“Azerbaijan’s troubled efforts to portray itself as a progressive and Western-oriented country took a beating this week with the announcement by a pro-government political party that it will pay $12,700 to anyone who cuts off the ear of a 75-year-old novelist,” writes The Washington Post’s Will Englund:
The author is Akram Aylisli, and his crime is to have written a novella called “Stone Dreams” that is sympathetic to Armenians and recounts Azeri atrocities in the war between the two countries 20 years ago. …But on Monday the head of the Modern Musavat party, Hafiz Hajiyev, told the Turan Information Agency that the time has come for Aylisli to be punished for portraying Azerbaijanis as savages. “We have to cut off his ear,” Hajiyev said. “This decision is to be executed by members of the youth branch of the party.”
Watchdog groups, including Human Rights Watch and the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, denounced the threat. “I can’t believe he’s a man or human being,” Leyla Yunus (right), head of the Baku-based Institute of Peace and Democracy, said of Hajiyev. Even the Soviet era, Yunus said, didn’t feature “such horrible propaganda.”
Azerbaijan’s increasingly intolerant political culture was also on display in the northern Azerbaijani district of Xacmaz where police broke up a training session organized by the Centre for Monitoring Elections and Democracy.
“Without explanations police evicted the civil society activists from the Sahil hotel where they stayed and planned to conduct a training session to raise the skills of citizens in governance as part of a project funded by the European Union and the National Democratic Institute,” one report said.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s “personalist/sultanistic” regime has the benefit of significant oil revenues to increase public spending and to expand the patronage network, which limited the space for political opposition groups,” writes analyst Farid Guliyev.
“Increased spending on coercive structures as well as an increased use of repression against political activists helped keep societal opposition weak,” he notes. “By keeping monopoly control over the media and restricting access to public information, the regime denied citizens the right to scrutinize government expenditure projects.”
But how to explain the regime’s ability to withstand the adverse effects of oil revenue shortfalls?
In yet another instance of authoritarian learning, the regime learnt impost lessons in oil revenue management from Norway and the international financial institutions, Guliyev argues:
The regime was able to mitigate the adversity of oil revenues by learning to cope with it. The availability of foreign models as well as expert advice facilitated a policy transfer. The government established an insulated “isle of transparency” in the key policy domain of revenue management.
As a recent analysis of authoritarian learning suggests, he notes, “Modern authoritarians have successfully honed new techniques, methods, and formulas for preserving power, refashioning dictatorship for the modern age.”