Category Archives: Democracy

Georgia’s June crisis

Tensions remain high in Tbilisi after Russian lawmaker Sergey Gavrilov occupied the chair of the speaker of the Georgian parliament last month.

On July 20th, it will be almost one month since Georgia experienced one of the deepest and longest open political crises over the decade. Insulted by Russian deputy Sergey Gavrilov’s behavior during the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy when he occupied the chairman’s seat in the parliament of Georgia, some part of local society, in cooperation with political opposition, took to the streets to call for the government to bear responsibility, protest against occupation and remind the western partners that 20 per cent of the country is still under the control of the Kremlin. The initially peaceful protest turned violent and ended with massive clashes between protesters and riot police. Hundreds were injured, including security officers, while some lost their eyesight. As a result, the government was forced to fire the chairman of the parliament, introduce a proportional electoral system and free everyone detained during the unrest. At the same time, a small group of protesters are still demanding the resignation of the head of the ministry of internal affairs, Giorgi Gakharia. On July 7th, Georgian society experienced further frustration after Rustavi 2 TV journalist Giorgi Gabunia, on his show P.S., verbally insulted the President of Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.

This initially provoked universal public outrage, which raised fears that the Kremlin could have initiated additional economic sanctions. Fortunately, Georgia and Russia managed to avoid further escalation of interstate relations. This incident is important for two reasons. Firstly, Rustavi 2 is one of Georgia’s leading TV channels that is capable of shaping and forming public attitudes. Secondly, this channel represents itself as a highly pro-western (and thus, anti-Russian) media agency that strongly supports the parliamentary opposition and June protests. So far, Gabunia’s absolutely provocative and non-journalistic behavior stigmatises the so-called pro-western movement and strengthens the attitudes of Georgia’s larger civil society that parliamentary opposition and the protesters are politically irresponsible and untrustworthy. Furthermore, it may create the false perception that irresponsible journalism is acceptable for the west and fits into western journalistic standards.

We may easily argue that the most critical stage of the protest has passed and the ruling party managed to avoid a further escalation of the situation for now. The political protest that is present on a regular basis in the city center is slowly fading and will probably be in vain. Putting aside the emotional part of the issue, this incident reflected Georgia’s deepening political and economic crisis; furthermore, a lack of alternatives and, most importantly, unreadiness of the youth to bear respective responsibility for its actions. And it seems that this irresponsibility became widespread, which affected Georgian media too.

The “full picture”

If you go through various local and international publications, you may come to conclusion that the Georgian youth were peacefully protesting against Gavrilov’s visit and the long-lasting occupation of the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions by the Russian Federation. But factually, these people were peacefully protesting only for a while, and the reasons were much more complex; stagnation of political will and creativity among them. The visit of the Russian Duma deputy was just a trigger that initiated processes on the ground. Georgia is stuck between the past (the parliamentary opposition) and the present (ruling party) and is probably incapable of leading the state into a better future. Debris of the post-revolutionary government, the United National Movement and European Georgia, are lost in the past with an absolutely outdated political agenda, while the ruling party is seemingly unwilling to handle the significant issues that trouble Georgian society, including the status of the judiciary. Additionally, none of these political forces have a clear vision of how to deal with the economic crisis, unemployment and other socio-economic challenges. The status-quo pushes general Georgian society, especially the youth, to look for alternatives that are simply missing at the table. The non-existence of alternatives totally depreciates elections and leads to nihilism.

Provoked by the visit of representative of the “occupant state” and actually driven by despair, some part of Georgian society, including youth, went to the streets to unleash accumulated anger and dissatisfaction. This absolutely fair movement was acceptable for larger Georgian society until political opposition and their devoted activists decided to raise the stakes; the direct call from one of the leaders of the parliamentary opposition, Nika Melia, to “peacefully” relocate the protest into the building of the main legislative body, turned into an attempt to forcefully seize this state institution, the “heart” of Georgian statehood. Police officers and representatives of other security forces were calling on protesters to stop and attempted to prevent them from taking the building for approximately two hours. By the end of the day, Minister of Internal Affairs, Giorgi Gakharia, ordered the dispersal of the already non-peaceful and anti-constitutional protest. Unfortunately, this process was accompanied by the abuse of power and misbehavior by some members of the security forces that led to hundreds of people receiving various injuries, including the loss of eyesight. Georgian society got a new scare.

Shared irresponsibility

It is obvious that the government is usually guilty of both success and failure. The ruling Georgian Dream party made dramatic mistakes, including agreeing to hold the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy in the Georgian parliament and its failure to be responsive to the protesters demands and anxieties. Undoubtedly, the government failed to protect those peaceful and unarmed individuals who were attending the protest. At the same time, it has already suffered serious consequences and will feel significant impact during the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2020. But what about the actors who played a significant role in escalating and provoking unrest? Should the political opposition and the protesters also bear some responsibility for the events? We may definitely argue that Georgia cannot transform into a real democratic state unless we introduce the concept of shared responsibility, meaning the government is not always the only actor to blame—every engaged actor must bear its share of responsibility for its own actions and outcomes of these activities. And here we are experiencing serious problems.

