Avetik Mejlumyan, Prague Civil Society Centre Fellow
The vast majority of Armenian citizens are alienated from the civic process.
Electoral institutions are highly discredited, with the legislative body, as well as the executive which is formed after elections, not accountable and not benefiting from public confidence. Moreover, their activities are not carried out in compliance with the principles of transparency and accountability and it is suspected that the government takes into consideration the interests of certain influential groups, rather than those of wider society.
One of the ways to overcome the problems described above is through an effective civil society. However in Armenia, official propaganda is actively working to compromise the activist sectors of civil society. For instance, the term “grant-eaters” (“грантоеды”), has been spread across the country to explain the dependency of NGOs on Western grants, and propagandist and pro-government bloggers have also introduced the widespread criticism of civil society as ‘western agents’.
As a result, activism has become a laughing stock, and is seen as a fruitless activity, solely the hysterical, and absurd pastime of idle people.
For objectivity, it should also be noted that civil society has its own internal problems. Mainly, groups have limited impact on public authorities and decision-makers, and apart from public discussions and statements, civil society actors have no real levers of influence on policy.
Nevertheless, unlike other members from the Eurasian Economic Union (particularly Russia) Armenia’s civil society still has a quite liberal field of activity.
The main hypothesis of my research, which I will explore during my Fellowship at the Prague Civil Society Centre, is that one of the reasons for the ineffective functioning of Armenian civil society (besides restrictions) is a lack of knowledge.
Armenian civil society does not think enough about how to influence policy. Moreover, responses to this idea are usually quite pessimistic and do not lead to a constructive debate. As such, I hope studying the experience of civil society in the Czech Republic and other European countries will help assist Armenian civil society actors, in terms of learning about new mechanisms of action, and how best to apply them to Armenia.