Will Georgia Become a True Development Model for a Region?

George Kiratelidze

Ivanishvili, Saakashvili meeting

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (left) sits across from Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili during their meeting in Tbilisi on March 4. Source: Radio free Europe Radio Liberty

The Rose Revolution in November 2003 gave hope to Georgian citizens that finally Georgia had a chance to reform, build democratic institutions and end poverty and corruption. That was the hope that Saakshvili and his political party, the United National Movement (UNM), stole from Georgian people.

Early signs of cheated democracy became internationally evident in November 2007, when tens of thousands of Georgians rallied in downtown Tbilisi, protesting against the allegedly corrupt government of President Mixheil Saakashvili. The government’s answer on that was the water canon, tear gas and rubber bullets. The lesson was not learned and Saakashvili put even further efforts in building authoritative regime. This time, when another round of demonstrations erupted on May 21, 2011 Georgian government already had a good experience in cracking down the peaceful protests.  On May 26, 2011 police used disproportionate force beating up the detained demonstrators who showed no resistance.  Once more, Special Forces used water canons, rubber bullets and tear gas against demonstrators.  Protest participants were not given the chance to leave the rally peacefully. Journalists were threatened, intimidated and hindered to perform their professional activity.

Saakshvili’s long range plan establishing the authoritative government was on its right path. However, in 2012, Georgians entrusted their dream to Bidzina Ivanishvili and his political party Georgian Dream.  Strong campaign, effort and mobilization, extra monitoring and lobbying for democratic elections, left no room for government to rig the elections. Georgian people proved that they could peacefully change the authoritative government.

As a result of 2012 parliamentary elections, former majority NUM party moved to opposition and so did the president.  Thus, cohabitation of the Prime Minster and the President became a critical and urgent matter.  Although both sides believe working together is possible for country’s greater good, parties remain in deadlock over many issues.

Although there are many issues, the main one is clear.  The prosecution system has opened up cases and started investigations that implicate politicians and government officials in corruption, extensive human rights abuse, illegal arrests, monopolizing and controlling the media, intervention in businesses, exceeding official power and other illegal activities. Saakashvili and his team are trying to frame this process as a political retaliation from Bidzina Ivanishvili. Saakshvili proposed to newly elected government that in order for cohabitation to happen, investigations and prosecution of politicians and government officials must end.

But can such an ultimatum be satisfied? Before becoming the prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili promised citizens of Georgia justice, justice that would not be selective, including the Government officials and politicians. Bidzina promised democratic reforms that would free judiciary and prosecution system from any kind of political influence. Thus, Saakashvili’s proposal puts the Ivanishvili promise under the question mark. Why should the politician or government official should be given a priority and privilege and be set free from such a responsibility?  Would such a justice be fair? Cohabitation is necessary and both sides must act responsibly, but should justice be sacrificed for that reason?

During the NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting that took place in Prague on November 12, 2012 Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that: “There is no reason to hide that I’m extremely concerned about the developments we have seen since then the elections and the transfer of government, not least related to the recent arrests of political opponents in Georgia.” Bidzina Ivanishvili assured the Secretary General that all the actions of Georgian government would be clear and transparent, and political prosecutions will not take place in Georgia.

Bidzina Ivanisihvili sent an invitation to EU to provide consultations and monitoring  to Georgia on Behalf of the European Union in the judiciary , penitentiary reform, constitutional reforms, work of law enforcement structures, human rights protection and etc. Thomas Hammarberg was appointed to Georgia by the vice president of the European Commission Catherine Ashton and the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle according to the invitation of Ivanisihvili.

Ivanishvili hosted Thomas Hammarberg on march 5, 2013 and after the meeting Georgian Premier minister noted  that he is ready for any kind of criticism and also stated that  “We are ready to build a democratic society and we are really relying on this human rights expert”. Thomas Hammarberg from his side promised an impartial view.

Visa liberation meeting. Georgia

Press conference with Commissioner Malmström and Mikhail Saakashvili, president of Georgia. Photo: Laurent Muschel. Source: European Commission.

The only policy area both president and Prime minister share the common view is the country’s foreign policy, which remains as the status quo and intends Georgia’s integration in the European Union and NATO. Recently, the European visa liberation programme, from the EU, will come into force upon the implementation of reforms in all the areas relevant for the visa liberalisation dialogue, including the fight against corruption and organised crime, data protection, anti-discrimination and protection of minorities, as well as the independence of the justice system.

Georgian government has also opened up negotiations with Russia, in order to achieve normal trade relations. Russia has already allowed 36 Georgian wine and 4 mineral companies to export its products to Russia. In addition, both sides have expressed the interest in visa liberation.  Although it is too early for both sides to resume full diplomatic ties with Russia, based on the fact that Georgia keeps its focus on Euro-Atlantic foreign policy and Russia recognises de facto independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abhazia and South Ossetia , still the new government  shows initiation to find common ground in less controversial spheres.

It is far too early to conclude the future of Georgia, considering that the new government has been in power for four month, and the situation is extremely polarised between the government and the president and the opposition that lost elections in October 2012. Nonetheless, Georgia is on a democratic path and if the government can implement the intended reforms, with the help of EU consultancy, monitoring and transparency, then Georgia truly has a prospect to become a development model in a region.

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