Azerbaijan International

Summer 1994 (2.2)
Pages 6-7, 56

Traditions in Transition
Since the Dissolution of the Soviet Union

Editorial by Betty Blair

Tradition: "An inherited or established way of thinking, feeling or doing - such as attitude, belief, custom, or institution." (Webster's Third New International Dictionary).

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, one political economic system has collapsed; the new one, replacing it, is not yet in place. Establishing new traditions to substitute for the old way of doing things is pivotal for the success of this transition.

The process of substituting a new economic-political system in the former Soviet Republics is the antithesis of a multi-conglomerate buying out a smaller company and moving in with all their own personnel, bureaucratic structures and patterned ways of doing things. No, the changes must be made from within by the exact same people who were managing the system before.

Photo: First grader in Russian language school in Baku studying Azerbaijani language. The primer is written in Cyrillic script which is still much more widely used than the modified-Latin script adopted as the official Azeri alphabet in late 1991. Photo: Oleg Litvin

And that's why the process is necessarily an evolutionary one. It cannot happen overnight because of what might be called "hangovers" from the past-established ways of thinking, feeling and doing that effect the attitudes, beliefs, and customs and institutions of a nation. The new ways must be internalized, not simply by a single individual but collectively by many.

In order to enter the international market economy, Azerbaijan needs a new infrastructure. Obviously, many of the old bureaucratic structures are still in place. The same people manage them in the same old ways. Many practices are outdated and don't meet the standards that will enable the Azerbaijanis to compete in the world's arena.

As well, seventy years living and working in a system that assured everyone of a salary whether they produced or not is a difficult tradition to break. But an even more Herculean task, is instilling individuals with the belief that they can initiate change. As power used to be concentrated at the top of the hierarchy, most workers were, and still are, used to feeling powerless. They lack the confidence that they can make a difference as individuals in the larger scheme of things. They are prone to shrug off responsibilities, saying that their bosses are the ones that should handle such decisions. Many have not been trained to solve problems in an administrative sense. The concepts of self-determination and self-entrepreneurship have not yet penetrated the nation's psyche.

By Paul Conrad © 1993 Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Reprinted with permission.

Many laws are needed to protect individual efforts and guarantee rights of private ownership, supportive banking services, insurance, tax and customs standards and regulations. Simply put, for a country to successfully enter the market economy, it needs the infrastructure to do so; it has to be "businessable", so to speak. A market economy doesn't just happen if these supporting structures are not in place.

And all of these changes, these new traditions, take money to set in place. Money to train people. Money for equipment. Money to develop new approaches. Right now, money is the greatest hindrance to Azerbaijan's entering the market economy. Each of the 15 Republics is experiencing incredible difficulties, but Azerbaijan's problems are compounded by the additional burden of financing a six-year old war and of finding provisions (shelter, food, medical supplies) for its 1.1 million citizens who have been pushed out from their homes by Armenian aggression.

Fortunately, Azerbaijan is blessed with incredible natural resources that may, if wisely administered, enable the country to accelerate the processes of entering a market economy and ensuring the sovereignty of their own country. The potential of the country, in terms of oil and gas deposits alone, has been compared with some of the most productive oil-generating countries in the world, such as Kuwait or the North Seas. It's critical that the final details be worked out and the oil contract with Consortium companies be signed quickly - for the very survival of the nation. Azerbaijan has a good contract in hand that should serve them well. Now they need to take the initiative, to assert their own authority, and move to secure a deal which is beneficial for their own development. But quickly.

At the same time, Azerbaijan does not exist in a vacuum by itself. The changes that have occurred in the Soviet Union directly effect each one of us - even those who haven't the slightest clue about what's going on in that part of the world. The West is in a position to assist in this painful and precarious, unsure transition, the outcome of which is not assured or guaranteed.

In January when President Clinton went to Moscow, he affirmed the need for helping the Russians. "It is in our interest," he said at a town meeting, "to be able to spend less on defense and to invest more in our own people, in the education and health and welfare and technology that will help to carry us into a better time in the 21st century. It is in our interest to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction and to cooperate with you in reducing threats to peace all around the world. It is in our interest to develop new trade ties and new customers. And each of these developments is more likely if we have a genuine equal partnership with a strong and free Russia."

The same speech needs to be made not only to Azerbaijanis in Baku but to the US Congress and to the American people as well. Presently, the United States' denial of aid - even humanitarian and medical aid to refugees (via the exclusion of Azerbaijan from the US "Freedom Support Act" since 1992) is not a neutral, even-handed, just decision. And it works to the detriment of Azerbaijan, to the detriment of long-range interests of the region, the US and the world (See Bill Frelick, US committee on Refugees recommends Lifting of Ban).

Azerbaijan's President, Heydar Aliyev (see Interview) alluded to the dark threatening clouds gathering above Azerbaijan from the North. He cautiously warned, "With the dissolution of the old Soviet System and the end of Cold War and weapons base, the tensions between the East and West have eased considerably. These changes have brought about the birth of several new-born nations. Although many old problems and conflicts have disappeared with these changes, there are now potentially dangerous new problems which are not of less significance than the old problems, especially in terms of the impact they can make on civilization and world peace."

Azerbaijan, along with the rest of the world, needs to take an active, far-sighted, approach to ensuring that the threats of Russian colonialism, presently manifested in the pressure Russia is trying to bring (and in many cases is succeeding in doing so) upon the former Republics to place her troops back in all of these regions. We must all be concerned about being thrust back into an era even more threatening than decades of Cold War from which we have just emerged.

Azerbaijanis have a tradition of peppering their speech with many proverbs. Despite their vast treasury of expressions from which to choose, however, there seem to be very few that deal with the concepts of time, speed, or seizing opportunities that present themselves today but that may not exist tomorrow if delayed. Perhaps that's part of the problem. Such traditions don't seem to exist. The Soviet system shielded Azerbaijanis from 70 years of world competitiveness. Suddenly this new embryonic nation is being forced to emerge from an economy patterned on earlier years of this century when transportation, telecommunications and information exchange barely existed on an international level. There's a lot of catching up to do. Time is of the essence - for the survival of Azerbaijan and for the survival of our world, too.

From Azerbaijan International (2.2) Summer 1994.
© Azerbaijan International 1994. All rights reserved.

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