhetoric with riot police.

Nor does the political system appear capable of finding methods to defuse the tensions and create a consensus for a solution to what is becoming a crippling constitutional crisis. The damage to Armenia’s international image is already considerable, as the Council of Europe’s criticisms regarding breaches of the republic’s membership commitments make plain.

Prior to its “rose revolution” before Christmas, Georgia had a record for corruption and stagnation over the past decade that far exceeded Armenia’s. Yet there too, this week, the state structures proved able to resolve a crisis so serious that it could have sparked a fresh civil war.

Aslan Abashidze was forced to flee as governor of the Adjaria region, which he had ruled as personal fiefdom for more than a decade, without a shot being fired. He paid the price for challenging the authority of President Mikhail Saakashvili, who was elected by a massive popular vote in January.

Saakashvili heads the youngest government in Europe, with an average age of 36, and is pursuing an energetic anti-corruption campaign that has imbued ordinary Georgians with the hope that their country faces a brighter future.

He too has his sights set on EU membership.

So Armenian society faces two questions. Can it find within its political culture those who have the talent to resolve the present crisis peacefully?

And can those of talent find the will to set the Armenian state on a different and better course?

Lithuania and Georgia might provide useful lessons to study. But only Armenians will be able to answer the questions.

According to Agnes


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International annual exhibition Jewelry-2004 was opened May 6 presenting works of some 50 jewelry-making and diamond-cutting companies. Among guests was President Robert Kocharyan who expressed his high appreciation of the works of Armenian jewelers.



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