Narratives expressed by members of the parliamentary opposition and the protesters simply avoid this issue; they are trying to turn a blind eye to it as if there were no direct attacks on security officers, destruction of state property, attempts to forcefully seize parliament building and general anti-constitutional behavior. John F. Kennedy once said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. The best thing that the protesters and especially the youth could have done for the country was to remain peaceful, but they failed. Today, the best thing they can still do is to share responsibility for June 20th with the government and parliamentary opposition. Unfortunately, neither the opposition nor the youth is ready to do so. This unreadiness for responsibility raises serious questions among larger Georgian society about whether the youth is actually prepared and can be trusted to lead the country.

By and large, Georgia suffers from a political and economic crisis that neither the ruling party nor the parliamentary opposition are probably capable of handling. There is dramatic need for new approaches and creativity through the establishment of alternative political forces and schools of thought. Unfortunately, Georgian society is simply not ready to satisfy this demand and some parts of the society, especially the youth, unleash their anger with political protests. The local parliamentary opposition and protesters are trying to represent the June 20th events as a peaceful protest that was brutally dispersed by the government. This narrative has little to do with the actual facts. Of course, the ruling party made a few significant mistakes, but both the political opposition and protesters played a significant role in escalating and provoking unrest. Thus, all sides should bear some part of the responsibility. Georgian society must realize that the responsibility for the country must be shared among all engaged actors and not only the government. Finally, this recklessness also affected the Georgian media environment. Giorgi Gabunia’s “demarché” against Vladimir Putin was, by all means, extremely damaging non-sense that sent the wrong message regarding Georgian values and journalistic standards and stigmatised political opposition and the protesters as politically irresponsible and untrustworthy actors.

The article was initially published by New Eastern Europe. It is available here.

Georgian LGBTQI+: Story of the Wrong Tactic

On May 17, international society witnessed the celebration of the so-called “Family Day” in Tbilisi. Rep­resentatives of the Georgian Orthodox Church, with many members of local society, marched from the city center to the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi (“Sameba”), where they expressed devotion to traditional family values. This totally overshadowed another important event, International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia that was publicly commemorated by only a few. Representatives of human rights groups and the LGBTQI+ community, afraid to organize a public event on this date, only dared to rise the “rainbow” flag, but had it quickly removed. Instead, they spoke of holding the first Tbilisi Gay Pride march with some other activities, such as concerts, in late June, but these aspirations were shattered when the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia officially informed them last week that due to the high possibility of violence, they could not guarantee the safety of pride participants should a public march take place. Instead, they suggested a closed venue, such as the stadium.

Various local and international analysts expressed their dissatisfaction to see the direction of rights and freedom of sexual minorities in Georgia so significantly derailed; derailed so much that in comparison with previous years, representatives of these groups are again being forced into a corner. And while, undoubtedly, the Georgian Orthodox Church has played its role in shaping this state of affairs, it is obvious that supporters of the so-called “liberal values” made a few unforgivable lapses that crucially contributed to the victory of “Family Day”.

A Clash of Narratives

To be fair, both events appear pretty artificial to the state. International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia wasn’t presented to local society until 2012 when the LGBTQI+ movement tried to celebrate it for the first time, while Family Purity Day (full name: “Family Strength and Respect for Parents”) was established by the Georgian Orthodox Church and, in particular, by the spiritual leader Ilia II, to counter attempts by some INGOs and NGOs to re-think traditional concepts of “love”, “marriage” and “family”. We may argue that there was factually no firm demand from general Georgian society to introduce either of these. As it stands, as Georgian historian Nukri Shoshiashvili argues, these are initiatives by two totally different institutions that aim to pursue the right to control, develop existing and create or shape new political, cultural and social narratives. Consequently, by offering these holidays, supporters of “modernity” (liberals) and “traditionality” (conservatives) have clashed for this privilege and initiated a fierce rivalry for the hearts and minds of Georgian society.

Due to its historic achievements and contribution to building-up the Georgian state and nation, the Georgian Orthodox Church was, by default, in a superior position; it held and still holds an important position in the daily lives of regular Georgian citizens. Hence, representatives of the so-called liberal groups should have carefully planned and structured their policy and tactics to outmaneuver these rivals and persuade local society that International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia was never about abandoning and/or disrespecting traditions bur rather about giving an opportunity to members of the LGBTQI+ community to speak up and defend their rights and freedoms.

Unfortunately, defenders of “modernity” opted for an irrational and blunt policy that has suffered dramatic defeats again and again to date.

