BY RAZMIG SHIRNIAN
When people walk or drive on roads with potholes, do not enjoy public or private toilets, electricity, and running cold or hot water in their houses, or do not have a government that provides basic services, such as health care, paved roads, education, and law and order, then it is less likely for citizens to show faith in government, have free and fair elections, or have any input in the political direction their country will take.
On the other hand, when people have access to basic utilities and enjoy comfortable living, it becomes easier for them to organize assemblies, express and publish their opinion, and get politically active. Poor and dysfunctional infrastructure has negative consequences on participation, skills, education, economic success and development. This assumption follows a simple public opinion that infrastructural rights are closely correlated with public capabilities and political rights. Stated differently, infrastructure is the basic element of political participation and development, as well as an element to advance human rights and freedom.
Both party leaders and policymakers in Armenia have not been able localize politics, or understand the politics of infrastructure, nor have they advanced an inward-looking strategy for development of the country. They yet have to realize that Armenian politics is not about diplomatic negotiations, it is not about power relations or presidential summits, and it is not about Diaspora organizations or individuals in their globalized role in an attempt to find the so called global vision for Armenian life. Apart from these international and diplomatic efforts, Armenian politics is all about roads, bathrooms, rest areas, livable wages, adequate houses, labor and production in the country. Politics, in other words, is about the infrastructural elements of development. People leave their country and emigrate not because of war in Artsakh, but primarily because of their deprived capabilities, because of underdeveloped conditions of the key infrastructural fundamentals.
Here, the term politics, and the interpretation of it, should have a local context. Ironically, the established tradition of political understanding and its interpretation suggest looking at the government as the primary owner of politics. In this outlook there seems to be a distorted image of politics confined within a hierarchical relationship in society. Instead, Armenian politics, I believe, becomes more significant and useful if we look at it from the public view. It is at the popular level that we see the horizontal and infrastructural relations with all-inclusive, moral-ethical, social, and cultural dimensions in which politics becomes meaningful. We look at infrastructure both as policy value and policy practice belonging to the people who ultimately can liberate themselves from constant emigration.
To meet the basic infrastructural needs of the people also suggests satisfaction of their basic socio-economic and political needs. Our national philosophy for survival and development should primarily focus on Armenia’s infrastructure. After all, the simple and the daily life of the ordinary citizens is also their politics. For them, parliamentary or presidential elections, coalitions and oppositions in the government, or diplomatic relations with other countries are distant realities and are detached from their daily living conditions and relations. Politics for the low income families is to heat their houses with wood or whatever they find because they have no heating system with natural gas. When we read news such as “40,000 people left Armenia in 2017,” or “residents of Buzhakan, a village in Armenia’s Kotayk Province, have been without natural gas since the country gained independence 26 years ago,” we cannot help but conclude that our leaders are ill-informed about politics and their ignorance about infrastructure brought us here.
Many observers and reporters point out that about seventy percent of the Armenian population is poor. About half of the population lives in apartments that are in deplorable condition and continue to deteriorate. Thus, the main political challenge is to build and develop sufficient energy insulation, improve condition of the gas, water and sewerage systems, hygienic conditions of bathrooms and kitchens, and access to drinking water.
The economic and political institutions in the country have yet to function inclusively and respond to the basic infrastructural needs of the people. That requires work with low-income families to build, renovate or improve homes that can be paid for by budgeted public policies or by affordable loans. Economic or microfinance institutions, as a development plan, can provide families with access to micro-loans to finance home repairs, improve their water, gas, and sanitation conditions. There is no reason for Armenians to be unemployed. This is what politics is all about which, in turn, builds self-resilience, improves social well-being, and more freedom in the area of political participation.
Some identify Armenians as a global nation. The identity of the global nation, however, does not correlate with the image of the state. What we, in fact, have today is an elitist government, or a globalized government very distant from grievances of ordinary people. A globalized government that is very distant from politics.
Razmig B. Shirinian is a Professor of Political Science at the College of the Canyons.