Ructions in Georgia

Earlier this month, Eamonn put together a post along with a map of the Caucasus. He referred to an article in the Economist, a 3 page piece if I remember correctly, in which the details of criminal activity in the region were detailed. It is indeed a volatile region, but Georgia is definately a country I will be visiting. Whether I travel into neighbouring regions, or even the notorious Pankisi Gorge inside Georgia, is another question.

In recent weeks the blogosphere has been rife with sentiment surrounding the various demonstrations in countries that are not known for the democratic regimes. Georgia is often used as the first example, at least in the post-Soviet bloc of countries. Since then we have had Ukraine and now Kyrgyzstan. What many commentators are saying is that these demonstrations and revoltions are a product of Bush’s foreign policy, stemming in part from his invasion of Iraq.

Cheerleading such as that over at Instapundit leads to simplification – even down to the names of the revolutions – the ‘Rose’ revolution in Georgia, or the Orange revolutions elsewhere, or the ‘Cedar’ revolution in Lebanon. What I have found lacking thus far in these commentaries is a sense of perspective or scale.

It is barely a year since the Rose Revolution in Georgia, that put Mikhail Saakashvili in power. His regime is lauded as a center for democracy in an otherwise troubled region, and he is lauded as a Western-style statesman, keen on democratic reform. The US has been active in the country, training its troops, and contributing large sums of money to the economy. Of course there is the hugely important Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea, which provides a valuable strategic alternative to pumping oil through Putin’s Russia.

But lest we forget, it is just over a year. A blip on the calendar. Many are too quick to judge, these events in Georgia and Ukraine, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan are in their infancy. If history has thought me anything it is that when events such as these happen, people are inclined to rush to either claim credit, or to say it reflects a wider thirst for democratic ideals first coined in Europe.

Only in 20 years will we be able to look back on any of these events and see their collective effect on global politics. Sure we can speculate now on why these events take place, but it will only be with the benefit of hindsight that we will actually be able to make a true assessment of what actually happened.

Take Georgia as an example. It is so often cited now as an example for peaceful democratic reform, that nobody dare say that something could go wrong. But is everything as rosey as we think it might be?

It appears that in the minds of Western pundits that once democracy has taken hold in a country such as Georgia, once a pro-Western reformer takes power, that it will be a natural steady road to Westernisation/democratisation. Drezner noted:

…events in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Georgia, are making me wonder if maybe, just maybe, we’re at the beginning of the fourth wave of democratization.

But is this the case?

I have over the last number of months, I have tried to detail reforms in that country, many of which are supported by the West. The inclusion of Georgian troops in coalition forces in Iraq is seen as keeping good relations with the US. The liberalisation of economics, crackdowns on corruption, these are all seen by the West as great endeavours for a former Soviet state, and indeed home of Stalin.

But everything is not going that great in Georgia. Just over a year into Saakashvili’s presidency and there is huge discontent with his leadership. There have been calls for him to resign, or for another revolution to take place. His problem is that he is seen as too Western. Georgian people are not Western, and many idealise the Soviet days, and desire a return to Communism. The most recent decisions by Saakashvili have proven hugely unpopular.

He has decided to ask all foreign embassies in Georgia to no longer give travel or work visas to Georgians. Remember that money coming from ex-patriots is Georgia’s lifeline to hard currency, without the country would go bankrupt. Last week Saakashvili announced that a new Bank Holiday would be held on a Muslim Holy day, in order to recognise Georgia’s tiny Muslim population. Both of these events have proved enormously controversial, with many calling for Saakashvili to be removed. My own sources tell me that discontent has led to outright anger and hatred for the President, with many saying he should either be killed or removed.

These are mere examples, but the point remains – democracy is never plain sailing even in well established ones in the West. But in countries such as these democracy is far from assured, nor is the desire for it certain. If in 5 years time we can look back and say that Bush was right in his foreign policy, with successfully spreading democracy then well and good, but we should not be judging these efforts until well after his successor has left office.

2 thoughts on “Ructions in Georgia”

  1. Dear Sir,
    I would like to comment on your evaluation of the developements in Georgia since the November 2003 events. I would disagree that the growing unpopularity of the president- or rather a decline in his initially huge popularity, is caused by him being too western for the ‘traditional’ Georgians. Rather, to me the reaction seems to be the disillusionment. The president dubbed the champion of democracy has largely turned to quite authoritarian means of rule (eg. the expropreation of property of the corrupt officials was a hugely popular move, but hardly withstanding any legal scrutiny; tightening the control of media; increase of human rights violations; the scandals of bugged phones that broke out earlier this week, etc.).
    I would agree that democracy or consolidation of a liberal democratic system in Georgia is far from certain. Indeed, it is hard to emagine establishing a democracy without full adherence to the rules of the game.

  2. Mari, I agree with your rebuttal of Gavin’s assessment of reasons for discontentment with Saakashvili. It is dangerously essentialist to speak of West & East since it obscures the real issues: Georgians are unhappy with the phoniness of the so-called revolution which has done nothing to bring any increased public participation in politics, but has simply substituted one corrupt, mildly authoritarian, not particularly pro-West ( US & UK) regime with another, more pro-US/UK, slightly less corrupt, more authoritarian and no more transparent than the last, that of Shevardnadze.
    Saakashvili’s regime bears all the hallmarks of a sell-out NeoCon scheme of privatization on the backs of workers and the further erosion of civil life as macro-economics take precedent over the needs of the local economy. In a typically right-wing fashion, Saakashvili has put the squeeze on real growth of wages, creation of jobs and purchasing power to restructure the economy toward fully-prone position ready to take it any way the World Bank sees fit.
    Of course, you can’t read it on the news, since networks are all owned by Misha’s party officers.
    How is democracy possible anywhere the voices of the people are not intrinsically respected and sought out? I see nothing o fthis orientation arising from Tbilisi these days, just a more right-wing machination replacing the rump socialism of Shevardnadze. There is no discrenable growth of productivity, either capital and cultural and there will be none because it’s not part of the plan. Rather, Saakashvili is busying himself with rendering the country over to Big Oil and Western recolonization, under which he will get rich at the expense of the patrimony of a once great and still unique country. God save Georgia from the knives of the capitalists – they won’t be any more sparing than the Bolsheviks and Muslims before them. I fear that there will be nothing much left of her culture after generations of regimes bent on obliterating it. Part of domestication of chattel is always the selective breeding-out of ‘wild’ traits. Purposeful neglect of the nation’s history and culture will produce a colorless internationalist cohort willing to sacrifice everything they don’t understand on the altar of their clique’s prosperity. Georgia has had no dearth of traitors in her long and tortuous history. Saakahvili’s bunch are no different.

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