The Blitzkrieg Tactic

There is only one term that can define the policy pushed by LGBTQI+ movements and its supporters – a blitzkrieg. These groups hoped that an absolute political back-up from American and European institutions/agencies, in combination with an extremely high financial in-flow, would provide them the necessary tools to announce a new political, social and cultural reality; a reality that no one would dare to challenge. They hoped for a fast victory but were deceived by their own false perceptions and assumptions.

Undoubtedly, political and financial guarantees from the country’s strategic partners are significant but are not conclusive. Georgian society has developed its own agenda over the years, transforming into a crucial political actor whose trust and devotion must be gained; it cannot be achieved solely by referring to the West as a trademark as was done in the past. Recent surveys make it obvious that these groups significantly lack internal legitimacy and are mistrusted by the majority of Georgian society. Thus, their attempts to pursue a harsh and blunt policy that disregards existing political, social and cultural realities, including the Georgian Orthodox Church, led to a dramatic opposite chain reaction. Instead of building a safer and freer environment for the LGBTQI+ community, society became even more dangerous and intolerant. Georgian society aspires to become part of the European family but there are some “red lines” that it is not ready to cross.

We should also speak about the highly destructive and thoughtless behavior of some representatives of the liberal movement too, who, it seems have become so arrogant, selfish and self-confident due to external political and financial backing, that they don’t even bother to try and foresee or care about the consequences of their statements and steps. For example, Irakli Vacharadze, who chaired the leading LGBTQI+ organization ‘Identoba’ was keen to officially and publicly verbally insult the Georgian Orthodox Church and its spiritual leader, Ilia II; further, to label and threaten everyone who opposed his (Irakli’s) ideas and approaches. Other associated speakers had and still have a tendency to unmindfully pursue harsh rhetoric, including by labeling those against them as pro-Russians, “enablers” of Kremlin propaganda and ideology- all things that only serve to worsen the situation.

The history of the celebrating International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia in Georgia is probably one of the best examples of an incorrect tactic that led to dramatic consequences and an absolutely opposite chain reaction. Political and financial support from abroad made Georgian activists both arrogant and unable to critically assess their capabilities. They opted for a straightforward and blunt policy that they were unable to factually implement. As a result, the Georgian Orthodox Church easily outmaneuvered them and took the majority of hearts and minds of Georgian society. Unfortunately, this further complicated the lives of the LGBTQI+ community in the country; and it will not change unless liberal forces re-think their approaches and push for a more sophisticated policy.

The article was initially published by GeorgiaToday. It is accessible here.

The Lucifer Effect: How to Turn Georgian Judges Good

Archil Sikharulidze & Teimuraz Sikharulidze

Georgia has a plethora of issues needing attention and reform, but there is probably no topic as significant and crucial as the judiciary. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Georgian governments have been trying hard to build a comprehensive, sophisticated, independent and, most importantly, publicly trusted judicial system. Unfortunately, these attempts have been unsuccessful, largely due to the unwillingness of the ruling political powers to give up such a strong and influential mechanism, a tool still widely used by ruling regimes in non-democratic states to oppress and punish counterparts.

The current rulers, Georgian Dream, are today pushing for another grand reform that, in theory, should finally put into the judiciary some widely accepted, recognized and embedded democratic standards such as the check-and-balances model. This process is chock-full of controversy due to a number of highly questionable decisions that have so far been made, among them the appointment of judges who are blamed for unlawful past judgements in extremely sensitive and scandalous criminal cases. The majority of local and foreign experts and NGO/INGOs expressed their astonishment at the appointments and are calling on the government to show the political will to truly reform the system.

In the wake of such turbulence, Irakli Kobakhidze, Chairman of Parliament, poured fuel on the fire during a TV appearance on February 5 where he commented on the appointments, stating that those judges who had misdemeanors in the past had in fact been “made good” as a result of systemic and environmental changes. These remarks were considered by some as unacceptable and unethical. But if we put political and ideological rivalry as well as populism aside, it is obvious that Kobakhidze’s statements perfectly fit into the social psychology paradigm and reflect a working policy that, at the end of the day, must be pursued with minor changes.

The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil

Social Psychology is a field that studies the influence of social processes and environment on people’s behavior. It basically argues that individual behavior is not determined solely by a human being’s personal character, ethics, values and attitudes; obviously, it is highly sensitive to external impact and/or pressure that independent variables such as environment or a stressful situation may have. Human beings are not, by default, “bad” or “good”, meaning that their behavior is not pre-determined by nature but rather conditioned by a set of internal and external characteristics that may force “good” people to turn “bad” and “bad” people to turn “good”.

