The article was written for the second edition of The Bridge Newspaper (April 14)
Imagine a scene in an Ancient Greek forum. A group of Athenian citizens are in a fierce debate. “We should go to war with the Persians!” shouts one side. “I disagree, the war with Persians will ruin us!” repliеs the opposition. Another citizen, Erasmos, is passing by the forum. “What do you think? Should we go to war with the Persians?” the citizens call him up. “I don’t know, I’m not interested. I’ve got to go take care of my sheep. Then I have to make some cheese and take it to the market and sell it.” replies Erasmos. “You’re an idiot!” proclaim the citizens at the forum and move on with their debate. They agree to wage war with Persia. But Erasmos has no voice in that conversation, because he is an idiot.
In Ancient Greece, a person who isolated himself from public and political life was called an idiot. Only after millennia, the word gained the negative connotation of an unintelligent person. Fast forward to our days. Armenia seems to struggle with a similar problem of citizens who are just like Erasmos. They have been confused with the overly complex civics classes in school, their parents, which were born and raised during Soviet times, either do not care about politics or cynically dismiss it all as “nonsense.” “There is no rule of law here” their fathers say while tossing the cigarette out of the window. Their grandparents still believe there should be one strong man dictating all the affairs of the country. “The Soviet Union was such a merry time! Everybody was employed, the country thrived, people LIVED!” they would utter with a sigh.
“Every nation gets the government it deserves” goes the saying. So, what do we deserve? “Better” is the common answer. Before April 2, the National Assembly consisted of 131 members, 50 of which had never given a speech or asked a question. Moreover, the Government proposed 98% of the laws and passed them with no opposition. For most, numbers are too tiring and it is frustrating for them to follow real politics and the real actions of their representatives. Thus, they resort to the alternative: letting those politicians act under a mist of obscurity and avoid accountability.
People did not have to follow politics and hold politicians accountable in the Soviet Union. It was not a democracy. The Republic of Armenia, however, is a democracy, and it is in the interests of the powers that be to have idiots (in both senses of the word) for citizens. But we’re not going to let them have it the easy way, are we?
There are many ways to overcome ignorance and follow policies and political discussions. First and foremost, you need to read the Constitution. The rule of law stands only if people keep it that way. Once you read the Constitution, you can go to Armenia’s official legal directory arlis.am and read some excerpts from Armenia’s laws, particularly those that directly affect you. How can we demand justice if we do not know what is just? Not all of politics is nonsense. It shapes our lives, so there is more to it. For example, you can follow your Parliamentary representative’s actions in the National Assembly through the non-profit monitoring organization parliamentmonitoring.am. Access their voting record, proposals, income and attendance. See how professional they are! After all, if someone is there just to push the “yes” button and skip sessions when there are no cameras, does he deserve to represent you?
The greatest propagandist of Armenia, who also happens to be my teacher, gave this advice the following advice during one of our classes, “Always differentiate facts from announcements.” At the end of the day, all the speeches, oppositions, and public protests lead to action or inaction. If you know that a politician did not meet your expectations, there’s no need to elect him again. Follow the news from credible sources to find out what is going on. You need to pick and choose what to read and what to see, and always take what you find on your Facebook news feed with a grain of salt. Go to websites and channels that are more or less objective and cover issues that concern you and your community. Still, remember that media thrives on drama and conflict. What is behind all of that? If people talk but do not act, they’re not worth your time or your vote.
Finally, we don’t live in a worker’s economic utopia and never will. The “good old times,” even if they existed, are gone. We live in a capitalist system, where companies want to earn more by paying less and exploiting more and employees want to earn more by working less. No country with great salaries was always good for the worker. I remember returning from my exchange year in Chicago in 2012. Just as I got back, all the teachers of the Chicago Public Schools Labor Union went on strike and demanded higher wages. They knew their rights as workers, as citizens with freedom of assembly and speech.
In Armenia, salaries are much lower. If an American teacher earns around 50.000 USD a year, his Armenian counterpart earns from 3000-4000 USD. Yet the American is fighting for a raise and the Armenian is not. Ironically, labor unions existed in Soviet times, even though workers were not exploited. The very few labor unions that exist in our independent Republic are not even functioning properly. Our democracy is beautiful and ugly in a way. We have to take what we want, none of us are entitled to anything.
So, next time you find yourself in Erasmos’ shoes or if you have a friend who is like that, shatter the boundaries of ignorance and resist idiocy. After all, nobody wants to be left out of the conversation.