Freedom Talks. Ideas and Ideologies

Eurasia Partnership Foundation together with Friedrich Naumann Foundation is starting new video series.

Within the framework of ‘Freedom Talks’ we are going to discuss different topics connected to freedom, its  ideological differences and the impact on freedom in its various manifestations.

In the first issue of ‘Freedom Talks’ Isabella Sargsyan and Gevorg Ter-Gabrielyan are discussing ideas and ideologies.

The transcript of the first series is available here.

Isabella Sargsyan (IS) Hello. We’re continuing our program “Line of Contact” and starting a new series, which we’re calling “Freedom Talks.” We will be having these talks on a range of very different issues and we’re partnering with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. We’re starting this series today and our first speaker is the director of the Eurasia Partnership Foundation, Gevorg Ter-Gabrielyan. Hello, Gevorg.

Gevorg Ter-Gabrielyan (GTG) – Hello.

IS – First off, let me say that the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, with which we are partnering, is actually a liberal institution and an advocate for ideas of freedom. I think that it would be a good idea to speak about ideas in general – the ones more to the right, more to the left, or more centrist. Do these things still exist in the twenty-first century, or has the picture changed?

GTG – Do you want my opinion?

IS –  Yes, of course I want your opinion.

GTG – Since I was a child, or perhaps when I was very young, whatever I saw of those right or left views—I don’t know, the Tories and Labor, for example—and other contradictions and discord, I realized that those are very abstract generalizations, and that they don’t exist in reality. And then I had a lot of difficulty for a long time because I don’t like looking at something stereotypically. That is, the right and the left as ideological concepts have long been a simulacrum to me. So what is a simulacrum in this case? It’s just an empty construct. That doesn’t mean that there is no content in it. There might be, I may not have put that content in yet. But recently, I watched the interview with Navalny and Ksenia Sobchak. So here’s Ksenia Sobchak trying to… She studied at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, so she ended up a Soviet and post-Soviet kind of political scientist, while Navalny studied at Yale and—although I don’t know how long he studied there – perhaps a year, perhaps more—he ended up gaining something from there of a higher level. Ksenia asks him “Are you a rightist or a leftist?” and tries to repeat this question a dozen times, she wants to get an answer. He says, “I’m neither a rightist, nor a leftist,” he evades a straight answer. Then he says, “I’m a centrist.” Ksenia says, “Putin’s a centrist.” So what’s the problem here? See, Navalny says, for example, “I’m against the corruption of the oligarchs” – this is a leftist stance. But… if you look at the logical side of things… what does one consider the left? The left is focused on justice, equal distribution, a stronger role for the state. The right prioritizes a greater role of the individual and sometimes that combines with conservatism, but they aren’t really one and the same, right? He says, “Look, I don’t want the oligarchs to be corrupt”—this is leftist—“But I also don’t want the people’s houses to be taken from them,” – which they want to tear down in Moscow, this is a rightist stance. That is, property is given to the individual and anything that belongs to me is sacred, the state has no right to interfere in it.

IS – Well, when I, for example, hear people say “I’m neither on the left, nor the right, I’m a provisional centrist” and so on, I consider that to be a manifestation of populism, because when you avoid some basic issues—not to mention the issues that build on those basic ones—when you avoid this, then this is, in my opinion at least, either the absence of a position, or a trick to try and get people to like you. For that reason, specifically in the case of Navalny, I don’t know either whether he is really like that. It’s a different matter entirely that, in a political system like Russia’s, or Armenia’s or in many, many other countries, it doesn’t matter for the most part whether people consider themselves on the provisional right or the provisional left, because it’s clear that corruption, or oligarchy or amassing wealth illegally and so on – these are all universal issues for the given state or people, irrespective of the political angle from which you view them. But coming to my first question and whether they (the right and the left) exist, I would like to present my point of view as well. In my opinion, those ideas nonetheless exist.

GTG – Is that an idea though? Is the right an idea?

