BY EYNULLA FATULLAYEV
It is not yet time to sum up the activities of Ilham Aliyev's presidency. How paradoxical it may sound, but Ilham Aliyev is a politician of tomorrow. And do not impose the idea of an eternal president canonised image dilemma, because it is the voluntary choice of the people and the country. And more, it is not about the president's youth, who today marks his 55th birthday. It is about the society's inexhaustible vote of confidence in Ilham Aliyev. Believe me, it is not political apologetics and patristic.
You know what most of all surprises foreign experts, who ask voters the direct question about confidence in the government? Yet another Azerbaijani antinomy: even with unconcealed fierce hostility of a marginal towards the government or its individual members, he/she has a enthusiastic reverence for the president. How can you not trust the government, while admiring the president? - foreigners wonder. An average Azerbaijani with the strongest and poor imagination or in sweet dreams cannot imagine another person as president. In their view, Ilham Aliyev is the state itself.
Why is this faith in Aliyev? After all, Azerbaijan is far from being Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, even Kazakhstan, where the first person is deified and untouchable. The political regime in Azerbaijan can be conditionally called sovereign national democracy. Ilham Aliyev is the main target of criticism from the opposition. Unlike Central Asian dictatorships, Armenia and even European Belarus, Ilham Aliyev is criticised in the opposition press, in social networks, the blogosphere, at opposition rallies in the centre of the capital. And it is not blasphemy, but grace. In Azerbaijan, there is a political alternative and the right to another choice. Suppose Ilham Aliyev's critics are right in their errors and the government took away from the people the right to elect the president. The question is, what prevents the opposition to implement the Ukrainian model of changing the government? The government itself certainly do not hinder opponents of Ilham Aliyev. Suppose, that on September 12 during the systemic crisis and rampant manat fall, to the square in the city centre came not five thousand, but fifty thousand protesters. What could the authorities do against this growing in power snowball? Growing dissatisfaction would have sent the authorities into coma. Another paradox, but even a massive crowd of discontents come out into the streets with portraits of the president. Remember the riot in Quba or unrest after the devaluation?
People cannot imagine another president. Only Aliyev. And this despite the presence of a political alternative. Aliyev's image has merged with the power of the state. The concepts of the president and the state are identical. It is not the consequence of a deliberate indoctrination of the public consciousness. This is a clear awareness of the tragic end, of a fatal crash, a political apocalypse. Azerbaijani neo-conservatism is based on the philosophy of continuity, in this case, political continuity. There is a fear in the face of change. Revolutionary change. In favour of Aliyev's political determinism was the absolute failure of the theory of colour revolutions, a horrifying picture of the Ukrainian fire that destroyed the state and country and dispelled the 'childhood dream' about the momentary occurrence of prosperity. And the 'Georgian reaction' and opportunism on the national scale raised questions about the regularity of revolutionary changes. In today's world we can construct a continental democracy, when in the neighbourhood there are thriving countries with a democracy system. But if the countries nearby are the theocratic Iran, or Russia seized by a great power complex, not to mention Turkey, which once again announced a medieval witch hunt and jailed half of the country, isn't it naive to dream of an island of unlimited freedom? The people, who made the revolution, itself threw off the podium the president, who gave it the reforms. In our corner of the world the natural law of political evolution is disrupted. How else, if after Romanov feudalism and communal economy Marxist socialism was being implanted. The natural course of history itself was disrupted here.
All around are wars, wars, wars... But Ilham Aliyev was able to save his country from the great fire. He continues to save it, subtly playing on a same chessboard with the global centres confronting each other - Moscow and Washington, Tehran and Jerusalem, Ankara and Riyadh. Ilham Aliyev was able to do something that venerable Nazarbayev, wayward Karimov, a cohort of Armenian commanders coupled with Ter-Petrosyan, and even refined Baltic leaders, could not do. Ilham Aliyev created a self-sufficient independent state in the tense, unstable and volatile region. That is a unique achievement. None of the global hegemons can pick up the phone, call Ilham Aliyev and force him to take one political decision or another. Ilham Aliyev makes decisions himself, personally. That is why in the public mind there appeared an image of a strong sovereign, who submits to no one.
Aliyev is predictable. He is rational and flexible. He lacks the main shortcoming of a modern politician - rancour. He knows how to forgive and start all over again. Note that half the parliament consists of his former adversaries and former enemies of his father. Ilham Aliyev does not forgive only a personal betrayal. He is ready to start a new game with his desired opponent, but if you have turned into 'his man' and betrays, Ilham Aliyev's wrath is crushing. He is merciless in his anger.
For the first time after Heydar Aliyev Azerbaijan acquired a large scale politician. That is why it comes to the lack of an alternative: there is not a single politician of a scale proportionate to the present era. Ilham Aliyev brilliantly grasps the world politics, sometimes anticipating the development of certain tendencies and trends. And the fate of such insignificant countries on the political map of the world, as Azerbaijan, is defined by geopolitics. Please note that all strategic decisions of Ilham Aliyev concerning national interests in foreign policy have been neatly regulated and unmistakable. Aliyev was playing skilfully, flexibly, at times on the verge of a foul... But it only seemed on the verge of a foul. In fact, he was calculating everything to the smallest detail. Awareness of the president's fine game on the world chessboard comes later, after those or other significant events.
One often wonders, why the president delves into all the details of public policy? After all, there are problems that need to be out of his sight. Yes, Aliyev knows the most minor problems of his country. Not because the vertical of power is so built, and it is not even an autocracy bordering on voluntarism. In Azerbaijan, as well as throughout the region, threatening flames can be ignited by a single invisible spark. After the self-sufficient independence, stability is the second achievement of Ilham Aliyev. And this stability has not been conquered by the bayonet, but with the help of effective government system. Apparatus of his power works like clockwork.
Yes, economic and financial stability in the country has been disrupted. The crisis is raging. The country was unprepared for the sudden drop in commodity prices, and as a consequence deformation of the 'raw material power' concept. However, how could have Ilham Aliyev seen beforehand this global tectonic shift? If countries such as China, Russia, not to mention the European countries were taken by surprise by the second more devastating wave of the global crisis of 2008, how could Ilham Aliyev stop this wave in a small Azerbaijan? The president is saving the situation. As best as he can. Dozens of innovative decrees have created a new situation in the economy, a revolution from above. All the forces are thrown at rescuing the economy, which is in a fever for the second year. The country can no longer live by the rules of glossy oil resistant yesterday. Otherwise, the society will be plunged into the abyss of poverty, fear and uncertainty. There are calls to forget about oil. And this truth is voiced not by the opponents of Ilham Aliyev, but by himself, calling to restart the economy. And even in this difficult hour for the country, the society turns its hopes and aspirations not towards the opponents of Ilham Aliyev (there exists only idle talk), but towards the president himself.
If not him, then who? I think this affirmative question, as a ghost will haunt the president to the last hours of his rule. Only yesterday, in the days of public oil and gas jubilation it seemed that Azerbaijan has reached the climax of its prosperity. The global geo-economic catastrophe dispelled this illusion. The era of the other, non-oil economy has approached. And now, history requires Ilham Aliyev to start a new ascent. And this is a very heavy cross, which only he is destined and able to raise. That is why Ilham Aliyev is a politician of tomorrow. If not him, then who?