Surprisingly, it’s been quite the busy week in Azerbaijan, so this week’s post is quite varied in nature.
Politicians, like all other human beings, are eminently quotable by virtue of holding positions of power. In more democratic nations this quotability is nothing special, as democratic forms of government are more impersonal and as such, the weight of one person’s words do not speak for the entire country. (And mercifully so, as politicians are often prone to saying stupid things).
But I’ve noticed that the colorful rhetoric of government takes a more noteworthy and bizarre turn if the nation is question is more repressive and/or autocratic. Keeping with the notion that democratic nations are impersonal, this makes sense: in an autocratic regime there is typically one person (or a small group of people) with a disproportionately high percentage of the power. In the case of one person being associated with the total strength of the government, their words are naturally thought to carry more weight. Of course, if the same regime holds a tight control over the media, whether the rhetoric is real or not remains to be seen.
Take Kim Jong Un and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, for example. Kim is a dictator of a totalitarian regime that keeps a tight leash on all state affairs, including the media. The media also writes its own English-language press releases (presumably so us weak Americans can tremble in fear at the might of the DPRK) that use…interesting phrases to convey the state’s convictions. Last December, a statement from Pyongyang began with the following:
“The trend of the situation on the Korean Peninsula this year clearly shows that it is none other than the U.S. which is the arch criminal disturbing the efforts for creating a peaceful environment on the Korean Peninsula and bringing the danger of a new war and that it remains the unchangeable principal enemy of the DPRK.”
It’s a statement that sums up the DPRK’s position in one not-concise sentence: the United States is the cause of all evil, and is out to destroy the place of peace and prosperity. This narrative has been carefully woven into DPRK propaganda, and while it can’t be verified whether the Korean people accept it or not, it probably sounds compelling enough if you believe the state rhetoric. To most Americans, it’s a laughably-phrased and ultimately convoluted statement.
But because the state has such a strong and absolute presence in the affairs of such nations, it is unwise to discount the ripple effect of that influence. Hopefully you’ve drawn the parallel between the DPRK and Azerbaijan by now: their respective Freedom Press Index rankings are 179th and 160th out of 180 and boy, does it show. In a speech given by an Azerbaijani MP earlier this month, he made what the press heralded as an “interesting point” about Armenia:
“The French president once said Armenia is the younger sister of France. But I see that the president was imprecise. Because based on the way Armenia behaves and my familiarity with those in power there I can tell you Armenia is France’s immoral sister who doesn’t come home at nights.”
My roommate’s reaction summed it up nicely – an intense bout of laughter followed by a plea to understand: “What do they even MEAN???” It doesn’t mean much to us, but in a nation that more or less has openly admitted to hating their neighbor, it serves to further fan the flames of conflict.
In a different vein, another media source claims “US President Barack Obama holds an illogical policy towards partners and allies of the country, in particular in relation to Azerbaijan” due to a supposed “double standard” that has come to light given the US’s deliberations over arming Ukranian rebels. No similar deliberations have been held regarding the Azeri-owned but Armenian-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region.
According to a US (!?) diplomat, “Unfortunately, Barak [sp] Obama has never taken the time to understand others interests, opinions or values. . .Unlike his predecessors he has not developed a personal relationship with other world leaders or learned much of their history, customs, values or interests” in speaking of the US’s relationship to its ally. Ouch.
In other news, it’s corruption month in Baku, so enjoy some fun (read: vague) press releases on the matter by clicking the respective titles.