Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

Annual Governance Publications "The Culture of Governance" 2012 ed Dr Melanie Sully

Photo Credits: K.Rudolf/C. Bretter
Summary of Book by the editor Dr Melanie Sully: A parliamentary culture which has evolved over time in many mature democracies is founded on a good portion of consensus. Governments have rights but also responsibilities and conversely Opposition parties should have a sense of responsibility. The strict impartiality of the “referee” in sport and the certainty that the goal posts will not move during the match, is the basis for an even playing field and a fair game. Often both this culture of governance and of opposition is missing in many of the countries of the Black Sea Region..

The so-called culture of governance can include the “mind-set” or “mentality” which in some eg post-Soviet countries changes only slowly. Old habits and thinking die hard despite rapid structural and institutional reforms and serve to block further progress. In the contributions to this book we see the impact of the EU in changing cultures. Trying to meet the conditions laid down by the EU for agreements or eventual membership and doing what “is expected” change cultures of candidate countries or others in transition. Thus the EU has acted as a catalyst in the dynamism of political culture. Arguably cultures that do not evolve lead to an ossification of political institutions; change in political culture is necessary for a regeneration of the political system, for legitimacy and for endurance over time.

Photo Credits: K.Rudolf/C. Bretter





Independent Analyst, Chairman NGO “Alliance for Democracy”, Yerevan, Armenia


This chapter analyzes the overall situation in Armenia in terms of its democratic path since independence. It explores this ongoing process by identifying and contextualizing current weaknesses in Armenia’s democracy. Then it sheds some light on the impact of the adoption and implementation of “external” values. After summarizing current trends and what was done (or not) by the Armenian Government to establish a better political culture and implement good governance practices, the paper puts forward some conclusions and suggestions.



1989 seemed to mark a new era in human progress and the end of (Marxist) history.[1] It was a time when the Cold War ended, the Iron Curtain collapsed and new hopes and visions emerged for a better world. Democracy triumphed[2] and new states emerged from “Soviet-style state socialism, Latin American military dictatorships and southern African regimes of racial domination.”[3] Like new-born babies they needed care and support to grow and embark on the mature process of state and nation-building. The European “babies” that some hastened to name “new democracies”[4] and “newly Independent (democratic) states” faced similar dilemmas but they responded in different ways. Some of them[5] “band-waggoned” with more developed and successful countries and sought to transform their societies according to a globalizing world’s requirements and challenges. Others[6] found themselves confronted with strong resistance to change and reform.  Since then, we live in a more turbulent, interconnected, complex, less predictable and fast-moving world “where information and markets have been globalized but democracy has not.”[7]

Democratic theory assumes that the more the state and its institutions respect and follow democratic values, the greater the chance that principles and practices of good governance will be implemented.[8] Effective reforms in public administration, the judiciary, the liberalization of the market, strengthening the role of media and interest groups, reduction in the levels of corruption, stronger participation of citizens in public life and more efficient control of institutional bodies, law enforcement agencies and services[9] are all directly linked to the economic performance of a country. The OECDMinisterial Symposium on the Future of Public Services (Paris, 1996) “regarded the quality and effectiveness of good governance as crucial to national prosperity.”[10]

In other words, there should be no doubt that good governance is better for nations than bad governance. However, there are still a number of political elites who are reluctant to fully embrace processes that may potentially lead to reform and a better, more developed and respected country. It is almost axiomatic that “economies can work better only if governments work better”[11] and that an efficient approach to governance delivers better results. Nevertheless, those in power are often not only slow in embracing the principles of good governance but they are far from adopting even basic democratic models of governance.

Good governance stands for “social justice, national prosperity and development, and peace.”[12] Even though some leaders and decision-makers of newly-emerged states have power and leverage to make state-level reforms, they favour changing the rules when it comes to the prosperity of their own business and profits. Those in power have secured an environment where they remain “untouchable” by the law. Why are they still so powerful? There is a law of the rule, instead of the rule of law. Some of those leaders take office by inheritance (eg. Azerbaijan) or “smart succession” (eg. Russia). What are main reasons for the slow pace of reform? Is it due to a failure of the local governmental apparatus or is it because European institutions were too quick in calling such countries democracies and set expectations that are almost impossible to achieve? Have external (European) values in shaping a new political culture been helpful or negative in this process? The puzzle is quite complicated and requires a detailed approach to identify the current weaknesses in the new democratic cultures.


The case of Armenia: since 1991

Since its independence in 1991, the new Republic of Armenia strived to move from a semi-closed economy to an open one and from an authoritarian political system to a democracy.[13] On its way to democracy the country experienced waves of political, socio-economic, and cultural challenges. The lack of natural resources, the latent conflict[14] with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabagh region and the resulting arms race, closed borders with two (Azerbaijan and Turkey) out of four (Georgia and Iran being the other two) neighbours and the Soviet background, all created an environment where conservative[15] approaches seem to be more acceptable than progressive ones conducive to change.

