I’m staying at a friend’s apartment in Baku who lives near a construction site. Staying at his place comes with a nice wake-up at 8 a.m. in the form of a hydraulic jackhammer the size of a cruiser missile. It’s not so bad during the week, but on the weekends sleeping-in becomes impossible. Last night, they were still going until nine o’clock. I understand the need to work quickly, but what about the people who live in the surrounding buildings?
My same friend works for a company in Baku that is trying to get away from renting their office space and build their own building. They bought a building on the other side of town with the idea that they would tear it down and put in some nice commercial real estate. When they tried to move forward with the building process, they were told that even though they own the building, they don’t own the land it’s on so they had to purchase the space from the city. After thinking they were in the clear, they could move forward because the building permit that they needed for that space was already sold to the original building owners who are holding out to make some quick cash. Even if they were to acquire it, they would have to buy a new one to fit their plans of a six-story office rather than an 18-story apartment building, which would probably take an exorbenant amount of money, if approved at all, because the building wouldn’t fit the plans of the rest of the block. The project, which they’ve been working on for a couple years, is stalled and unlikely to move forward.
Both situations are classic examples of government regulation. I think it also shows that there’s no clear-cut choice in whether de-regulation or an overly active government is the way to go.
In a lot of ways, this place is like the Wild West with no central authority implementing a greater plan. People drive down the wrong side of the street here all the time. If they miss their turn, rather than driving around the block people will often stop and drive backwards blocks at a time. It’s so common it’s normal, and sometime it even works.
But a lot of times it doesn’t. Buses stopping every half a block because there aren’t official bus stops slow everything down. Traffic downtown doesn’t seem like people making their way through a system, but rather every man for himself.
At the same time though, every point of authority must be acknowledged and often times, paid. This can make efforts of local citizens and business owners so difficult that good intentions can become quickly squandered.
My time here in Azerbaijan has definitely challenged my political beliefs, showing me another side of the world where things that I’ve always thought to be true aren’t necessarily universal.
I’ve also realized that there are some very fundamental questions about how society is going to be run here that are still unanswered in this relatively young country. As I move on from my time here, I’ll definitely keep my eye on what happens here.