If there was ever a total give away that you were in a dictatorship, it’s the profusion of huge images of one man around every town. If it’s a woman, it’s not a dictatorship. The twist here is that the images are of Heydar Aliyev, the deceased father of current president Ilham, as if his divine grace bestows legitimacy to the son. Although neither of them are up to Saddam Hussein’s standards you can be sure that none of those pesky elections will unseat him from the presidency. Conveniently since writing those lines there has indeed been an election and of course he won and independent monitors confirmed it as neither free nor fair. In fact he had already ordered the flowers for the victory celebration beforehand.
Despite critic’s imprisonment on trumped-up charges and the predictable litany of corruption, torture and controls on protest required by any self-respecting dictator, Aliyev has a fair measure of popularity. This is easily explained by the abundance of oil money which certainly provides construction work building monuments to his father. Every town has several streets, parks, buildings, even museums named after him. The avuncular image of Heydar is portrayed as a father of the nation figure, usually accompanied by his words of wisdom. Beyond helping to stabilise the country after the war with Armenia in the early 90’s it’s difficult to see what he would have offered the country, apart from the usual post Soviet tyranny without oil money to buy allegiance.
The other big advantage of oil is that it buys you all the friends you need in the West, like UK trade envoy the Duke of York with whom Ilham is very chummy and EU president Barroso, who praised the country’s progress on human rights??? If any of us made an error of judgement as huge as mistaking a dictator for a jolly decent chap, despite all evidence to the contrary we would be sacked in an instant. So, along with David Cameron’s arms sales tour of the world’s despots, dissidents can soon look forward to a firm poke with British made cattle prods, whilst restrained with our hand cuffs and with any luck a good lungful of our tear gas.
It won’t come as a surprise to know that it’s not a good country to be gay in, despite the fact that a low-key gay pride celebration did take place recently: possibly the first in an Islamic country. Given that a week later an openly gay man was found murdered gives you a fairly clear indication of the situation. Homosexual relations may have been decriminalised but this doesn’t equate in genuine protection. If you would like a more detailed view try http://www.ge.boell.org/web/116-1430.html
As you will have gathered from my last post and writings on Iran there is an inverse relationship between democracy and friendliness, an equation supported by my visits to pre war Syria and many African countries of dubious governance. Are all these countries just home to people naturally open to foreigners or perhaps, in some measure it’s the population wishing to demonstrate that they are not defined by their rulers. Your thoughts please.