September 30, 2020

Democratisation, modernisation and globalisation - The EU and the hard tasks facing the three South Caucasus nations

by Dennis Sammut

Over the last decade Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have engaged selectively with the mutually re-enforcing processes of modernisation, democratisation and globalisation. However, the selectiveness has seriously hampered the process of transition, and undermines efforts to secure for the three countries a privileged relationship with the European Union. On its part the EU has upped its game in the region in recent years, partly because the regions proximity, following enlargement, makes it the natural next step for EU special engagement; partly due to its increasing economic and geostrategic importance; and partly in response to a desire in the region for a qualitative change to the basis of the relationship.

The president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliev, told a gathering of his Cabinet of Ministers on 15 January 2013 that he took issue with foreign leaders when they described his country as post-Soviet. Leaders in the South Caucasus are uncomfortable with the post -Soviet label -and for goo reason. The Soviet system in the South Caucasus was not only about one party rule and the command economy. In its seventy-year hold over the region, the system had made compromises with local circumstances in its quest to retain power. This meant that deep-rooted practices of patronage, corruption, clan loyality and organised crime that it inhereted from centuries past where often only superficially challenged, whilst in many instances they benefited from the material progress that Communism had brought, and consolidated themselves beneath the light veneer of Marxism-Leninism. The Soviet legacy in the Caucasus was, in that sense at least, more deeply entrenched and had longer -lasting negative effects.

The post -1991 challenge consequently did not just require political and economic reform but also, if not essentially, societal reform, requiring change in the way that society was organized, and in the people’s mind-set. All leaders who help power in the three countries after 1991 had to face this challenge. Three processes came into play almost simultaneously: modernisation, democratisation and globalisation.  In all three countries the political leadership have paid lip service to all three, but in reality they have embraced them only selectively. Progress on all three fronts has been patchy, and this has made the transition beyond the post-Soviet in the South Caucasus much slower than in the Baltic States, Central Europe or the Balkans.

SourceEuropean Policy Center



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