IS – No. I… I believe that the words “right, left” and so on are relative in themselves. Because something that is considered leftist in the United States could be less towards the left in Europe or much more towards the right, couldn’t it? Or that which…

GTG – The issue is simply that… You didn’t get to complete what you were saying, but let me say something first, then you can continue what you were saying, expressing your opinion. The issue is that we could—and mankind is wasting a lot of time filling in those simulacrums—but it doesn’t result in anything that is the issue. Because we can talk about – actually you said it yourself, abstractions. What is it that is considered a rightist idea in America, when does this happen, who does it? And what is it that makes something a leftist idea in Europe – which part of Europe, who does this? It all becomes very murky. Let me give you another example – fascism in Germany. That was totalitarism, that is, it was extreme leftism. At the same time, it was racism, conservatism and so on, making it also extreme rightism. This is not possible…

IS – But here we understand that extreme rightism and extreme leftism—if we represent them on a conditional spectrum like this—always end up quite close to each other. It is another thing that, from my point of view, to say that none of this exists and that people make specific decisions in each specific situation – to me, that means the absence of something fundamental, the lack of a base. Should I explain why? One of my favorite colleagues, Michael Link, who was the ODIHR director and a brilliant representative of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, had been a member of the Bundestag for a long time and had once presented an interesting picture relevant to this particular conversation. We’re not talking about ideas now, the right or left… I mean, we’re not talking about that “pendulum”․ One person may refer to it as “freedom”, another as “equality” and yet another as “security”. So these are three very fundamental ideas. Naturally, nobody says that there is no element of freedom in equality, or… Let’s look at it simply from the point of view of generalization. So those people, from the political point of view, who place the idea of equality as the fundament, they are provisionally the left. The actual situation on the ground is a different matter. Those who consider freedoms to be the cornerstone of their policies, they are the more liberal ones. Those who focus on security – they’re the conservatives, of course. And there can be intermediate areas between these ideas, there can be alternatives. And, of course, he would present this from the point of view that, particularly in the case of Germany, this is why the Greens have a problem – they have taken a little bit of everything and have not carved out a position of their own. Now suppose I see myself more on one side, there is a large part from here, but one can’t deny the whole of the rest, naturally. But this isn’t your cornerstone, this isn’t where you have built your whole policy, or this isn’t your cornerstone, you wouldn’t say, “Okay, let’s consider the liberalization of the economy secondary, let’s provide equality to all first, and then we’ll get to that”. The whole issue is where you start, what you consider your main value to be and then what policies you build around it. It’s another issue that—coming back to the topic of Navalny or of Armenia—none of this is implemented unfortunately, nobody says, for example—and you hear a lot of people say—that education should be free, healthcare for everyone should be free. Fine, that comes from the equality side. But how will this be implemented? At whose expense? What policies will be implemented, how effective can it be? Because it’s clear – if you’re saying that education, healthcare and who knows what else must be free, then that means higher taxes. If there are higher taxes that means that you are putting pressure on entrepreneurship, business and so on. So what is it that you consider important for development, in a broad sense? I’ll say it again – Russia itself is a surprising and strange hybrid. On the one hand, security is the main value. And by the way, the concept of security is very broadly understood there – identity of the self, which is very powerful in Russia; I don’t know, the closed nature of religion, increasing that sense of security – that is where the policies originate; you start with the value of security. That is how I see it.

GTG – Yes, I see. But I would probe further here, because this is probably applicable when trying to explain the situation in Germany. You said yourself that it doesn’t work for Russia. Because there, even conservatism isn’t linked to security… security there is not rational. Even if you look at it irrationally, I would nevertheless look at development here as a separate case, development as a separate value. Development is a value that is not seen by people even if they do see the other three values, just like capitalism didn’t know it was capitalist until Marx came and said that this was so. So development is that main value that complements the others – none of them are worth anything if there is no development.

IS – But I would say that development is the objective. So irrespective of where you…

GTG – Well, it’s not there. And you can’t prioritize the value of security and consider development a value.

IS – You’re taking a critical look at it now. But I think that development is constantly the objective of mankind and society.

