Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How to persuade people, or at least keep them quiet




Perhaps I am overly cynical, but I perceive the fevered pace of public works in Azerbaijan in the context of the coming election. People can look at the new lamps going up on the boulevard by the sea in Baku and think – “Oh, there’s my government at work.” They can be happy with the shiny new ride installed for the kids downtown. A small army of street sweepers is employed to scour the public areas around the center of the city throughout the day. It would be interesting to count how many are employed every day during this pre-election period, and compare it with the post-election employment. Hmm. That’s a possibility.

Today I took a long taxi ride – and hence had a long conversation with a taxi driver. The conversation spanned the gamut from geopolitical questions to local politics. His take on the elections was predictable – nothing will change. But his read on the current political climate was even darker than most people I talk to. His conclusion: If you criticize the government aloud, you put yourself and your family in danger. The man wasn’t talking about writing a letter to the editor or something. (That option doesn’t really exist here.) Even making open criticism at the market, for example, could be dangerous. People get killed for it. Just disappear.

The driver said he wouldn’t have expressed this opinion to other Azerbaijanis, but I’m an American, so he felt safe talking about the situation.

Whether or not his dark view is justified, I think he was being sincere in expressing his fears. In itself, this is disturbing. Repression works through fear. Actually going to the trouble of physically repressing all dissenters is quite labor intensive. But all you need to do is inspire enough fear, and the dissent will be manageable.

4 comments:

JTapp said...

Ask the folks in the rural areas what happens to their natural gas levels about a week before the election. The day after the election it's back to normal.

I was there during Ilham's first election, which was pretty heavily criticized for its shadiness. I was told quite a few stories from Azeri friends I knew working the polls.

My favorite part was probably hearing one of the top EC or OSCE observers heavily criticize the government on an Azeri news/talk show that evening. To see the show host turn a bright shade of red as the observer's angry criticism was translated to him.

Alas, democracy is a process.

Ani said...

A guide to what to expect, since Armenia and Azerbaijan are looking-glass twins in these matters:

http://www.pf-armenia.org/

Armenia's 2008 Presidential Election: Select Issues and Analysis (downloadable full report)

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