Monday, December 26, 2011

Pravda, and Neuroticism

Little more than two decades ago, there used to be a country called the Soviet Union, ruled by a Communist Party that had little tolerance for ideological deviance. The mouthpiece of that party was called ‘Pravda’, staffed by petty ministry-of-truth bureaucrats whose purpose it was to enforce the party’s monopoly on power and extol the virtues of Communism, if need be through denigrating slander, an art that was perfected during Stalin’s years. The Pravda mentality is, it seems, alive and well in Armenia, with two minor variations: the ideology to be defended is no longer Marxism-Leninism, but petty nationalism, and the mouthpiece is called ‘’.

In a particularly vicious and chauvinistic piece on that web-based news outlet, a certain Marina Ananikyan takes issue with those citizens who dare question their own republic’s defence policy, who want to celebrate Azerbaijani culture (‘non-existent’, according to the author) on Armenian soil, or those who have dared question the wisdom of the decision by the French parliament to criminalise denial of the Armenian Genocide. After viciously attacking and ridiculing Armenia’s NGO sector, the author concludes that: “People capable of treason should be called to account.

The mentality that allows one to classify the expression of an opinion, or the organization of days of culture, or the advocacy of human rights, or, in fact, the questioning of a foreign legislative act as ‘treason’ has always eluded me. And it is intimately linked to the completely skewed attitude towards statehood that pervades so many former Soviet societies. The state is there to be obeyed, to be served; as in Soviet times, and as in Leninist political parties, once policy has been established, it must be adhered to by all citizen-comrades. Any dissenting voice is immediately qualified as ‘treasonous’ and sent into the realm of dissidence. An echo of this attitude could also be heard in the confrontation between the governor of Syunik province and environmental activists protesting the expansion of copper mining, where after a few sinister threats, the activists (‘shrimps’) were basically called upon to shut up and serve their state.

I guess the choice here is between a jealous, neurotic state that demands obedience and crushes dissent wherever it sees it, or a self-confident, tolerant state that thrives on pluralism and debate, turning diversity of opinion into a strength. M. Ananikyan and have clearly chosen the neurotic variant; their readers deserve better.