GTG – Well… no, see that’s the whole thing. I agree that this is the case, but it is never stated as such, or understood that way, which is why it is never realized, and this is the reason why some things don’t work out. And there is an issue here. The party, person, or character that puts one of these as a priority – he’s already lost. He can tactically… you understand… it’s a level of abstraction, when you decide how much one should pay for it (education), or how unpaid it should be – it’s a way to solve a tactical, political, social problem. When making that decision, I could be a person who likes freedoms very much, but I decide that it must be unpaid. That doesn’t mean that I betrayed that value. And Navalny’s discussion was Ksenia Sobchak was headed in that direction, by the way, and I was thinking, “Good job, Navalny,” because he was saying the things that I liked to hear, that there was no such thing as the left and the right. Ksenia Sobchak was saying, “How could there be no such thing? Zyuganov is on the left, for example.” And Navalny was saying, “How can he be leftist if religion is so important to him?” And Ksenia was finding it hard to make a case for it, until Navalny said, “You know what?” he said, “That left and right distinction works well in the west – in America, France, England.” And suddenly I strongly disagreed with him, because the fact that this left and the right thing doesn’t work has been most clearly demonstrated through western politics in the twenty-first century, with the Republicans taking populist steps, and the Democrats sometimes making very conservative decisions. You know the situation in England. The Tories and the Labor party have almost switched places in Britain, not to mention France where the socialists are in no way different from the conservatives – these distinctions have all vanished. So people can… if they can make a case for it, they can prioritize a particular value, but this in itself is wrong. One value is like having only one case for declension in a language, or having only one word, instead of having the whole vocabulary. But let’s say he’s decided that freedom is the priority, fine. If he decides to have a policy based on that, it is even more absurd because it would lead to a catastrophe. The policies would be implemented based on the needs for that given moment, and so on and so forth.

IS – For example, I always get angry when people deviate to take tactical or populist steps… I wouldn’t say deviate, I would say that they end up being inconsistent, because I understand that… Of course, you can say that education and healthcare should be free because it is an investment in the future, but I do that which…

GTG – There simply isn’t a point in saying anything in absolute terms. Because if you say, “It’s free, you won’t pay for it,” it means…

IS –  Somebody else is paying.

GTG – Someone else is paying or they’re forced to spend so much resource on making that happen that that resource is paying for it, but it is simply considered free, and you cannot just say it’s going to be only unpaid, or only free, and so on.

IS – That’s a different case.

GTG – Excuse me. Continuing your point, naturally they need to be consistent, but not fantastically consistent, so to speak, constantly driven towards a single value. In our case, I am completely in agreement with Navalny for example or with any approach that says “We will go towards development by using different means, based on different values”. But if we take Russia or Armenia today, we see that this does not happen. So why doesn’t it happen? They are right in mimicry, in adaptation because they don’t have a clear ideology. They say one thing, do something else and so on.  There is a secret political economy, an unofficial one, but they’re wrong because that secret political economy is also not consistent, just as you say – it’s not consistent.

IS – I… perhaps this is another variant of the conversation between Ksenia and Navalny. I think that, nevertheless, if you say, “I am everything”… I say this again, these are not absolute.

GTG – No, but that’s exactly why I like the Green Party, like the one in Germany for example, because I consider it foolishness to say, “I’m only this specific thing”. I think that’s foolishness and that’s already an inferior position. It’s a position of sacrifice that dates back to Marx and Engels, because Marx and Engels were the first ones to formulate this and Engels demonstrated… in Anti-Dühring that, when you speak about, for example, mild socialism, pretending to speak about socialism but you’re actually a representative of the liberal bourgeoisie, then you’re actually advocating the ideology of your class either by trying to fool the others, or without consciously understanding that you’re doing this.

IS – I agree that, in this sense, an idea is one thing and an ideology is another. An ideology is a hardened, tunnel-like thing that in general (at least for me) cannot be a good thing; whether it is a religious ideology, or that of a political party. When something becomes an ideology, when human beings do not live for other humans but for ideologies, that’s the end of it – it makes no difference which of these ideologies it is, or even any other. But it’s something else that ideas—fundamental ones—exist and that there are clashes between them.

GTG – This isn’t an idea. It’s a value.

IS – It’s a value. That needs to be defined as well.

GTG – What’s an idea? And as for an ideology, I would put it this way. There should be a meta-ideology. Ideologies, indeed, lead to the extreme end, to extremism and idiocy. But a meta-ideology…

IS – Let’s call it a meta-ideology or a value.

GTG – That is the understanding of how this combination of values will work.

IS – But let me say it again… Let me put it this way. Why am I looking at it from the position of freedoms? Personally, I see more breadth here, I see more possibility and I say this again, in contrast to this freedom, I don’t think that people are equal, I think that people should have equal opportunities. To realize in life…

GTG – That is what you mean when you say equality.

