Book review by Nani Macharashvili

Nani Macharashvili
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კორნელი კაკაჩია, ნანი მაჭარაშვილი, სალომე ასათიანი, მალხაზ სალდაძე

The collection of works published by the Heinrich Boell Foundation under the name South Caucasus at a Crossroad: Right to Expanse and City brings together a broad spectrum of authors studying the post-Soviet experience of, and prospects for, the three South Caucasus countries. The authors include politicians, scientists, analysts, acting journalists and activists, who are either from or studying one of the three countries of the South Caucasus. Therefore, this publication is an invaluable source for readers interested in the real state of affairs in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and is going to remain such in the future, as it helps to view the situation from the angle to these countries and from international positions.

In the introduction of the publication, its editors emphasize that it provides an opportunity for readers to familiarize themselves with "the political environment in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia without clichés widespread about the countries". This is evident in every essay of the book through clear, unambiguous and often critical assessments made by the authors, which provides the best opportunity for the perception of the political, social and cultural reality in all three countries. The style of the authors is emotional and helps readers to emotionally perceive the assessments made in the book about the modern day and the future.

The content of the book is diverse, covering almost all dimensions of the post-Soviet transformation enabling a full assessment of the post-Soviet reality in all three South Caucasus countries. Although the editorial board of the publication refused to focus on ethnic policy and security, it proved to be impossible to completely avoid these two factors when reflecting on the reality in the South Caucasus countries. Most authors emphasized the importance of such factors as security and stability for the South Caucasus countries. At the same time, almost all authors admit that these factors are of decisive importance for the international community (the EU, United States, NATO, and so forth) in shaping their policies regarding the South Caucasus countries. Significantly, several of the authors present security and stability as categories of values that play a negative rather than positive role, hindering democratic transformation of the South Caucasus countries.

Overall, the collection of articles can be regarded as a political manifesto oriented toward the international community. On the one hand, it blames the EU for allegedly insufficient attention and assistance to the South Caucasus countries and on the other hand, the United States are criticized for attaching minor importance to democratic values compared to stability, security, oil export and relations with Russia. Together with Jana Kobzova and Lincoln Mitchell, local authors offer their recommendations to the international community and demand that adequate systems and resources of aid are ensured, the diversity of the South Caucasus is taken into account and the system unified modelling is renounced. Although some authors share the opinion that the potential of the international community to influence the development of democracy in the South Caucasus is quite scarce, they think that human rights concerns should not be ignored at the expense of the the introduction of stability and security and support for non-democratic regimes.

In her essay Uneasy tension between "security" and "democracy" approaches to the South Caucasus, Manana Kochladze emphasized that despite the high level of corruption in the Armenian energy sector, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Financial Corporation nevertheless supported several suspicious projects in this field. The results produced by such an approach from the West in the South Caucasus comes under particular focus in Rahman Badalov's essay Challenges of democracy in Azerbaijan, where the public deemed the double usurpation of power by the "Aliyev family clan" (in 2003 and 2013) to be treason on the part of the West.

In the collection of articles published by the Heinrich Boell Foundation in 2014, we often encounter similar contrapositions in assessments of the past decade in the South Caucasus countries (stability/security vs support for non-democratic regimes/protection of human rights) and reflection on the current reality on the basis of the trade-off principle: Urban development vs protection of property rights/reconstruction/protection of cultural heritage expressed in the formula of development without reconstruction in Sergey Rumyantsev's essay Elusive modernity Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet modernization; force vs right in Kenan Aliyev's Democracy in Azerbaijan: A sombre picture; imitation of modernisation vs genuine modernisation in Gayane Shagoyan's From ideologies to technologies. An anthropological overview of elections as an indicator of modernization and counter-modernization of Armenian society; socio-cultural vs material-spatial town planning in Lado Vardosanidze's Prospects and struggles for Tbilisi's public spaces, where the author focuses on the trend of misappropriation of social/public space by the state; civil society vs civil society organizations in Davit Losaberidze's Local self-governance vs. street activism. Theoretical configuration and the Case of Georgia, in which the author focuses on organisations enjoying support from international organisations and "creating the entourage of civil society, but are unable to have a significant impact on public life in critical situations"; high quality of public services vs pubic involvement, where Davit Losaberidze concentrates on the lack of closeness with people of local self-government agencies.

The use of theoretical frameworks of the historic institutionalism is clearly outlined in the analyses of the post-Soviet transformation of the South Caucasus countries. Explaining the changes and/or stagnation in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia over the past decade, authors actively refer to the Soviet experience, noting that the failure to introduce liberal values is due to the Soviet legacy. The aforementioned is particularly noteworthy regarding such issues as the transformation of society. This becomes particularly obvious in essays by Charles Fairbanks, Gayane Shagoyan, and Tatul Hakobyan, who keenly refer to models of behavior and thinking that took shape in the Soviet period to explain public approaches towards minorities. The frameworks of historic institutionalism become visible in a number of other essays published in the book. In the essay by Salome Asatiani Georgian Society at a Crossroads of Values, Soviet nostalgia, relations between the state and church, "religiously coloured nationalism", ethnonationalism, manipulations with the West that conflict with Georgian national identity and traditions, and so forth are explained precisely by a similar framework.

Essays on environmental problems in all three countries add much value to the publication. Similarly, the level of society's involvement in the protection of public spaces has grown significantly over the past decade, which partially dispels scepticism regarding prospects for real civil society in the South Caucasus.

As regards changes that can be regarded as achievements of the past decade, Georgia's is singled out in the book due to the peaceful transfer of power in the 2012 parliamentary elections. Salome Asatiani thinks that the transfer opened a space for discussion and provided more opportunities for the discussion of values, which was not the case under President Mikheil Saakashvili. The same assessment is also visible in the essay by Ivliane Khaindrava Georgia's political trajectory before and after the 2012 election, which focuses on the de-personalization and humanization of power and the "de-nationalization" of non-traditional views. On the topic of democratic transformation and the introduction of liberal values in Armenia and Azerbaijan, authors emphasize the importance of social networks, because they have nothing tangible with which to oppose what Rahman Badalov calls "imitation of modernization".

We hope that the collection of essays South Caucasus at a Crossroad: Right to Expanse and City published by the Heinrich Boell Foundation in 2014 will be as successful as the book published in 2003 - Diaspora, Oil and Roses, which many authors have assessed as a serious attempt to understand and analyze the post-Soviet experience of the South Caucasus countries.