The “corrupting influence of the West” is a catchphrase immortalized by the 1969 cult Soviet comedy, The Diamond Arm, in which a busy-body apartment-manager (portrayed by iconic actress Nonna Mordykova) becomes suspicious of the new, supposedly bourgeois ways of a neighbor after he returns from abroad.
You would not expect to hear a post-Soviet government official repeat this line today. Unless, that is, you happen to be in the oil-soaked Caucasus country of Azerbaijan.
In a December 2 speech in Baku, Ali Hasanov, a senior political aide to President Ilham Aliyev and a tireless guardian of public loyalty to his boss, called on all and sundry to fight back against the pernicious effects of Western influence that supposedly are pitting Azerbaijani young people and the media against their own people and the state.
“Each of us has a duty to protect youth from the corrupting influence of the West,” he instructed his audience, the APA news agency reported. “We can’t allow certain young men to engage in an anti-Azerbaijani activity for some 2 or 3,000 manats" via Western donor grants, he argued.
By "anti-Azerbaijani activity," Hasanov presumably means any action seen as presenting a challenge to the Aliyev family, in power for most of the past 44 years. Western grants meant to help democratize Azerbaijan inevitably translate into challenges to that status quo, in Hasanov's mind.
But, never fear, President Aliyev and his youth fund are here. In a bid to preserve Azerbaijan's "integrity," the fund is dishing out grants to match civil-society funding by Western democratization groups.
“Today we already have the opportunity to save lots of young people, who for their personal gain collaborate with the anti-Azerbaijan work,” Hasanov announced at a presentation for a grants-competition from the fund.
Rights groups long have charged that the Azerbaijani government has been trying to squeeze out western NGOs by various forms of restrictions. The number of registered civil society groups is low, while individual pro-democracy activists repeatedly face prison and fines. The crackdown on free-wheeling NGOs, media and intellectuals has intensified in the wake of Aliyev's reelection this October to a third consecutive term as president.
Against that backdrop, Soviet-era phrases such as the one the 53-year-old Hasanov offered up can, indeed, ring true. And Hasanov, like Nonna Mordyukova before him, can sit on a bench in front of Azerbaijan, watch the residents, and suspiciously note that proper folk "do not take a cab to a bakery."