Despite difficulties and many obstacles, Armenia’s new leaders have tried to develop the country’s economy and other vital areas. However, “political will alone is not sufficient, a deep cultural change [is needed], and this is not a quick fix.”[16] A simple adoption of new laws and regulations (often formally imposed by European structures) cannot create such an environment.[17] These are necessary but not sufficient conditions to push a country forward to sustained political and economic stability.

Over the past several years, Armenia has become involved in implementing a number of reforms aimed at “improving tax and customs regulations, restructuring the banking sector, and liberalizing its economy.”[18] In 2003, Armenia started a Government Anti-Corruption Strategy and Implementation Action Plan[19] which ended in 2007 and then adopted a new 2009-12 Anticorruption Strategy[20]. Both helped to identify a number of sectors affected by corrupt practices as well as high-ranking officials who were dismissed on charges of bribery and corruption. According to the Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) results for 2009-10, Armenia moved from the second group of nations “reported to be most affected by bribery (between 30 and 49.9%)”[21] to the third group (between 20 and 29.9%).[22] Also it launched a policy of enhancing transparency and accountability in governance aimed at reducing widespread bureaucracy and rendering regulatory processes more transparent through the implementation of one-stop shops and several governmental internet portals. However, “widespread and systemic corruption in government bureaucracy coupled with inconsistent implementation of laws, still weaken state institutions and hinder their efficiency.”[23] According to the Ombudsman of Armenia (2008), the government system of Armenia is “oligarchic” and “repressive”, the judiciary is lacking independence and the law enforcement bodies are “incompetent.”[24] In this context, four main areas of concern can be identified:


(1.) Corruption has been noted as the most harmful factor in Armenia where poor tax regulations and an inefficient government bureaucracy exist (although some progress has been made recently, see above). According to reports from Freedom House (2009), corruption is a major inhibitor of democratic development and public trust in government in Armenia and anti-corruption strategies are not working.[25] The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) showed a decline in ranking from 109 in 2008[26] and 120 in 2009[27] to 123 in 2010[28]. According to the CPI the educational system, the judiciary, the police, and public officials are institutions rated to be amongst those most affected by corruption.[29] Furthermore, the arrest of some officials has been limited only to the “small fish,” while “big sharks” are still swimming free in corrupt practices. Another disturbing point is that sometimes the arrest of officials is not due to any reforming zeal but because they failed to channel money to those above in the hierarchy or failed to keep corrupt practices quiet.


(2.) Another major obstacle to effective governance is the culture of encouraging impunity and immunity for the elite. Statesmen, public officials, policy and military representatives enjoy a certain immunity from legal prosecution but this can also be stretched to cover criminal offences. Although some measures have been taken by the Armenian Government to tackle this problem, the issue of impunity or “bespredel”[30] by some high-ranking officials (including the military, the judiciary, the police, oligarchs and businessmen) is still widespread.


(3.) The third area that holds back an efficient implementation of the best practices of governance is the Russian/Soviet-style bureaucracy. The administrative burden is especially heavy on those involved in business, commerce and related areas. There is a need to “remove unnecessary paperwork, reduce delays and streamline application and licensing processes.”[31] Red tape costs time and money while its persistence leads local and foreign businesses to give up and go elsewhere[32] eg “due to the reforms carried out in recent years [in Georgia], some Armenian businessmen initiated the process of capital transfer from Armenia to Georgia.”[33]


(4.) The lack of accountability and responsiveness by the ruling elite and to some extent, the opposition is the fourth dimension that hinders democratic change in Armenia. On the one hand, both the Government and the opposition are only concerned with keeping or getting power respectively. A weak culture of “checks and balances” leads to the monopolization of the political arena in the interest of the political elite and the opposition thus marginalizing other actors. On the other hand, the political elites take little responsibility in promoting rights and freedoms for those they are supposed to protect. To summarise there is little openness and transparency in the management of public expenditure, weak civil interest groups, and local participation in decision-making and a controlled media in public-policy making[34]. These are the main obstacles to instilling a more democratic culture.