One the most prominent representatives of the Social Psychology school is Stanford University Professor, Philip Zimbardo, who argued these ideas in his prominent work The Lucifer Effect (TLE), How Good People Turn Evil. Zimbardo takes a look at the so-called Stanford Experiment and misbehavior of American soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He is confident in his judgements that the cases prove the significant role of the system and environment on the behavior of individuals who had previously never had records of violence and misconduct but who were keen to engage in such actions once affected and pushed by external factors.

Irakli Kobakhidze’s comments may sound cynical and irrelevant, but actually the creation of a healthy, free, independent and transparent environment/system is crucial for the establishment of publicly trusted institutions that will contribute to a judicial system that supports “good” people and keeps away and/or sets a working framework for the “bad”. Kobakhidze raised the important issue of systemic change but did so in a non-diplomatic manner and without explanation.

Applying the Framework

Before arguing the steps the government needs to take to achieve a successful reform, we should speak about at least two important issues that are frequently overlooked.

Readiness to Obey

While debating the judicial system reform, analysts often undermine the importance of the Georgian mentality and political culture. Representatives of Georgian society, as well as elites, frequently talk about building a publicly trusted institution, but, factually, neither side is really ready to contribute to the building.

This reality is determined by the widely-shared perception that a fair and free court is a court that makes “respective” judgements which are acceptable for everyone. But this is practically impossible, as the “loser” always opposes and questions the judgement made and, thus, questions the judiciary. Furthermore, representatives of Georgian society have no general culture of obeying court decisions unless they are victorious. As such, at the end of the day, the demand for an impartial, fair and free trial is never-ending.

Another obstacle is the local political culture that, according to the best traditions of Georgian mentality, is tolerant only towards those institutions which are politically and ideologically acceptable and beneficial. Mikhail Saakashvili’s regime had no issues with the corrupt judicial system of the time until it was subordinated to the political elite. Yet, representatives of the former ruling movement are dissatisfied with this less (but still) corrupt institution under Georgian Dream governance. The unwillingness of local political powers to give up the judiciary as a political mechanism prevents the establishment of a truly independent institution.

Thus, it makes no sense to debate judicial system reform unless we bring significant changes into the Georgian mentality and local political culture.

Must Dos

We should express and keep in mind three basic assumptions. The first: there is no way we can build a judiciary that is fully trusted by all, meaning that we will never have a system that is acceptable for everyone; hence, we need to learn to obey judgements unless they are clearly partial. Second, we need to make it clear to local political powers that the judiciary is not a subordinated-to-the-ruling-elite political mechanism or weapon. Finally, we cannot afford to fire every judge who had a past misconduct; Georgian society does not have the human resources required to repeat Saakashvili’s period formula of “fire everyone and hire new staff”. As such, we must work with those people who are in the system today.

Based on these three pillars, the government should push for systemic and environmental change, meaning that “good” people are not pushed to do bad and “bad” people are turned “good” or are kept out of the system. Those judges who had a strong background of misconduct must be severely punished and expelled from the judiciary, while others are given chance to prove their professionalism and devotion to the new democratic standards. The idea of life-long judges must be temporarily abandoned. The existing political reality and human resources are not enough to pursue this approach. Rather, we need a long-standing project, perhaps “judge of the future”, which will prepare a new generation of public servants who will be appointed on a life-long basis later on. These decisions ensure that the most prominent “guilty judges” are punished, others are given a second chance, relatives of victims get at least minimum justice and Georgian society has time to establish a functional judiciary with trusted life-long judges.

By and large, the judiciary reform is probably one of the most relevant and sensitive topics today. Kobakhidze’s arguments are not by default false; moreover, his views totally fit into the Social Psychology paradigm which argues for a healthy system and environment to prevent “good” people turning “bad”: the “bad” may turn “good” if they are put into such conditions. Georgian society needs not only to reform the judiciary but also to reform its mentality and political culture. Furthermore, it needs to recognize that we cannot simply fire everyone who does not satisfy the high moral and ethical standards- Georgia lacks the human resources for that. That said, it is wise to punish those who deserve it (within reasonable and existing limits) while continuing to cooperate with others. The idea of life-long judges must be postponed in order to prepare a new generation of public servants to be appointed according to the approach later on.

The article was originally published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here.

Georgia on the Crossroad: Back to the Past?

Georgia held presidential elections and, for the first time in the country’s political history, the state will hold the second tour. This may be easily considered as a huge blow for the ruling political force, Georgia Dream. Local political opposition united around Grigol Vashadze, presidential candidate of United National Movement. Some foreign and local experts/observers may think that fierce political rivalry between position and opposition is a sign of positive democratic changes; furthermore, that Vashadze’s victory will have positive effect. Contrary to this perception, Vashadze’s success won’t lead country to better future but rather to unfortunate past.

Read more in Russian via link. The original article was published by Russian Council and can be read here.

