Armenia is going through major political changes. For the first time in many years, we have a government that enjoys vast public legitimacy. While this unprecedented development has built an environment of hope and excitement, it has also created uncertainty in our political life. The latter needs to be addressed properly, so we can navigate in this new reality. Here, I take a step in that direction and provide a discursive interpretation of the current situation in the country.
As a discursive practice, the resistance movement divided the political space in Armenia into “us vs. them.” In this regard, there were only two primary political identities that were constituted in relation to one another: a subject’s self was defined by being part of one group and opposed to the other. In such binary interpretations, the differences between the subjects in one group are silenced (Laclau & Mouffe, 2001; Glynos, & Howarth, 2007). In Armenia, individuals with diverging views (i.e. liberals, nationalists, leftists, feminists) came together and performed the identity of people, who struggled against the evil “other.” In the discourse of the resistance, it did not matter that these subjects had drastically different visions about the desired future of Armenia. It was the antagonistic attitude towards the regime that defined their political self at that moment.
So how did this discourse manage to generate so much public support? To answer this question, we need to look into the so-called fantasmatic dimension of this movement (Stavrakakis, 1999, 2007; Žižek, 1989). The resistance in Armenia attracted emotional investment by presenting a fantasy and an obstacle in the way of reaching to it. The fantasy was not articulated with precision. Not much has been stated other than having the desire to live in a country with better socio-economic conditions. Such vagueness is a crucial factor. In order to bring together people with different views, it is necessary to keep the fantasy vague enough to make an impression that it encompasses the “true” desire of these subjects (Glynos, 2008).
In contrast, the obstacle was very clear. The regime embodied the problem that did not let people reach their desired state of affairs. The uncertainty surrounding what “we are fighting for” was compensated by the specificity of “who we are fighting against.” In other words, the idea of an evil other that needed to be eliminated gave clarity to the ideological mandate of the “us vs. them” discourse. It created an impression that the desired fantasy will be reached once the obstacle/other disappears. This was a “solution,” in which different and/or unclear desires of a better future could fit. As a result, it became attractive for many people. This is how the resistance movement brought unity and determination, which evolved around rejecting Serzh Sargsyan and the Republican Party.
So, what happens when the other is gone? What kind of political environment emerges when the leader of the resistance and his team take over the executive branch of the government? The other, whom we needed to define our political self, disappeared and hence, created an environment of uncertainty. The differences in the views and desires of people, which were concealed by the unified mandate of fighting the regime, became visible. Discursive plurality has gained dominance in the Armenian political reality.
Many people tried to deal with this new situation by backpedaling into the logic of binaries. In other words, they still keep interpreting the political situation through the lens of fighting the evil other. The protests that demand Taron Margaryan’s resignation and freeing the members of Sasna Tsrer (Daredevils of Sassoun) are the most visible examples of this trend. A more nuanced expression is the transgressive (excessively emotional) interpretation of how the new members of the government use public transportation, walk on the streets, and talk to ordinary people. The latter are presented in a positive light for being exactly the opposite of what the representatives of the previous regime would do.
We need to look beyond these interpretations, as the political context has changed. Once the current government starts implementing specific policies, many people will think that this is not exactly what they hoped and imagined would happen. In retrospect, it will seem that the government is diverting from the revolutionary principles, for which they fought. It is not delivering the utopia, in which we made such an emotional investment. Such an impression derives from the conviction that we knew what we wanted during the resistance. We do not see that it was the other that gave certainty to our struggle, which created an illusion that we were also certain about the post-resistance agenda. It is imperative to understand these dynamics. We need to realize that feeling uncertain and even a little disappointed is normal. Now is the time to embrace this new situation and move forward.
For the first time in many years, the government that we support might implement policies that we do not necessarily approve. How does one react to that? There used to be a clear answer: policies are bad because the government is bad. Such a rejectionist and often cynical attitude should not be applied today. We need to learn how to criticize without negation. We need to understand that it is OK that not everything goes the way we want. This is how we start building a more complex political identity of the self that moves beyond being anti-regime.
While joining the resistance required courage and determination, conceptually, it was an easier choice than what we are facing now. Uncertainty is inconvenient and concerning, but it is also emancipatory. Many discourses that were pushed to the margins become visible creating a wider range of possibilities. Accordingly, the future is open, and it is up to us to determine what it will look like.