From “bad governance” to “good governance”

Armenia needs to do a lot of homework and has to tackle all four of the above mentioned problems to get in line with international standards on good governance. According to GRECO (the Group of States Against Corruption), it should implement programmes reducing “corruption and nepotism, limiting the influence of the executive over the judiciary, passing uniformly applicable legislation on licenses, taxes and customs, as well as strengthening the banking sector.”[35] Moreover, it is self-evident that the practice of “bad governance” is hampering foreign investors’ confidence and Armenia is a transitional economy needing strong external financial help. There is a clear correlation between the degree of bad practices in governance (including the shadow and monopoly-based economies, the oligarchy etc) and economic growth. Armenia needs real reforms with long-term systemic changes covering the four problem areas mentioned above. Furthermore, a tailored or differentiated rather than a common and regionalized approach by European Institutions is needed to reach maximum efficiency in achieving a good governance culture in Armenia. Here we should bear in mind that although for all intents and purposes Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan count for the EU as a so-called “region” and also forms part of the “wider Black Sea Region”, there are huge differences eg in culture, religion, language and historical roots. A “one size fits all” approach is cost efficient but not always relevant to local needs.

There are a number of recommendations coming out of EU institutions, international NGOs, researchers and experts on steps that a country should take to find solutions for good governance: e.g. conduct seminars, debates and conferences to share best practices; identify emerging issues on the role of the state, private sector and civil society in service delivery; develop new guidelines and principles for new approaches to good governance; assist governments with public sector reforms to facilitate the promotion of good governance and eradicate corruption; persuade governments, through dialogue, of the need for institutional and public sector management assessments, respect for human rights and the rule of law; help to face poverty and environment issues for which the quality of government performance is crucial.[36] However, the issue of the effectiveness of such mechanisms is highly questionable and some still share the view that Armenia’s "commitment to build deep and sustainable democracy"[37] is a fiction.

Implementation alone is not enough for effective, sustained change. The reluctance to introduce fundamental change inevitably reduces the efficiency of such measures. In some instances, both the political elite and society are not enthusiastic about giving up their old habits such as giving or taking bribes, tolerating and even supporting illegal ways of earning money, condemning (including beating and detaining) those who criticize bad practices etc. Many in Armenia think that bribery is normal and surveys show that they would be happy to take bribes if an opportunity occurred. Although, Armenia has a lower GDP than Angola, some MPs roll up to parliament in $100,000 Porsche Cayennes.[38] Old habits and mind set have an adverse effect on the country and set a bad example for the next generation. Such bad practices inherited from the past and maintained in the present create an environment that renders any progressive approach almost ineffective. The challenge is to find ways to prevent a corrupt culture carrying on into the future.

On the one hand, prospects for an effective implementation of European values and good governance in Armenia are promising. But the adoption of European values that are merely adopted and not properly implemented invokes resentment and even feelings of irritation among the population. In a number of developing democracies including Armenia, there is no clear distinction between adoption and implementation and many do not have a clear idea of a democratic society and have been negatively influenced by the government. This results in a general apathy of the population and even negative attitudes on democracy resulting from failed implementation of European values.

An adoption and even an adaption of laws and regulations within the framework required by the EU combined with obligations on the part of the Armenian Government is only a part of the puzzle. A reform can only be effective if it is implemented in a consistent way and meets with overall domestic (both the elite and society) support. The case of Georgia is a spectacular case in point. Outside assistance (eg. EU involvement through its institutions, projects and programmes) is normatively important as it helps to set norms and targets and oversees overall progress. However, effective implementation needs not only external help and supervision but also domestic support and cooperation. In other words, political will is vital but it should be coupled with support for change by the local population even if they are skeptical of their own Government’s actions. The enhancement of this “indigenous capacity” in a country is an important variable to take into account. In this context, a generational change in political leadership and other related fields can become a platform for building a new political culture based on democracy, accountability, responsibility and non-discriminatory political participation.

Yet it must be said that a purely regional approach by European institutions has not been as efficient as hoped since it all too often overlooks local nuances. Possibly a more de-regionalized, single country approach is needed, even though this may be more expensive and time-consuming.


Conclusions and Suggestions

Only a comprehensive understanding of both external and internal dimensions for reaching a better political culture can have a positive impact on the sustainable development of a country. European institutions should take into account these nuances and design recommendations and action plans accordingly.

An implementation of best practices of good governance in Armenia could be possible and more effective if:


