Lots of nations in this neck of the Eastern European/Central Asian woods are celebrating 20 years of independence this month. (Kazakhstan’s big day is today.)
Policy wonks and analysts are having something of a field day trying to figure out what, exactly, the Former Soviet States have achieved over the last two decades, where they have yet to improve and what we’re all supposed to learn from this.
While of course the political and economic climate of say, Tajikistan, is vastly different than that of Azerbaijan, the answer seems always to veer to the same general (rather non-committal, but fair) two-part answer:
1) the FSU, taken as a whole, has come a remarkable, rather unbelievable, distance, given the violence and turmoil that sacked this region in the early 1990s; and
2) pretty much everyone’s got a long way to go before achieving legitimate democratic rule with all the attending accoutrements (respect for human rights; genuine elections; space for public debate, etc.).
This essay by Tom DeWaal gives us more or less that same two-part reading (his dichotomy of choice is “professionalism and stagnation”) regarding the nations of the South Caucasus: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. It’s worth a read.
Tiny Qatar is friends with everyone. What’s the deal? I write about it in the last issue of The New Republic, out the second week of November. (Apologies for taking my time posting — it’s been a wild month!).
Beauty Queen? Nope. Try Morals Queen in — where else? — Saudi Arabia.
And just south, the revolutionary ladies of Yemen were burning their makramas in protest. But, never fear, they brought an extra to wear, too.
Which made me wonder: When American feminists famously burned their bras outside the Miss America pageant in 1968, did they, like, actually take off their bras to burn them? Or did they pack an extra a la the ladies of Yemen?
Well, friends, I did some googling and found out that although the term “bra-burners” was born that day in Atlantic City, no bras were actually burned that day. This, according to a 2008 NPR story:
“We had intended to burn it, but the police department, since we were on the boardwalk, wouldn’t let us do the burning,” says Carol Hanisch, one of the organizers of the event. A New York Post story on the protest included a reference to bra burning as a way to link the movement to war protesters burning draft cards.
Women threw bras, mops, girdles, pots and pans, and Playboymagazines — items they called “instruments of female torture” — into a big garbage can.
“The media picked up on the bra part,” Hanisch says. “I often say that if they had called us ‘girdle burners,’ every woman in America would have run to join us.”
(Caption: As my gleeful Yemeni protester-friends on Facebook have put it: Two down, one to go!)
And, at risk of sounding like a complete ditz, it’s mind-blowing watching things like Qaddafi’s death and the Arab Spring in general—and, to a much lesser degree, the Occupy Wall Street protests—unfold online every day. These are such profound historical events; major game-changers, both politically and socially. In college and grad school, we studied revolutionary years like 1848 or 1969, and it’s strange to know that our generation’s children will be studying 2011 in much the same way.
…Only they said it a little more diplomatically.
During meetings in Tbilisi yesterday, U.S. diplomats said a whole lot of stuff stuff about the importance of allowing an “even playing field for the election,” etc.
When the press asked trickier questions later on—like whether or not Saakashvili should be allowed to become Prime Minister after his two terms as Prez are up—U.S. Deputy Sec. of State William Burns did a tidy little two-step: “Our focus in the long-term is on the playing field and not on the players.”
Ambassador to Georgia John Bass, Deputy Sec. of State William Burns, and Sec. of Georgia’s National Security Council Giga Bokeria are pictured above.
(Photo: Saakashvili’s press office)
Georgian police seized an armored van belonging to Cartu Bank today in what Georgian press is breathlessly calling a “money laundering sting.”
Three important facts:
1) Cartu Bank belongs to Bidzina Ivanishvili.
2) Ivanishvili’s son’s friend was also detained on charges of drug possession.
3) Ivanishvili recently became President Misha Saakashvili’s political arch-rival.
Now. I obviously know nothing about the government’s AML investigation, nor do I know anything about Ivanishvili’s son’s friend’s drug habits. All I’m saying is: Really? Can this all be a coincidence? In this part of the world? As much fun as I’m having watching this little drama unfold (Ivanishvili is still suing over the whole citizenship unpleasantness), I truly hope this is not politically motivated. I truly hope there’s a free and fair election next year. I hope Ivanishvili is either elected or not elected to Parliament by the people of Georgia, and that they either succeed in changing the Constitution so that Saakashvili can’t become PM later, or they don’t. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I just hope it happens democratically, and that Georgia hasn’t come this far for nothing. Come on, guys, let’s keep it together.
* aka Boris; same guy, nicknames.