Return of Saakashvili? Political Observer Archil Sikharulidze’s Analysis

On October 28, 2018 Salome Zurabishvili, an independent presidential candidate supported by the ruling party Georgian Dream and its leader Georgian typhoon Bidzina Ivanishvili failed to win in the first tour of the presidential elections in Georgia. Zurabishvili managed to surpass her opponent from United National Movement, Grigol Vashadze only by small margin. In the wake of this tremendous success of the opposition, various experts analyze possible outcomes of Vashadze’s presidency. Previously, Vashadze argued that he will pardon former Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili and his fellow teammates. Georgian political observer, Archil Sikharulidze gives a short comment on possible return of Saakashvili and the reasons behind opposition’s victory.

You can read more in Russian here.

Goodbye, Mr. President

President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, officially refused to participate in the upcoming presidential elections to be held on October 28. It will be the last time Georgian society gets to elect their president directly. The main political parties have already presented their candidates, while the ruling team Georgian Dream made the decision not to do so and is betting on independent candidate Salome Zurabishvili.

The political campaign is ongoing and the presidential candidates have already promised the electorate they will integrate the country into NATO and the EU, contribute to the de-occupation of the separatist regions, build better state institutions and accomplish numerous other grand goals, while local and foreign experts/observers have been discussing possible significant changes that the state will experience thereafter.

This fierce race of political promises in combination with continuing debates among experts once more proves that there is a strong misunderstanding of the changes that came to light due to the constitutional amendments of 2010 and 2017. The presidential institution has lost the lion’s share of its power; the President is not an all-powerful political figure anymore. One can hope that the next President will avoid the predecessor’s policy, which can be summed up by the term “The Margvelashvili Syndrome.”

No Longer King

On October 15, 2010, Georgian Parliament, where political party the Unified National Movement (UNM) had a constitutional majority, approved controversial constitutional amendments. According to state officials, the aim of the changes was to offer more checks and balances in the country’s political system. The new constitution totally changed Georgia’s political system, shifting it from presidential to parliamentary. After the so-called Rose Revolution (November 2003), the ruling party UNM introduced the first wave of constitutional amendments in 2004 that helped Mikhail Saakashvili, as acting President, to accumulate unprecedented political powers, and the state went to a super-presidential model. Constitutional amendments accepted in 2010 curbed the presidential powers by boosting the role of the Prime-Minister (PM) and Parliament. In 2012, Georgia held parliamentary elections that ended this transition: Georgia became a state with a parliamentary system where the President still holds some powers but where most duties are allocated to the Georgian Parliament and the head of the government, the PM.

In April 2017, the ruling party Georgian Dream went further by accepting new constitutional amendments that, according to official statements, should have, once and for all, anchored the parliamentary nature of Georgia’s political system. The President of Georgia ultimately became a public figure rather than political.

Thus, promises that are kindly and actively given by presidential candidates are in fact political manipulations; Georgia’s presidential institution simply does not have the respective political clout to pursue or set any independent policy. On the other hand, statements made by various domestic and external observers regarding possible significant changes in the country’s political life come from a lack of understanding of the internal processes and awareness of the constitutional amendments.

Of course, the institution of the presidency may, in theory, play an important role during crises or other turbulences; moreover, the President can be an important public figure on the chessboard. But this is possible only in a country where the political system has evolved enough to produce politicians/public figures with strong and respective backgrounds; individuals capable of gaining massive support and acknowledgement from society. Undoubtedly, that’s not the Georgian case.

The Margvelashvili Syndrome and The Institution of the Presidency

Margvelashvili’s term has yet to be carefully analyzed; but, at the same time, we can easily outline a few very important tendencies that may be defined as the Margvelashvili Syndrome, which includes: misunderstanding of the institution of the presidency, a fruitless fight for power/influence, and a lack of nation-building.

Probably the biggest failure of the acting President was his fundamental misunderstanding of duties and obligations that were and are delegated to the institution of the presidency. As mentioned above, the constitutional amendments of 2010 relocated most powers to the PM and Parliament. The President was no more the key player in Georgia’s political system, and yet Margvelashvili lacked understanding of this new reality. His short-lived “honeymoon” with Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili and coalition Georgian Dream (the coalition) drove him to pursue an independent policy that he was actually unable to carry out. Margvelashvili claimed that the ruling party was trying to undermine the presidential institution. Even though this statement may be somehow correct, the acting President knew perfectly well that this process of “undermining” had been initiated by the previous government. It was and is logical that in a parliamentary system, the institution of the presidency is not considered a counter-balance to parliament and government but rather as an emergency “button”. Margvelashvili’s real purpose should have been to strengthen democratic institutions and processes through political dialogue rather than making open appraisals against the ruling party.

