I am fond of Azerbaijan. I lived there for almost 6 years. I improved my Russian and still speak Azeri more or less fluently. I do not think it is opportunism. Yes, for some years my personal income depended on not being too critical with the ruling class of that country. But as of today there is no reason for me to bow before the altar of Ilham Aliyev and Kamaladdin Heydarov. I do not have to applaud them and I am not obliged to stand in a sycophantic crowd anymore thinking about taking of my shoes off and throwing it at them. These times are gone for good.
Recently, I had the opportunity the visit that country again for some days. I met some old Azeri friends and, again, tried to understand how this country really works. My friends they know human rights are violated every day in Azerbaijan. They all know that the Azeri justice system is a farce. On the other side they cannot stand to have their country’s image tarnished, especially when being in the spotlight as the host of the first ever European Games. So they attend the competitions and have no qualms about that.
I am also a capitalist. It is not my religion. It is an invention of man and it involves money, so naturally it is not perfect. But I have never heard about a better system. So I am a capitalist. And I believe that free markets will undermine political centralization and political control in the end. It did not happen in China yet but one day free markets will work their way in bringing about a more free society. So capitalism is great, but some things are greater. Freedom is greater.
Yes, these Azeri government officials are intolerant towards dissent and disregard civil liberties and political rights. At presidential and other elections voters are intimidated, and multiple voting and ballot stuffing happens. The state’s control over oil and gas resources and the oligarchic structure of the economy contribute to widespread corruption in Azerbaijan. The Aliyev family, some other family clans, state officials, and their relatives continue to amass significant personal wealth.
But I have hope for that country. Maybe not today but tomorrow. Artificially sustained, bribe-based monopolies and links between business and political interests, along with the non-transparent regulatory environment cannot survive forever. One day the oil and gas resources will be exploited. Before that happens, obstacles for foreign investment and regular business have to be removed. An entire country has to change its attitudes. Without that there is no long-term perspective for Azerbaijan. And also not for most of those profiteers feeling comfortable today. Everyone should think about that. My friends in Azerbaijan and those who have the power in their hands. All things must pass. What counts is what we leave behind. So do not take my writings amiss. Take it as a gift!