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Democracy in action or new reality in Georgia

By Gela Vasadze
Georgia Online, 11 October '12


Let's face it, most experts in their hearts did not believe in the victory of the opposition, exactly as they did not believe that liberal democracy was possible in today's Georgia. In fact, there were good reasons for that, both within the government and in the opposition and society.

Let's start from the authorities. After coming to power through revolution, the United National Movement had two choices - to give public the maximum democracy, by which any reform would be condemned, or to implement reform by means of rigid authoritarian hand, in order to pull the country out of the hole - in which it appeared after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the governance of Soviet elite – into the conditions of market economy. Was government aware of this dilemma or not is uncertain. Probably not, just people. who came to power after the revolution, acted according to the situation, by responding to the challenges in the course of events. But one thing the new government knew for sure – was that changes would be very unpopular and would affect large number of people, for that reason the very first election would have swept away reformers or force the group to abandon chosen course.

Besides, the team of reformers was fairly heterogeneousin composition. In fact, the only ideological group in the team was a group of "Liberty Institute", the rest were at best good managers – professionals, in worst case - professional politicians, devoid of any ideological principles. Therefore, the first half-year of reforms were reforms of chaotic populism, in general, a Brownian motion under the slogans of justice. The only thing that was done consciously - was deprivation of economic base of the counter-revolution, that is, the redistribution of property of officials and people close to previous president Eduard Shevardnadze.

And then Georgia was lucky enough - Kakha Bendukidze quite accidentally fell into the power structures - the person who understands the importance of economic freedom for the country's development. It was he who, together with ideologists from "Liberty Institute" and technocrats Vano Merabishvili and Zurab Adeishvili, shaped the reforms into distinct forms and granted a powerful impetus to the development of the country.

Carousel-type shifts of staff a years since revolution was the result of the fact that most officials simply did not understand the essence of what was going on, well, and human resources were very limited too. By the way the misunderstanding of the reforms from mid-level managers was the main reason of rigid administrative vertical, in which all decisions were made by one leader in the field (as a rule it was the head of the region). That means that reforms were just broadcasted down from the top.

In such circumstances, for stabilization of power the creation of system that would provide this same stabilization was necessary. The system was based on three pillars: a rigid vertical of power (as discussed above), the control on non-admission of financial flows in the opposition camp and institutions ignoring opinion of people who were disappointed by side effects of reform. This was the power and at the same time, the weakness of the system.

The Byzantine-style of power was preserved, various groups continued to fight with each other within the power, well, necessity of ignoring public opinion allowed the authorities to go beyond the legal field. Of course, given description is highly schematic, and anyone who watched the action in the dynamics, knows that the configuration was often changing depending on the situation and relationships, but it's the little things that do not change the essence. The main thing is that the rigidity of the system did not allow it to split, instead of creating competing elites, which is a prerequisite for democracy, the system was consistently spiting out some representatives who were ready to struggle for returning to power, and thus, become a counter-elite. There are many examples, from Koba Davitashvili and Zviad Dzidziguri to Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Noghaideli.

However we need to remember that in the time of Edward Shevardnadze Georgia had formed a developed civil society, particularly in the main non-governmental sector and the independent media. Within that in civil society was growing discontent with authoritarian methods of reform, most often this dissatisfaction was of personal nature. I remember young poet who joined the opposition, because the government had put his father's close friend in jail. As a result of massive layoffs and repression of officials, accustomed to break the law, the government quickly lost the support of scientific and artistic elite. And it's not about soviet-nature of our elite, just the reforms had impacted the elite mostly.

In addition, the reforms were not less painful for the other groups. Demolition of illegal buildings, the ban on street trade, rigid system of tax collection, zero tolerance to crime, all this against the background of the real and imaginary wrongs affected a large part of the population. Moreover, the line between real and imaginary injustice was often very thin. The number of disaffected people was growing and general progress of the country could not override personal grievances. After the events of 2007, the authorities tried to create compensatory mechanisms, however, failed. By the way, perhaps the only compensatory mechanism for the same creative elite in those years was “Kartu” fund, owned by Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.

We have already noted that the stiffness of the system did not allow the elite to unite, while the counter-elite was enriched [by people] with surprising regularity. The vast majority of the forces that united around Bidzina Ivanishvili, were in the power pool, and therefore knew the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Ivanishvili really was the only person in Georgia who had sufficient resources to unite the counter-elite, and that was done. Despite a number of errors due to inexperience of Ivanishvili, as a politician, he managed to convince a large part of the society that his team was able to ensure the implementation of social order of the society in the shortest possible time.

One thing is clear - despite all the reforms carried out in the country, the opposition managed to win for number of reasons. Let us list the main ones. First, it is the desire of people to receive social benefits from the economic development of the country, the so-called paradigm of free lunch. Secondly, the order for justice, identified by a hot-button – paradigm of a broom. Finally, the psychological fatigue from the long monopoly of power by specific political force. Note, that even in this case the National Movement has received more than forty percent of the votes. Indicating the sustained support of the reform policy from significant part of population.

My confidence in the fact that the National Movement would not give up power, was based on the simple fact that the opposition force in the course of the election campaign has positioned itself as an aggressive counter-elite, focused on the destruction of the elite (i.e. persons in high places) as such. However, in Georgia, all of a sudden democracy happened. This does not mean that Darwinism of elite is gone. The elites have remained the same, however, the transfer of power through democratic means, is a fact accomplished in the history of Georgia for the first time and it would be impossible to ignore.

In fact, Georgia appeared in a unique situation. United National Movement, the party that was in power for many years, and moved to opposition after elections has a majority on the municipal level. In addition for another year presidential power is also in the hands of the former ruling party, and control over the security ministers and justice belongs to the president. This is really a unique chance for democracy. The political forces in Georgia has a whole year in order to either learn to live in a democracy, or continue to fight for survival in the best tradition of Darwinism. Time will tell whether they realize it or not.

However, the fulfilled democracy has other risks, which are very dangerous for the country. The major risk among them is the risk of rise of crime. I will explain right away, it does not mean that together with “Georgian Dream” thieves-in-law [organized crime bosses] will come to power, or that previous government will sabotage the work of the Ministry of Interior.

The situation is much more serious, because it does not depend on the subjective will of individuals. The thing is that a victory over the criminal world was based on zero tolerance for crime, or simply saying - on the fear of committing a crime. So today, this fear factor disappears. Of course, the new government may continue the line of the old, but zero tolerance for crime, was one of the main accusations of political opponents. People might not understand.

And here's another interesting thing - after winning, some leaders of the Georgian Dream said that the treasury is empty. The Ministry of Finance of Georgia, threw up his hands in amazement, how could it be empty - the plan of tax revenue for the last month was implemented, as well as in all the previous months – here you see.

It was implemented, but the discipline of tax revenue was also tied to the fear that had been planted by tax authorities, and through which the National Movement has lost a significant number of votes of the small and medium entrepreneurs. What if the business suddenly pays much less taxes? Repressive measures can not be implemented, but treasury has to be filled. Especially considering election promises of the Georgian dream, money in the budget will be needed much more than there is. How will this problem be solved is unclear.

The scope of this material does not allow elaborating on the risks of democracy wining in Georgia. These were the most egregious examples to illustrate. More information about the risks and what needs to be changed in our society, including in the judiciary, will be in the next article. In the meantime, let’s follow the formula that the winner in democracy is always Their Majesty - People. Let's see if that was the case here.

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