IS – I don’t know, I mean different people have different… I hope that during these Freedom Talks of ours we will have the opportunity to invite various people, including from the provisional left.

GTG – No, but you know what? People can promote stereotypes. That is the issue here – as soon as people start to express their… I believe that the Armenian words for ‘opinion’ and ‘stereotype’ share the same roots. As soon as someone starts to state a series of stereotypes in the form of their opinion, the conversation ends right there, you can throw away the rest. This is why the whole struggle for the past twenty years that has been based on political ideology can also be thrown away, that is why people don’t believe it and say, “We’re interested in individual politicians”. So, eventually, we should examine these questions so that no more time is wasted, so that nobody spends unnecessary resources or efforts on these things.

IS – I might be switching from topic to topic, but I think that for the most part, the Armenian political scene has—let me put it this way—ideas, values and ideologies. One or perhaps two of them are quite clear. One of them is the Armenian issue of Genocide Recognition in its broad sense, in which I also include… That is to say, that Armenian issue has elements of conservatism and equality, or perhaps an imagined or real combination of them, I don’t know, where freedom seems to have no real place, in my perception. And there is the other one, which we can call progressive, looking outwards to the world. For me personally, this freedom is the one looking outwards to the world. Both these ideas exist in Armenia. It’s also worth mentioning, in my opinion, that the Armenian issue is once again growing stronger today and, behind everything that is being discussed today – a nation-army, the law on religion, not adopting a law on domestic violence, and so on and so forth, all of that is a provisional part of the Armenian issue for me, it all originates from there.

GTG – I think you can expand that to the whole world – there are two approaches, or two worldviews. And I wouldn’t call these ideologies, nor would I call them a political stance. The first is the archaic, or something that takes one to the archaic, to the past; the other is the one that moves towards progress, development. And these two oppose each other. That is my first observation. The second observation is that, if we were to add another factor here besides development, I wouldn’t leave out the French fraternité (brotherhood). Why? Because it is often left out as a separate value, but for a community…

IS – It’s something like solidarity.

GTG – Yes, but how, in what sense? Not in the family sense. This is about when it’s not a relative of yours, not your brother, but you talk about brotherhood or sisterhood. What does that mean? That means a system of community relations, so you know that when your neighbor… or if you see your neighbor in the street, and you say hello, and they say hello to you. They ask you for help of some kind, and you help them if you can, or you start to ask yourself, “How can I be useful to them, if I can’t help them myself?” And you don’t turn away from them. Or if someone says hello to you, you don’t take out a gun and shoot them. This is a very important, and once again ideological, thing. Why am I saying this? Because we’ve lost it, the Soviet Union led to its complete destruction, and now it exists in a distorted way as a clan-based system. This is when communities interact without… when people within a particular community are on good terms with each other…

IS – That’s one of the foundations of society, based on which…       

GTG – Yes, which is both a value and an ideology, and is no less important than paid or free education. So how do you develop that? That is more or less absent in our society.

IS – No, but the second point that I also consider important is this – we can definitely say that it is transient and keeps changing, but it is the role of the state and the existence of trust towards the state. The ability for the state to shoulder responsibility and solve problems. I wouldn’t call it a monopoly, but a mission – it’s a question of a balanced mission. So those people who are in the area of equality or security, they believe more in the state. Let me put it this way – the state is more important when it comes to making collective decisions in the economic field, in education, and in other areas. For those who look from the point of view of freedom, the individual and individual initiatives, and possibilities – skepticism towards the state is always greater, and that leads to certain decisions, at least theoretically. For example, should public spaces be privatized and given to individuals, or should they be state property? Or transport…

GTG – Here also, we’re looking at this in the liberal world, so to speak, as a problem that needs to be solved. Our issue, if we’re looking at it in the real world, in the context of our society or our continent, is that relationship of archaic versus progressive, and it’s different. Because here it’s not an issue of whether the state has a large role or a small role, which means that the individual should take care of himself. It isn’t about that – it’s about the place of the dignity of the individual, human rights, human values in society. Why is that ideology in Russia so frightening today? For a normal person, looking in from the outside, it is because it underestimates and sets back the value of the person, the individual, the human being, not because specific political issues are tackled one way or another. But because the state as an inhuman mechanism—although it is full of humans—seems to be considered a greater value than human life and dignity.

