An Interview with Socialist International Vice President Maria Titizian
‘‘We must embark upon a powerful campaign for social inclusion to counter the crippling effects of large-scale social exclusion due to the radical, socially polarizing neo-liberal economic policies in the country’’
In September 1996, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation rejoined the Socialist International, which it had originally joined in 1907. In 2003, the ARF became a full member of the Socialist International, thus becoming the only party in the CIS with such a status.
During the XXIII Congress of the Socialist International in June 2008 in Athens, ARF-D representative Maria Titizian was elected vice-president of the organization.
The SI Council in Mexico, in November 2008, elected ARF Bureau member Mario Nalpatian as co-chair of the SI Committee for the CIS, the Caucasus and the Black Sea.
The ARF-Dashnaktsutyun Women’s Group is a member of the SIW (Socialist International Women).
The youth organization of the ARF, the Armenian Youth Federation, is a full member of the IUSY (International Union of Socialist Youth) and an observer member of the ECOSY (European Community Organization of Socialist Youth).
Vahakn Karakashian, the editor of our sister publication Horizon Weekly, published in Montreal, sat down with Titizian to discuss the SI, its goals and projects, and the prospects of socialism in Armenia.
VAHAKN KARAKASHIAN: What is the purpose of the Socialist International?
MARIA TITIZIAN: The Socialist International brings together social democratic, socialist and labor parties from around the globe to promote, strengthen and expand social democracy in the world. Today, 170 political parties and organizations from all continents are part of the SI and over 60 member parties of the International, in over 55 different countries are in government.
The SI also serves as a forum to discuss pressing global issues from a social democratic perspective through a variety of thematic and regional committees including Economic Policy, Labor and National Resources, Social Cohesion, Poverty and HIV/AIDS and the Commissions for a Sustainable World Society and Global Financial Issues.
From eradicating poverty to the resolution of regional conflicts, the SI utilizes all its resources to help in the establishment of a sustainable, peaceful and socially just world community. The regional committees define and inform the work of the Socialist International with regard to their respective regions, and generate input from their national and regional perspectives to the common global policies of the organization. The regional committees of the Socialist International include Africa, Asia and the Pacific, the CIS, the Caucasus and the Black Sea, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and South Eastern Europe.
The SI’s origins date back to the early international organizations of the labor movements. It was formally re-established in 1951 during the Frankfurt Congress. The aims and tasks of democratic socialism as outlined in the Declaration of the Socialist International, adopted at the First Congress on June 30-July 3, 1951 states among other things, that socialists strive to build a new society in freedom and through democracy; without freedom there can be no socialism and socialism can be achieved only through democracy; that every human being has a right to a private life, protected from arbitrary invasion by the state and that political liberties like freedom of thought, expression, education, organization and religion are the cornerstones of social democracy.
For the Socialist International, socialism stands not only for basic political rights but also for economic and social rights. Those include: the right to work, the right to medical and maternity benefits, the right to leisure, the right to economic security for citizens unable to work because of old age, incapacity or unemployment, the right of children to welfare and of the youth to education in accordance with their abilities and the right to adequate housing. Socialism strives to abolish all legal, economic and political discrimination between the sexes, between social groups, between town and countryside, between regional and between racial groups.
V.K.: What are the main duties of the president of the Socialist International and the vice presidents?
M.T.: The primary responsibility of the president is to help create a working vision for the Socialist International; define the current challenges facing the global community and in that regard efficiently manage the resources of the organization to help find solutions. The vice presidents represent the regions they hail from and in conjunction with the president and secretary general, who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the International, set the agenda for the activities of the organization.
The president, secretary general and the vice presidents of the Socialist International make up the Presidium, which is the leadership of the organization. The supreme decision-making body of the International is the Congress, which is held every three to four years and the Council, which meets twice a year and includes all member parties and organizations.
The current president of Socialist International is George A. Papandreou, President of PASOK (SI’s member party in Greece), and Prime Minister of Greece. He was first elected in January 2006, and re-elected at the XXIII Congress. Luis Ayala (Chile) is the Secretary General of SI. The Vice-Presidents, 35 in total, represent every continent where the SI is active. They include Michelle Bachelet (Chile), Ehud Barak (Israel), Gordon Brown (Great Britain), Ségolène Royal (France), Mona Sahlin (Sweden), Jalal Talabani (Iraq), Asif Ali Zardari (Pakistan), Jacob Zuma (South Africa) and others.
V.K.: The Socialist International Committee for the CIS, the Caucasus and the Black Sea met in Yerevan, Armenia in June 2010. What were the main topics of this meeting?
M.T.: The SI Committee for the CIS, the Caucasus and the Black is co-chaired by ARF-D Bureau member Mario Nalbandian and represents one of the most difficult regions encompassed in the SI. The committee session held in Yerevan was a landmark meeting taking into consideration the great difficulty that we had in seeing it come to fruition due to various conflicting interests prevailing upon the organization.
Nevertheless, the meeting did take place with the participation of representatives from European parties in the SI, including Germany, Greece, Hungary, and Sweden, including a representative from the Fatah Party of Palestine, and a representative from the Party of European Socialists (PES). From the region, representatives from Georgia, Ukraine, Moscow, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Mountainous Karabakh were present. The topic of the meeting was, “Advancing Social Democracy, Fostering Cooperation and Promoting Dialogue in the Countries of the CIS.”