  1. external help and assistance is customized and takes note of local realities; it should be based on realistic targets.  Here, I would like to introduce the notion of state-to-state (S2S) mentoring. This is a new concept and has not yet met with much of a response. The analogy comes from the peer-to-peer model of mentoring in business and education and is based on applying mentoring tools to state-building activities. Research shows that “reformers in countries want to follow closely the experiences of other countries and learn from them.”[39] Countries have much to learn from each other, especially when it comes to democracy. Thus, the S2S mentoring consists in linking a more developed and experienced country with a country at an earlier stage on its way to democracy. The S2S is an alternative scenario for outside help. The expertise of a country that has a democratic background and proven record of achievements can be useful to another country to build sustainable institutions and governance. This mutual learning process is at the core of the S2S method. The idea is quite new and not yet fully explored. Further research is needed to identify the pros and cons of such an approach[40].
  2. There is domestic support for changes and reforms. For this an injection of democratic culture into existing models should promote the “indigenous capacity” of the country. Building a strong indigenous capacity is based on two dimensions: (1) fostering current civil society and (2) a generational change. The role of both is very important but not easy given the internal constraints and other obstacles. One way to enhance civil society is to evenly distribute power rather than just decentralizing without a new distribution of power, but this is also new[41] and needs further research. In addition targeted trainings, seminars, round tables and the like are needed to bolster the awareness of non-state actors and the population as a whole towards an understanding of democratic values and expected outcomes. Of course as mentioned, a generational change has important implications for the political future of a country. The first post-Soviet generation which started to tentatively shape Armenia’s democratic transition and political destiny should now make way for young leaders with new goals and ambitions. Although many in power formally support the generational transition, there are others who resist this development. On the other hand, Internet networks, developing a free media, Internet TV, open discussions, youth leadership schools and the like are important and help the reform process. It is also important to empower youth so that they can participate directly in the political and socio-economic life of the country.  This can be done by establishing interest groups, advocacy or lobby groups and by promoting different NGO activities as well as involving active members in diverse European programmes and projects.


With this in mind tomorrow’s Armenia will belong to a more progressive, open-minded and pro-active generation in a democratic society within the European family.


The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires change of heart.

Mohandas Gandhi



[1] For more see F. Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, Free Press, 1992.

[2] Ibid.

[3] N.Fraser, "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy" in Habermas and the Public Sphere (Craig Calhoun, ed.), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 1992, p. 69.

[4] See, A. Lijphart and C.Waisman, Institutional design in new democracies: Eastern Europe and Latin America, Westview Press, 1996.

[5] Eg. The Baltic states, countries of Eastern Europe.

[6] Eg. countries of the CIS.

[7] R. Hubbard, “Criteria of good governance”, in Optimum, The Journal of Public Management, Vol. 30, No. 2, 1999. p. 37.

[8] See, Policy Research working paper 2196, entitled “Governance Matters” by Kaufman, Daniel, Kraay, Aart, and Zoido-Lobaton, Pablo, The World Bank, WashingtonDC, 1999, p.1.

[9] European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI): National Indicative Programme 2007-10: Armenia, p. 5.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Roberts, Brad, The New democracies: global change and U.S. policy, The MIT Press 1990, p. x.

[13] For more see, Arend Lijphart and Waisman, Carlos H., op. cit., p. 249.

[14] I deliberately avoid using the term “frozen conflict” here since it does not reflect the reality in Nagorno-Karabagh. For more see, Melikyan, Gevorg “The Dynamics of Military Basing in the South Caucasus” in Military bases: Historical Perspectives, Contemporary Challenges, by L. Rodrigues, S. Glebov, NATO-IOS Press, 2009, vol. 21, pp. 189f.

[15] By “conservative” I mean approaches that were routinely formulated in more than 70 years of Soviet dominance. It is not an easy task to uproot them mainly because the older generation still dominates all levels of governance in the country and oppose such reforms. This is partially true for some representatives of civil society.

[16] Ormond, Derry, Independent Advisor in Governance, former Head of the OECD Public Management Service (PUMA) the Support for Improvement in Governance and Management (SIGMA) Programmes, in Focus Quarterly, prepared by the Public Management Service (PUMA) with the guidance of the Public Management Committee of the OECD, No 1, June 1996.

[17]The implementation of the Bologna process in Armenia, the adoption of the law “On freedom of religion and religious organizations”, anti-corruption laws, amendments to the electoral code etc. are just a few examples.

[18] “Anti-corruption profile – Armenia” by Trust Law, a Thomson Reuters Foundation Service, 2010

[30] From the Russian “беспредел”, the “absence of self-imposed restraints” or a sort of anarchy in a lawless environment that became established in 70 years of a Soviet regime. For more see, Glad, Betty and Shiraev, Eric, The Russian transformation: political, sociological, and psychological aspects, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999, p. 176.

[31] “Measuring Regulatory Quality”, in OECD Observer, Policy Brief, April 2008.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Vardanyan, Tamara, “Armenians of Tbilisi: New Realities” in Globus National Security, issue 2, 2011.

[34] See Moncrieffe, Joy Marie, “Reconceptualizing Political Accountability,” in International Political Science Review, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Oct., 1998), pp. 387-406.

[36] Agere, Sam, “Promoting good governance: principles, practices and perspectives,” Commonwealth Secretariat; Vol. 11, 2000, p. 12.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ormond, Derry, op. cit.

[40] This approach is being tried to some extent in the Twinning Scheme of the European Union, see (Ed.).

[41] Dhakal, Pramod, “The law of rule: Centralized, decentralized and distributed systems,”  



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