So here is what is going on. When things are this way then the state truly becomes inhuman, because the humans inside it see themselves as parts in its machinery, not as humans, not as people who want to do what is good for their own freedom. They have managed to get stuck in that hierarchic mechanism and they have ceased to be humans in that cage – this is the first thing. Secondly, another small observation, this time about Oliver Stone’s film on Putin. It was a fascinating film and I was particularly interested in how the translation was done. I kept comparing it and, naturally, there were many differences between the English text and what Putin was saying in Russian. But there was also a very interesting moment there. The word “state” was translated into English on every occasion as “country” and this sounds a lot more innocent. And, in the same way… (because he keeps saying “state” everywhere, doesn’t he?) he refers to the authorities and they translate it as “government”, he mentions power (vlast’) and they translate it as “governance”, which is a technical version of it. So this is the psychological difference that describes the liberal world today, and this is what they (the liberal world) can’t figure out – what is that hybrid or post-truth reality, and so on? How should you treat it? Should you reinterpret facts and say that something that was false, or that this was how things had truly been? No, there is a profound psychological difference here, and that is a philosophical difference in the end that is very important. It isn’t a tactical decision like free or paid education.

IS – Yes, yes of course. You’re saying exactly what I’ve been trying to put into words, that (free, paid, private, public and so on) all this originates in—this is what I believe—originates in values. Perhaps I have a very naïve view of things, but I think that everyone strives—to put it simply—to live well.

GTG – No. If it’s a liberal, equal, horizontal scenario then everything is normal and, yes, people have those values, and so on. But if you’re dealing with…

IS – If it’s a distorted reality, then there’s more to it. I just thought that perhaps the opposite process is going on in the liberal world. That is – a retreat on the part of ideas and ideologies. Giving up on the concept of—as you put it—depending on a single person. But, in my perception—I can’t prove that this is so—when, in this part of the world, the Soviet Union collapsed and that particular ideology ended, some new things were born. They didn’t grow much, but now one sees the opposite tendency – there is an attempt to arrange and classify things. In Armenia, for example, there is a small but existing class of the new left who are trying to reword their ideas, the same things Marx said, whether good or bad. Or there are also, at least I hope there are, new liberals as well – people who are trying to reformulate economic policies, human freedoms and other things in a new way. A good example of this is Kakha Bendukidze in Georgia who came and tried to undertake those reforms—whether tactical or strategic—based on his credo to liberalize the market, reduce taxes and adopt other things from other countries as well, which will happen. This will also inevitably happen in Russia at some point, but because they are a very archaic country…

GTG – No, the issue of human value is very strongly considered there. If you look at it from the beginning… And it is linked to that value of “brotherhood”. If you look at it from the beginning and don’t place it there, or you destroy it later or establish a false version of it as a labor force, like considering people to be cannon fodder… like the Russian historic quotation “Babiy eschyo narozhayut” (Бабы еще нарожают – Womenfolks will give birth to more cannonmeat) which emphasizes that humans have no value in themselves. This approach will thwart any attempt to create a normal society. It is a radical value.

IS – And it is archaic… this is archaism.

GTG – It’s archaic.

IS – This is typical archaism.

GTG – It is very closely related to archaism – yes, yes, yes. Now coming to Marx and socialism. The fact that the whole collective experience of Marxism was cast aside, every developed approach, this is also an example illustrating the stupidity of human society and those that rule over it. In one day. Just like everybody seemed to suddenly become religious in one day, the same way they cast aside Marxism in one day. It’s another thing that it… And now they want to cast aside post-modernism, they say that it wasn’t written properly and so on.

IS – Now they’re saying that for post-modernism.