The Committee addressed the need to advance democracy and stability in the region and to settle unresolved conflicts. This was underscored by the participation of Saladdin Hosrul oglu Allahverdiev, the deputy chair of the Social Democratic Party of Azerbaijan.
The first part of the meeting included discussions on common issues and challenges faced in the region. Party representatives from different countries presented reports on their national situations. The underlying theme in all the reports was the need for electoral reform and regularity and transparency in these processes. The role of social democratic parties in the advancement of democracy was underscored as well as a need to cooperate with those who share similar values and face similar realities within the Socialist International.
The second day of the meeting was dedicated primarily to the Karabakh conflict. SDPA Deputy Chair Saladdin Hosrul oglu Allahverdiev and ARF-D Supreme Council Chair Armen Rustamyan presented their respective country reports and then engaged in an intense discussion regarding the possible resolution of the Karabakh conflict. The discussion, although difficult at times, in the view of the SI was extremely beneficial because dialogue can be a first step toward the thorny road to peace.
The following session of the SI Committee on the CIS, the South Caucasus and the Black Sea took place in Baku, Azerbaijan on October 11-12 and which, yet again focused on the unresolved Karabakh conflict and on ways in which the International can contribute towards peace and security in the region.
V.K.: Do you think Socialism and its ideology can be rooted in Armenia?
M.T.: I believe that in the absence of social justice, we need to have a new agenda in Armenia, in order to be able to address the crippling problems the country continues to face. From lack of transparency to irregularities in the electoral process, from the deficiency in the rule of law to the unequal distribution of wealth, the only alternative is a new social democratic framework. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emerging democracies in the region face a host of similar problems because they share a common legacy.
We need to free ourselves from the undercurrent of fear that exists and to eradicate political, economic and social insecurity. Socialism or social democracy has always espoused social inclusion. This means that the economy must function in such a way that it gives people a fair share in the fruits of production and, in general, the economy must be at the service of the well-being of a country’s citizens. It means that the state must provide security for all strata of society and ensure the political rights and freedoms of all.
If we want the country to move forward and to embrace social democracy then we need to provide credible and progressive policies that will enhance the lives of people. On the other hand, citizens must also rise to the challenge. Unfortunately, the remnants of Soviet style politics has rendered informed decision-making obsolete and has distorted people’s perceptions of the role of the state. Often times socialism is seen as a return to Communist-style governance, something which is not desirable especially for the younger generation.
Therefore, in order for socialism to take root in Armenia, several factors need to be considered. With the end of the Soviet era, the newly established republics witnessed wildfire privatization and the adoption of neo-liberal economic policies. This smash-and-grab capitalism left vast swaths of society with very little resources and witnessed the dangerous growth of monopolies and oligopolies. Armenia, unfortunately, is a shining case study in this regard.
Another obstacle that exists is the near total lack of ideological discourse in the Armenian political landscape. Most political parties are recognized by their leaders and not their ideology; there is no real vision or policy so political dialogue has been marginalized. We must be able to raise the political consciousness of the electorate through public awareness campaigns informing people of their rights and responsibilities and to understand that on election day you need to vote for a party’s policies and not for its leader.
Another factor that needs to be considered is the trade union sector, which is weak at best and has not been able to shake off its Soviet heritage. As a result the working class in Armenia is extremely vulnerable and has not been able to mobilize to protect its rights.
We must embark upon a powerful campaign for social inclusion to counter the crippling effects of large-scale social exclusion due to the radical, socially polarizing neo-liberal economic policies in the country. We must be able to rally those who have suffered most around programs, which will ensure social justice. To eradicate the marginalization of vast segments of our societies, we cannot refrain from struggles for institutional and structural reform. Those include ensuring quality of life for our most vulnerable segments, equal access to resources, competitive markets, a free and independent judiciary, proper checks and balances in governance, and accountability.
There is no final blueprint for socialism, but it is only under socialism that fully democratic debate over the use of society’s wealth will be possible and the basic needs of people will be met.
V.K.: You were appointed as the executive director of the Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation. When was the foundation established and what are its main objectives?
M.T.: The Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation was established in the Republic of Armenia in 2009 by the ARF-D Supreme Council. It is a non-profit foundation committed to the development and advancement of public policy issues. It espouses the basic values of social democracy through education, training, research as well as regional and international cooperation.
The aims of the foundation are to contribute to and actively promote a comprehensive national, regional and international discourse focusing on current political, economic and social developments and challenges, with a primary concentration on Armenia and the South Caucasus.
The Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation will conduct studies and develop policies to assist the citizens of Armenia in responding to the ever-changing political and social landscape, both regionally and globally. The foundation will serve as a center that will study the specific issues faced by newly independent states including democratization, labor rights, the absence of social justice, freedom of speech, foreign and security policies, current political and international events and developments as they pertain to the South Caucasus.
In the near future, we hope to launch a multi-lingual on-line magazine that will have as its focal point questions related to foreign policy, regional cooperation and conflict management to promote and foster social democratic values.