The Fight for Power and Influence

The second failure is directly attached to the first. Margvelashvili and his administration’s inability (or unwillingness) to recognize the changed nature of the institution of the presidency led to a useless fight for power and political influence. The confrontation was pointless for two important variables: the constitutional majority that the Georgian Dream holds and the fact that Margvelashvili himself was elected thanks to support from Ivanishvili and the coalition. By continuously vetoing the government’s legislative initiatives, the Georgian President only pushed the majority of voters to turn their backs on him, while Georgian Dream easily overturned his vetoes thanks to absolute dominance in Parliament. By and large, Margvelashvili did not have enough politically delegated powers (officially and unofficially) to oppose the ruling political establishment.

No nation-building

And finally, the third variable can be described as a lack of important activities towards nation-building. As a president elected according to the new constitution, Margvelashvili’s main purpose was to pursue dialogue with the government and push for further nation-building processes. The President should have used various platforms not for political messages and struggles as he was so fiercely doing, but for advocating issues regarding democracy, democratic institutions and socio-economic challenges. As a former head of GIPA (Georgian Institute of Public Affairs), one of the leading non-public institutions, he had all the necessary skills, knowledge and network to spread his word among Georgian students; through an existent platform, working hard to help the youth to understand and promote the principles of democratic governance; to be occupied doing something that Georgia’s political elites are too busy to do – nation-building. Of course, he had meetings with students, but Margvelashvili’s messages were often overshadowed by the “cockfight” between the himself and Parliament.

Crucial Mistakes

Apart from the Margvelashvili Syndrome described above, we need to speak about two other equally important mistakes that the acting President made: an absolute reliance on the NGO platform and the abolishment of presidential funding.

After the collapse of the Margvelashvili-Ivanishvili and Margvelashvili-Coalition Georgian Dream tandems, the acting President of Georgia was forced to look for new allies and he found them in the face of local non-governmental and civil society organizations (NGO/CSOs). Margvelashvili’s “honeymoon” with these NGO/CSOs was logical and pragmatic but he made a serious mistake by relying totally on this platform. Instead of working with students and the electorate in general, he was focused on gaining from non-governmental organizations, their representatives and supporters. The NGO/CSOs had total support from the President while dealing with the government’s legislative initiatives. This policy ensured the positive attitudes of civil society but significantly distanced Margvelashvili from mainstream voters, who sometimes thought that the President was overly keen on pleasing the NGO/CSOs.

The former President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, made lots of mistakes. But, at the same time, he knew that youth and students were, are and always will be the best political investment; and he actively invested. Saakashvili established various scholarships, studentships and other awards to motivate schoolchildren and students to study, to develop and, of course, to be satisfied with the existing political regime. Most importantly, Saakashvili was active in providing students with financial assistance to continue their education abroad with money taken from the Presidential Reserve Fund. The fund is controlled by the President and the goal is to support the establishment and development of democratic values and state institutes countrywide. But where Margvelashvili spent it on various projects, including opening Soviet occupation exhibitions and centers all over the country, Saakashvili gave Georgian students the chance to study in the best universities of the world. Saakashvili invested in the future electorate while Margvelashvili did not.

By and large, Georgia’s presidential elections are not as crucial as some would like to argue. The institution of the presidency has no powers to set or modify the country’s political course. The President is not a key political figure anymore but rather a public figure who may be important once the state has the respective political culture. The future Georgian President must keep this in mind to avoid the Margvelashvili Syndrome and not spent his/her term in useless “cockfights” with the ruling force; contributing to nation-building is the number one priority. And finally, the coming President must work not only with the CSO/NGOs but with Georgian society in general; especially with youth and students.

The article was originally published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here.

Georgia Enslaved!

On July 24, Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgian tycoon and Chairman of the ruling party Georgian Dream, gave a long-awaited interview to Channel One journalist Maka Tsintsadze in which he unleashed a stream of criticism of the country’s financial system, claiming that the two leading bank institutions, TBC and Bank of Georgia, have “swallowed” the state and stuck people in endless debts. Then he called this policy “shameful”.

These statements may be perceived as historic because this is the first time in Georgian modern history that a high state official has openly and decisively attacked “business” and the “business environment” that was step-by-step established following the collapse of the Soviet Union. For years, Georgian governments were not only aware of the existing economic processes in the country but were very keen to support particular political-economic approaches, which ultimately lead to a reality where every fifth individual in the state lives in poverty today. It is interesting as to why the current government and its leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili (who is an active businessman himself), were forced to openly criticize two leading bank institutions and the business environment in general. The answer is simple: Georgia can’t move on unless some significant changes are made to it is political-economic paradigm.

