BY ALEXANDER KARAVAYEV, RESEARCHER AT ECONOMICS INSTITUTE OF RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, EXCLUSIVELY FOR AZERI DAILY
I have been researching Azerbaijan since 2003, and I had to listen to two opinions on the Azerbaijani model of power.
The first: 'Look, we are like everyone else' - political dynasties exist in every country. There are truly many examples, and most of all has the leader of modern democracy, the United States: the Kennedy clan, the Bush dynasty, the Clinton dynasty, and so on. Are we, in Azerbaijan, worse?
Indeed, it is so. With certain reservations, that the scale of the Aliyev dynasty in fact coincides with the size of the country. I think very few people will object: Heydar Aliyev was the personality of the union scale, far beyond the limits of the republic (we should note that he could have taken the Soviet Union from the collapse crisis). And his return to the 'Procrustean bed' of Azerbaijan really reduced the space for political game of the opponents. In addition, political games were leading away from the problems of infrastructural reconstruction of the country...
The second thing that I happened to hear was a variant of self-flagellation. They say, don't strictly judge us, we've got here nepotism and a de facto monarchy. Therefore, as if summing up the entire post-Soviet experience, my interlocutors argued: we do not need all these formalities - parliament, political competition, independent courts. Our people need a leader, and enough spending time and money on elections. Conclusion to this is that 'monarchy is ideal for us (post-Soviet democracies) form of government...'
Both views partly indicate the truth, but are misleading, as all half-truths are.
To understand the phenomenon of the Azerbaijani government and in what ways it is close to its generic counterparts in other former Soviet countries, including Russia, we need to make a little historical digression.
Which system is better?
The modern state offers us, that is, closes on itself, five or six sources of social power. If they are determined by instruments: military, economic, cultural, ideological, political, administrative, business oligarchy (power of corporations). It is necessary to add the power of the subjects of the media-information and entertainment space. Such a scheme is broadly in line with the neoverbian model, in particular, we can find something similar in works by sociologist Michael Mann.
Moreover, regardless of which country we are talking about, in the global South, East, or if this country is in the transformation along the lines of the western model, it describes a similar scheme.
Now, let us remember what we had in the Soviet Union. All the above instruments and subjects of power were concentrated in the party, or rather a small group of party elite in Moscow and the capitals of the republics. We could talk about certain independent influence of the security services: leadership of the KGB and the Ministry of Defence.
Two or even three generations knew no other authority, except for this system of rational-ideological bureaucracy. That is, our fathers lived fully in this system. Our grandparents probably were making it: took part, or were affected by it, even if they were not its opponents. That is, our collective socio-cultural experience knew no other 'good' alternative. The alternative was at the level of history textbooks, impressions from short trips to the West by researchers, or in some protoparty programs at the level of 'for all the good, against all the bad,' with which started all the leaders of the national movements of the South Caucasus at the turn of the 1980s.
It is impossible to change the nature of power - that is, an idea of it - in just a few years. Generations are needed. Transit is delayed by more than a quarter century.
But the question arises: are we to live and remain in a sort of transit into the unknown?
In every country of the CIS, a 'collective owner' in the person of the Communist Party leadership was replaced by a highly competitive form of neofeudalism of several rival clans or coalitions of elites. The processes of deterioration of power in the period before the construction of new verticals of power (averaged for the entire territory of the former USSR it is the period from 1992 to 1995) intensified so much that this period is now remembered as the 'dark years.' This is no fault of propaganda. The collective social experience remembered it as such. Propaganda only exploits this memory.
This period could not end with anything else, but the criminal division, plunder of resources and new mass uprisings. Next comes the disintegration of state into hostile areas, different groups and zones of control by external forces, especially neighbours, who want to fish in troubled waters...
The catastrophe is possible, and its risks cannot be cancelled for any system: patrimonial power has its own set of limitations. But the fact is that no one has yet proved that it develops worse, especially in the start-up time, than a conventional electoral democracy. The collapse of the patrimonial countries, such as Libya or Tunisia, during the decline of the regime of personal power, does not prove anything, except efficiency of the scenarios of violent regime change. Now, after the fact, we cannot even be sure that the collapse of the Arab countries occurred at a stage of their imminent crisis, when the system has become obsolete. Normal power transit scenarios for Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt could have been quite enough.
And then how we have to evaluate the change of regime in elected democracies, in the same Kyrgyzstan, for example? When each election cycle there is a new president, a new course of foreign policy, another shuffle of the elite? Should we evaluate this as an example of development and adolescence crisis of young democracy?
The inevitability of a strong dynasty
Is there an alternative to the endless change of scenery within transit? Theoretically, yes. It is in the form of a system of informal elite agreements on mutual non-aggression.
But it does not work in practice without a responsible and independent from politics bureaucracy. The sad paradox of our time is that a democracy without a disciplined and even rigid bureaucratic system does not exist in nature.
The next question is: who will establish a system of disciplined bureaucracy, if there is no leader?
A priest comes to an atheist businessman in search of money for the temple. The businessman asks, 'Father, prove to me that the universe was created as a result of creation, and I will donate money.' 'You know, my son,' answers the priest, 'if you think that the universe was created by the Big Bang, then your Maybach was created at the car plant as a result of a similar action.'
Just like that, as a result of 'self-organisation of matter,' the bureaucracy is not gathering into a working system of government. Especially on the residues of the previous one. A plan is needed. A leader is needed. And a motivation system.
In addition, the leader really closes the power on himself. And on how smart and effective is his plan depends not so much stability as the country's development.