GTG – They have created certain resources and this is the continuation of Marxism to finally better understand and explain the world. And that “post-truth” can be deconstructed using post-modernism and so on. So everything… in general, nothing should be cast aside. One needs to… even Nzhdeh shouldn’t be cast aside. One needs to take a look and see what it contains that can match today’s reality. And if there is nothing in it that matches today’s situation, then that should be clearly distinguished. Sociology as a science has a very interesting habit, just like many other sciences, that really… that really develop, and this is largely taking place in the western world. It takes a word and begins to explain that word, to give that word some form, and it becomes a value. And suddenly, I find myself seeing a new concept – affordance. I know what “afford” means – having the ability to allow oneself something. But what’s “affordance”? It turns out, it’s a sociological concept that describes the world in a completely different way or is one of the components in describing the world in a completely different way. It says that mankind… “affordance” is its property–anything’s property—to carry out a function for mankind. So, an object has a feature – let’s say it’s triangular, and it has, let’s say, mankind’s attitude toward it. For example, I might like that object, or I might not. But the object has “affordance” – the ability to be needed by people, perhaps that is how to say it… Why are chairs built in such a way as to suit our bottoms? How else can a chair be used? I can use this glass to drink water or to illustrate an example, and so on. That is what is called “affordance”. So why am I giving this example in this context? Because of all those hardened ideologies—the lefts, the rights—if we try to put that complex of values into a non-existent mold, we should step aside and look at the world in this way – that the world has been created for mankind, because mankind created the chair by using the first flat stone that had “affordance” such that people could sit on it. And that is how the world is formed – with humans as a component of it. This is what should guide our decisions, and our education – not whether it is paid or free, but what it is that we are teaching and where that should take us, what is the overall aim?

IS – That leads to a whole series of new topics. We don’t have a lot of time, unfortunately, but I would put it another way, perhaps you won’t agree. “Affordance” is what we are striving for. We are striving to make the world comfortable for ourselves.

GTG – Not only that, but also for development.

IS – For development, yes.

GTG – So we are changing the world together in this harmonious way.

IS – Yes. In my view, the whole issue that stems from all this is – what is the most optimal way to do this?

GTG – You can’t decide that abstractly.

IS – I think…

GTG – It’s belief. If you decide abstractly, if you say ‘Freedom is my principal value’ then that is your belief. It is a similarly non-mechanisable case as religion.

IS – I think that… I think that, nevertheless, I’m not saying it’s absolute, but there is a difference in opinion, that belief… Of course, there is a certain amount of belief, I may believe in one thing, and that this particular path… and not just belief, but I may have empirical evidence or the experience of other countries that this is how things generally work out, that says that the path to achieving that “affordance” or progress or a good life is this particular one. Someone else might say it’s this one, a third person might point out another one. And finally, when political parties propose something to the people, they say ‘Vote for us because we’ll do this, this and this, so that eventually you can achieve ‘affordance’’. There is naturally an element of belief and you have to believe the people who are proposing these things in order to vote for them. If you don’t believe them, the whole system doesn’t work. That’s my opinion at least… And I think that we should use this opportunity in our series, by inviting various people and discussing… discussing different things, to see what are paths are seen by our colleagues living in Armenia, do they see this in the sphere of ideas, in the sphere of actions, or tactics, and I’m sure that we will have interesting conversations in the future as well.

GTG – I understand that you want to end this episode, but there’s one more thing I want to say.

IS – I don’t really have a choice.

GTG – On this issue of belief, or personal values. First…

IS – “Trust” actually. Believing or having trust.

GTG – Trust: All right, all that. So, here (in this scenario of freedom, security and all that), we add a paradigm of values like a system of declension. And all of that must be in certain measure… each situation is actualized in a different way – it’s not like there’s only one way to do it.

IS – Of course.

GTG – The other thing is this. If I’m a good man, I’m a businessman (this is just an example) – I’m very kind, I don’t want to cause anyone any harm. But if an employee of mine is spending money at work without bringing in any money, and if I keep him on for a long time, and there are many such employees and I didn’t fire them, then my business would fail. So, despite the values that I hold, there are certain situations—and I may bite my tongue and make concessions like giving him some money to make things easier for him the first few months—but I will do what I have to do to achieve success.

IS –  No, but that’s a value too. Moreover, I think there are stereotypes about the existing rights and lefts. That the lefts are good people, kind people who want good things…

GTG – No, but that the people on the left want socialism or communism or bolshevism… these are the stereotypes existing on the right.

IS – That’s what I’m trying to say. Or that the rights are bad people and are capitalists. But if we look at people who are philanthropists and who donate to charitable foundations, then it is very likely—although I have no statistics to back this—that the rights are no fewer in number than the lefts. These are all arguable notions.

GTG – They say, if you haven’t done a good job calculating, we can always say that it’s fifty-fifty. So there are stereotypes that the leftists are the good guys, and there are sterotypes that the rightists are the good guys.