Shifting Paradigms

When explaining why Marxism took such extreme forms (for example, military communism) in post-Empire Russia, prominent Russian philosopher and political thinker Nikolai Berdyaev argued that it was a result of an old tradition set by Orthodoxy. For centuries, the Russian Orthodox Church demanded blind loyalty from its “flock” that dismantled critical thinking within the ranks. As a result, the new political-economic theory of Karl Marx that would have been slowly analyzed, criticized and assessed by every Western society, was turned into another dogma; another form of totalitarian thinking in Russia.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was not only an appraisal against totalitarianism and a fight for national self-determination, but also a shift from planned economy to market. It was and still is logical that independent Georgian society wanted to abandon everything that the Soviet period had established, including the government’s involvement in everyday life. Local political and economic philosophers immediately picked up the so-called liberal-economic model, wholeheartedly preaching the “laissez-faire” model where the private sector was totally free from government interventions, while every single citizen was left “tete-a-tete” (Eng. “head to head”) against business. Furthermore, Georgian governments have actively tried to create the best possible hothouse conditions for the sector, frequently turning a blind eye to the growing gap between the business and Georgian societies. This approach can be easily reflected by a statement of former Georgian Minister of Economy (June–December 2004), Minister for Reform Coordination (February 2008 – February 2009), Kakha Bendukidze, who argued that it is possible to privatize everything except your own mother.

Local political-economic thinkers became enslaved by the so-called liberal model, pushing it despite opposition. As Russia before, they managed to transform this frequently criticized model into a new undisputable dogma.

The Win-Lose Game

Ivanishvili’s expression of a “swallowed” state perfectly reflects the existing socio-economic situation on the ground. Nowadays, the obsession of local elites to push the liberal economic model, without taking into consideration some important variables such as concurrency and mentality, have led to the establishment of a “win-lose” game. In this game, business is always the winner and the consumer is always the loser. Every single deal is, by default, much more profitable for the financial institution than the citizen. Moreover, the private sector feels totally untouchable and as yet has been unpunishable. In 2015, former Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili questioned why the price of oil on the local market continued to be high despite the cost of commodities falling around the globe. Garibashvili was highly criticized by various actors for interference in private sector matters. In April 2018, former finance minister Mamuka Bakhtadze (current PM) criticized the leading banks of the country for not pushing the state’s economy forward. Bakhtadze argued that the banking system should be driving Georgia’s economic development; a grand mission that is not pursued by the leading local financial institutions. Bakhtadze, as Garibashvili before him, was so harshly attacked that he was pushed to give some “explanations.” But Ivanishvili’s case is totally different. As a Georgian tycoon, the richest and most influential political-economic figure, he can finally break through barriers and focus on those clearly existent flaws. In 2012, Georgian society hoped that Bidzina Ivanishvili would lead the country to a better future. He has a chance to do it by pushing forward changes to the country’s financial system, transforming the “win-lose” game to “win-win”.

By and large, this tendency of ruling representatives expressing their dissatisfaction with the existing financial system is a reflection of dramatic socio-economic conditions. The Georgian state and society has become enslaved by its own business actors whose activities have frequently a more negative than positive impact; moreover, this negative impact is so immense that even state officials (who are actually to blame for its establishment) are pushed to recognize it. Georgian business holds both the state and society restrained and thus blocks state-development. The country’s political elite must free itself from “liberal fanaticism” and start implementing the necessary political-economic methods to ensure that local financial institutions are as free and independent as socially possible, working on the market, state and society simultaneously. Only in this scenario can the existing “win-lose” game be replaced by the “win-win” model. Only then will Georgia finally be able to move forward.

This article was initially published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here.

“The Decline of Europe” a Hundred Years Later (Debate), Journal «The New Past», №2, 2018

Questions for Discussion are following:

  1. Is there a “decline of Europe” as a conceptual model today? What are its characteristics?
  2. Can we talk about the specifics in the perception of the “decline of Europe” from the inside and outside? And if so, what are the differences in conceptual approaches to this problem?
  3. Can we assess the migration crisis, regionalism, identity crisis and solidarity in Europe as an “evidence of the decline of Europe”?
  4. Are the integration projects of the Eurasian Union, the New Silk Road (One Belt — One Road) a symptom of the extinction of European civilization in the post-war format familiar to us from the 1940s?
  5. Did Oswald Spengler’s forecasts come true?

Disputants:

Archil Sikharulidze, co-founder, Center of System Political Research (CSPR), editor of the Georgian Journal of System Politics (GJSP), Georgia;

Thomas Kruessmann, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c., LL.M. (King’s College), School of Politics and International Relations of University of Kent (Great Britain), co-ordinator of the Jean Monnet Network “Developing European Studies in the Caucasus” with the University of Tartu / Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies and Senior Expert in the EU Technical Assistance Project “Strengthening Teaching and Research Capacity at ADA University” in Baku (Azerbaijan);

Rustem Davletgildeev, Doctor of Law, Academic coordinator of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence in European Studies VOICES+, Vice-dean of the Faculty of Law on International Activity, Kazan Federal University, Russia;

Bryan Christiansen, Chief Executive Officer, Global Research Society, LLC, USA;

Goran Ilik, PhD, Faculty of Law, “St. Kliment Ohridski” University — Bitola, Republic of Macedonia;

Aijarkyn Kojobekova, PhD in Philosophy, Associate professor, Senior Adviser on Research, UNUM, Training, Research and Analytics Company, Kyrgyzstan.

