Outside Eye: On referendums and doors and the need for access . . .

In the building where I live, changes are taking place that probably can be seen as “improvements”. Surely the construction brings the old domicile into line with more modern – one might even say “European” – standards.

Specifically, my building is now equipped for coded entrance. That is to say, where there used to be a flat, ugly, banging piece of sheet metal that functioned as a door, there is now a flat, ugly, banging piece of sheet metal that has been equipped with some numbered buttons. Presumably, a certain sequence of those numbers is the secret code I need for entering.

The intention, of course, is security. Specifically, I think it is aimed against the frequent misuse of the entry way as a toilet for late-night ramblers who can’t hold their bladder, causing residents of this building to hold our breath or suffer a rude morning bouquet.

Five years into residency here, it appears California is catching up to me. Coded entries. Can CCTV be far behind? (In fact, no, see this week’s story about traffic cameras.)

Well. There are worse intrusions on personal routine, than having to learn a couple numbers in order to get into your building – especially for the payoff of protection. (Who knows, we may even get actual windowpanes in the stairway next, and lights in the corridor!)

Here, though, is what I’m calling a peculiarly Armenian twist to the “amendments” on Nalbandyan Street:

Nobody – neither the superintendent of the building, nor the construction foreman, nor my landlord – has bothered to tell me the dadgum code. Some things, you are just expected to know in this society of everybody knowing everybody. If you don’t know something here, it is likely that one of your uncles, cousins, whomevers will know, so “problem chka”. Well, chka! That method of information ain’t working for the American in question. (Turns out that my landlord hadn’t been told of the code, either. Nor has he bothered to find it out and tell me, in the two weeks it has been since I asked for it.)

Twice, already, I have been locked out of the front entry, but was lucky enough that the rear door had not closed properly, allowing me un-coded access. I live in dread of coming home late at night to find both doors locked tight, leaving me five floors short of a door to which I own a key that I can’t use because I’ve been overlooked in the code giveaway.

Nonetheless, the amended access, properly administered, should make life more comfortable for the first-floor businesses and some of the old folks who live in my building.

During these days of Constitutional reform in Armenia, I’m seeing the door situation as metaphor.

There are a lot of people in this country who feel locked out from the “democratic process” – from the life independence promised, but Soviet-schooled leaders have not delivered.

An introduction to the Draft Constitution that will be put to vote on Sunday shows promise of making it easier for average citizens to get inside the doorway of their own government. For example: Putting a harness on the current limitless leverage allowed to Armenia’s President could only be a good thing.

Some worry, though, whether the very distribution of powers proposed in this road map to democracy might actually make it easier for those willing to use vote fraud to gain power.

Outsiders say that the new Constitution would make Armenia more “European”. Some insiders say we can expect a “worse National Assembly”.

This is a tough one. A painter quoted in one of our stories this week says he doesn’t want to be seen as supporting the current regime, by voting “yes”, but at the same time can’t reasonably vote “no”, because the proposed constitution is better than the current one.

The opposition calls for a boycott. Something about that notion doesn’t sit well among those of us who believe these citizens need, if nothing else, to see proof that their votes (not their refusal to vote) matters most.

On the other hand, seeing how the pro-government side has so effectively manipulated vote counts in the past, there’s validity to the boycott approach.

There are leaders on both sides of the debate who deserve respect. I just wish the leadership (on all sides) of this country could put aside “opposition vs. pro-government” long enough to let voters make an informed decision, rather than a politicized one.

Regardless of how things go on Sunday, whether the Constitution is changed isn’t nearly as important as whether the very authorities who wrote it and campaign for it, will abide by it.

Otherwise, it will be nothing more than a new, improved door, with privilege of entry only by those who have the code. Or know somebody who does. And, sadly, there’s nothing new about that here.