IS – Maybe we’ll have other opportunities to continue this conversation. I think that these are interesting and important conversations that unfortunately aren’t heard often in Armenia. We deal with situational issues too often, and our reality pushes us in this direction. Of course, it’s understandable, if you have a war, if you have a specific issue, if you have a thousand and one problems, you have to make these situational decisions. But what does that lead to in the long run, how to do you get to your “affordance”, what steps lead to it – I think we’re neglecting all of this. And that includes—I should cut things short, but nevertheless—take a look at Armenia’s budget, we’ve seen the interactive budget. That shows how around eighty percent of your budget goes to security and some kind of provisional equality. So your social costs are massive, and they are borne by the workers and the taxpayers (social expenses, pensions, state allowances and so on) as is security, i.e. the army and security services. And the smaller your investment into progress – your education budget is two percent, your healthcare is considered a part of the social expenses, but culture and so on constitute such small amounts. In the end, as far as ideology is concerned, if you look at it—and not necessarily only from this position—the picture is that you are an archaic state and you are simply holding on to your borders—you can’t do anything else (39:46 – no, that’s how it is, that’s how it is)—and to the elderly, the unemployed and so on. There is no investment into the future, no vision and no progress.

GTG – But there is something… You’re right in everything you’ve said, but there is a different level here to the stereotypical approach. That level is that a state is a normal thing, a state is a state, and that Armenia is one of those normal states. That the budget demonstrates the things that money is being spent on, that the budget allocation leds to that effect, that it reveals the real values.

IS – No, that would be a generalization. But it does provide a certain picture, irrespective of everything.

GTG – No, I agree, but I want to say that there are more profound issues here. Is the state a state? Is the budget a budget? Is there really a need for a budget? Which are the values upon which all this is based? Here, for example, I see nothing that is planned for the value of “brotherhood” because it hasn’t even crossed anyone’s mind, because they think that a military education and a patriotic education can replace it – we’re all Armenians, the Armenian gene, and so on and so forth. So it really needs to be discussed in depth. And why isn’t it being discussed? Not as much for the reason that we consider ourselves a small nation. And we have a “rags to riches” mentality, short-term thinking, so people aren’t making an effort to sit down and discuss issues, to ponder. And this is a question of culture, it is a question of (going) deep into philosophy and science, and you don’t need money to do that.

IS – Because we’ve been constantly told that now isn’t the time. Now, for example, the elections are coming up, and the important thing is regime change.

GTG – Well nobody says… If you have a twelve-year-old child, a boy, if you’re well settled into this country, if you’re a pleasant person, you have a business that’s not doing badly, and you take your wife and son and move to Los Angeles, you have a lot of free time both here and there, but even then you won’t bother with these issues, you won’t think about the left and the right. This is very, very important – based on what you like, whether it is to go to the Armenian Church on March 1, or on Independence Day, to participate in a community event… to play backgammon and so on. Nobody forces you to do any of this – you have to problem with money, you can read, think, find the right person to talk to, press forward a question; all of this comes from a personal decision. From this point of view, I’m a liberal in this sense, because it is up to people’s will to decide what will happen. No state in the world—especially one as weak as ours—can force things to be that way. People decide whether or not to accept election bribes. And so on.

IS – No, it’s just that… I agree and, to add to it, no matter how much we say that none of this matters, I think it matters and one can see this in very small issues. Public spaces, or example, parks that are private – what condition are they in? The ones that are municipal – what condition are they in? Garbage collection, I don’t know, all kinds of issues that are big… big topics of discussion. Because I, personally, am from here and, for the most part, I believe that people, especially those in a state of this kind, are much more capable if one does not hinder them—I’m not saying that they should be helped, I’m saying that they shouldn’t be hindered—then they can set everything up with their own effort and the country would develop. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be a system of governance, there should be one. But not a bloated administration, not something that has immense costs – I pay for all that, in the end. And these images in my mind also stem from a viewpoint of some kind.

Thank you, Gevorg, for the interesting discussion. I think our viewers found it interesting. This was the first episode, the prelude; we wil host different people in this studio, and I think that we will close a little the gap that exists in Armenia, in my opinion, when it comes to conversations like this. Watch the “Freedom Talks” series of “Line of Contact”. See you next time.

Transliteration – Tatevik Ghahramanyan

Translation – Nazareth Seferian

Date of transliteration – June 27, 2017

Date of translation- July 18, 2017


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