The theme of the first debate in 2013, The European Union vs. the Eurasian Union: Armenia’s Choice, is highly topical in Armenia. A lot is being said and written on the topic but most of the time, not in discussion format, as the supporters of various viewpoints have their own separate platforms and hardly ever intersect. In this sense, it was a good topic for a public debate.
This time we held the debate at a later hour, 6 pm, as requested by the HBF. The new timing led to a situation that about the same number of people came as usual (31 participants this time) but they were a different bunch of people than the ones who come in the middle of the day. Specifically, the audience was overall younger; there were more students but fewer senior academics/analysts, and fewer journalists. There was media coverage, but slightly less than for previous round tables.
The choice of speakers was successful in the sense that they (1) were outspoken and ready to argue, which is very often not the case – it has happened at our debates that opponents avoided confronting each other and preferred circumventing the topic, (2) were argumentative and logical, did not use ad hominem arguments or politicize issues (3) expressed three rather than two viewpoints on the subject, which is an achievement given that most of the society is not aware of the third viewpoint. The first two are pro-integration with the EU and pro-integration with the Eurasian Union (also understood as pro-Western vs. pro-Russian orientation), the third is pro-complementarism, i.e. support for a pragmatic policy that will supposedly manage to combine integration with the EU and the Eurasian Union – an approach used by the Armenian MFA. Ambassador Navasardyan was invited specifically in order to represent this viewpoint: as a retired (and slightly disgruntled) diplomat, he is in the position to be outspoken about Armenian diplomacy. He did explain the approach, albeit in a simplistic way, as a mechanical combination of two mutually contradictory options, which didn’t sound very convincing or doable.
The debate was overall active and lively, and most of the time, stuck to the ground rules (no personal insults, no interruptions, cooperating with the moderator etc.).
Sergey Minasyan was an informed and engaged moderator but was too active himself, speaking for too long, so that a wide discussion only took place in the last quarter of an hour; before that, he was taking questions to speakers, or commenting himself. He probably got too involved in the subject matter. Since he is our staff member, we shall instruct him not to do this again.