Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Azerbaijan: Free and Fair Elections?

Guest post today from Jazz, who was an observer at the Azeri elections this summer.

In between preparing my cat for his performance at the Wiltshire cat show and rearranging my CD collection autobiographically (High Fidelity, anyone?) I went to Georgia and Azerbaijan for a couple of weeks. You've never lived if you haven't been to Georgia. If, however, you've been to Azerbaijan and escaped, I will be holding therapy sessions next week during the lunch hour.

When I arrived in Tbilisi from Baku, the Azeri consular took my passport. "We'll hang on to this", he said. "How much does it cost to get it back?" I asked."It depends...maybe twenty, maybe a hundred dollars."

They kept my passport for 4 days. It cost me $135.

Feeling cheated that I'd not at least obtained some free chocolates out of the deal, I headed back to Baku to observe the national elections there. National elections are kind of like great Shakespeare plays: they're either reflections of real life or simply nothing but theatre. If this is the case, Azerbaijan makes a wonderful stage.

I started my day at half 3 in the morning and ended past midnight. Who knew observing polling stations could be so exhausting! I turned to my Azeri interpreter and asked what he thought."Well...the turnout will likely be above 95% in favour of the ruling party, but without you here maybe it would have been closer to 100%." Free and fair elections! I asked him if a cat could ever be considered fit for presidency (mine is rather clever) but he just shrugged.

Azerbaijan had some wonderful people, and I was privileged to go, passport being revoked or not. But the thing that set me straight wasn't the corruption or the hundreds of miles of nothing but oil fields. It was the willingness of so many people to give up. After so many years of illiberalism, after so many years of territorial warfare (with Armenia), even after giving up so much of their economy to the West, there were Azeris I spoke with everywhere resigned to their fate.

For some of you, this will give you cause to be thankful of where you live. Others may feel empathetic toward the Azeris. However you feel, let it be a lesson to us. "Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force, never yield to the apparent overwhelming might of the enemy"- Winston Churchill

Jazz is a community worker in Yeovil. This article was dropped from Yeovil College newsletter for being too long, but I liked it and thought it deserved an audience.

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