There are enough objective indicators to see that Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan - that is, those countries where a leader was 'found,' as well as a good combination of factors of power - control and freedom - are developing quite dynamically. Naturally, within the framework of the objective structures of predominantly raw materials models, whose boundaries are difficult to overcome. However, the ability of the economic system of Azerbaijan to overcome the crisis during Aliyev's presidency shows that he is able to lead the country away from the dominant of raw material. This is perhaps the central challenge of the decades ahead.
The main weakness of this model is that the leader needs support. When there are restrictions on institutions, and only a relative reliability of the power system, one needs a support of a close associate. For example, in Russia such a role was and is still played by Dmitry Medvedev, plus a number of persons from Putin's inner circle.
Kinship naturally replaces the need to find such a person from among the inner circle. Therefore, watching the intrigue of Kazakhstani personnel movements, it has always been evident that quite influential Dariga Nazarbayeva - daughter of the national leader - is removed from under the conflicts' blows. At the same time, we also know the opposite side of the matter: the more a family is branched, the more twists and turns, and contractions may occur under the carpet.
An example of the transfer of power from Yeltsin to Putin was somewhat similar to the transfer of power from Heydar Aliyev to Ilham Aliyev. The difference was that the will 'take care of our country' he left to the political heir, whom he may have seen as his son. It so happened that 'the role of the son' could have been partially fulfilled by the daughter - Tatyana Dyachenko, but only partially. The upcoming presidential elections in Russia, most likely, will be nothing more than a national referendum on the unconditional trust to Putin - this thesis in the last few days in one way or another has been voiced by all the public media. Putin has no one to rely upon, except on the scenario with a political heir.
In this sense, it was easier for Heydar Aliyev. But it was difficult to us, observers, in 2003 and even in 2004, to understand how will Ilham Aliyev cope.
In the flow of the post-Soviet transit, a dynasty is objectively a more winning factor than its absence. And it shall be a Dynasty with a capital letter, and not some temporary phenomenon, like, for example, Viktor Yanukovych, who in fact ruined the country and allowed it to slide towards civil war. Dynasty is an intelligent, strong-willed and creative force.
Let's speak frankly. Azerbaijan of today is primarily the brainchild of the Aliyev dynasty. Specifically, it is the fruit of the efforts of Heydar Aliyev and his son Ilham Aliyev, the incumbent president. The Aliyev family is not just a political clan, like for example, the Kennedy clan, which was one among the others in a giant country with trillion budgets; it is a major factor in the success and viability of a small country in the South Caucasus, which managed in the shortest period of history to become the regional leader.
In the person of the Aliyevs Azerbaijan received a considerable margin of safety. Ilham Aliyev's decision last summer to create the position of vice-president was to a certain extent inevitable. Informally, from outside the hierarchy of executive power, public opinion recognises Mehriban Aliyeva as the second person in the country. She has maximum informal powers at international level, reputation of the main representative of the culture and values of Azerbaijan. She knows all the problems of the development of the social and educational block. In domestic policy, she plays an important role in terms of 'softening the harshness' of Ilham Aliyev's government. This image role is important both domestically and in foreign policy. Therefore, this new post fills the void between the formal influence and the actual state of affairs.
Why does Azerbaijan need vice-presidents?
Position of the first vice-president is only the first in a series of subsequent decrees of President Ilham Aliyev. With the advent of VPs, there will be more opportunities for qualitative management of complex economic processes: problems of growth of non-primary sectors; blocking of monopolies and the interests of oligarchic groups; solution of individual interdepartmental tasks, such as the privatisation of the banking and transport sectors, privatisation of state-owned companies; development of new sectors at the junction of several departments (transport communications, petrochemical, services, agricultural clusters).
The VPs apparatus will be able to structure the activities of the government and control ministries in the following areas: industry, transport, agricultural-regional development, social and educational policy, and so on.
VP position gives the opportunity to do this over the government bureaucracy, at the same time not destroying the existing cadre balance of the government and not expanding the Cabinet by introducing into it new deputy prime ministers.
It is understood that the 'second level' of government entails certain risks of bureaucratisation. There may be a problem of selection of the personnel resources from the Presidential Administration. However, positive aspects may outweigh them.
Who does not risk, loses
What are the risks inherent in the decision with the VP? Will they be real or theoretical, time will tell. Perhaps there will be a problem of 'bifurcation of staff.' There is such a risk, considering that the cadre pool of the vice-president and the president may not coincide at some point. It's not that the government machine will work uncoordinated, but that when there are two official channels of access to decision-making, including personnel appointments, the elite will start blowing hot and cold. In this case, it happened to duumvirate Medvedev-Putin. It is understood that the Aliyevs duumvirate has different basic characteristics: consistency of their actions has been perfected by time and personal, much deeper relationship within the family, than just a relationship between the two politicians-friends. But with the advent of the formal institution of power - vice-president's apparatus - such technical and political risks cannot be ignored...
The problem of increasing citizens' demand for upgrade in this configuration of power will remain open to all future elections, where success seems to have been already secured on the side of the Aliyevs.
Each subsequent electoral campaign for the Azerbaijani duumvirate should become a referendum not in relation to the persons of the president and vice-president, but in relation to the political course offered by them. This would remove a significant portion of potential claims on the part of the educated class, who appreciates the freedom of choice.
But it is always easier said than done, because it is necessary to offer something really new, apart from the traditional ideological constructions of patriotism, social state and modernisation. One has to honestly acknowledge outstanding problems and name ways to solve them. And it should not look like a populist demagoguery.
People need to see that the dynasty offers something really multiple-value: something that brings not only votes, but also a real renewal of life. Previously, it was possible, so optimism about the future remains.
Azerbaijan is a strong state, but strength is not a static value, it appears at any given point in time, when the institutions of government are filled with real content, and powers are effectively implemented in the form of social benefits. Then, Azerbaijanis will assume that they are doing the right and informed choice, supporting the Aliyev dynasty.