«Закат Европы» Сто Лет Спустя/“The Decline of Europe” a Hundred Years Later

No “Free Cheese” for Women

On March 23, Georgian MPs voted down the so-called Gender Quotas Bill. The bill obtained 66 votes from Georgian Dream while 14 representatives of the party voted against it. The initiative failed to gather the necessary 76 votes to pass the legislative threshold. MPs from the European Georgia and the Alliance of Patriots did not attend the voting. Two of the six United National Movement legislators (four were absent) voted in favor of the bill.

The bill is a new grand project decisively promoted by various well-respected Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), supposedly aimed at pushing Georgian society to more gender equality. There were probably no doubts that, backed by Georgia’s strategic partners, these CSOs would have persuaded the government to accept a gender quotation mechanism; but, contradictory to expectations, the bill did not gain the respective support. This failure raises some important questions about Georgian society and the non-governmental sector and the nature of their affairs.

The Gender Quota Bill

In June 2017, a group of 118 Tbilisi-based and regional CSOs, in collaboration with international women’s rights organizations, introduced a new bill – the Gender Quota Mechanism. According to the initiative, women are highly underrepresented in the country’s political life. The statement is based on the 2016 Global Gender Gap report from the World Economic Forum that ranks Georgia 114th out of 144 in terms of women’s participation in politics. The bill proposed to oblige political parties and self-governments to balance the number of their male and female representatives. In case of absence of gender parity, political parties would be denied registration for elections. If approved, it would have resulted in at least 38 female lawmakers in the next parliament and at least 75 (half of the legislative body) female lawmakers from 2024. In theory, the mechanism is perceived as a ‘temporary’ means to empower women’s participation in politics and an increase in their role in the decision-making process in general.

This legislative initiative was warmly received by senior lawmakers from three parliamentary parties of Georgia, including the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, the European Georgia part and the United National Movement. Georgia’s Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, also supported it, arguing that it would promote gender equality and push forward the democratization process. Finally, it got a green light from the Ambassadorial Working Group, which unites the diplomatic corps accredited in Georgia.

Post-voting outcry

Arguably, it is the first case in the last decade when, despite strong support from senior officials and the country’s strategic partners, local CSOs failed to pass the project.

While the government immediately pointed out a lack of political consensus on the matter among its members and promised to continue pushing forward the bill, members of CSOs were highly frustrated and angered. As previously mentioned, there were no doubts that the bill would be accepted. They offer two main narratives for this fact.

The most popular is to argue the retrograde nature of Georgian society which does not move with the times or with the so-called “civilized world”. The second argument was voiced by prominent local women’s rights activist, Baia Pataraia. Pataraia argued that by taking down the initiative, parliament members once again proved that Georgian men are generally afraid to empower women because this can potentially break down the strict patriarchal order currently prevailing on the ground. “Men are not willing to engage with women in direct and fair competition due to fears to be simply outmaneuvered by female counterparts,” she says.

Yet there is a large group of people, including a significant number of women, who were skeptical about the bill from the get-go and thus, had no reaction at all. They argued that quotas will not lead to strengthening the role of women in the decision-making process but rather, once again, break the meritocracy principle. Women in Georgia need more space for self-development, education and career promotion rather than artificially allocated seats in the legislative body. Women should be more involved in the decision-making process based on their professionalism and education rather than gender.

What went wrong?

What is intriguing in this case is that there was no serious outcry on the issue from regular civilians; no harsh debates on social media or other platforms. Just quick and aggressive tweets from CSO representatives and their supporters; that’s all. Why?

Not ready, not interested

According to a poll conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in 2014, 64% of respondents argued that there was no gender equality in the country. Additionally, approximately 70% believed that the number of women MPs should be increased. But, it seems that readiness to involve women in the decision-making process does not mean, by default, readiness to delegate these powers for free, based only on gender belonging. The reason probably lies in the poor reality on the ground. There is a challenge with the so-called “merit-based system” in Georgia. The system which, in theory, should ensure that only those people occupy senior positions who are worthy (education, work experience) – the meritocracy principle. Undoubtedly, this practice is rarely applied on the ground. So far, we may argue that Georgian society, and its men, are simply not ready to replace male MPs/senior officials frequently appointed or elected for no reason at all, with women MPs/senior officials with only their gender behind them.

Contradictory to Pataraia’s position, we can argue that Georgian MPs are not afraid of women but rather of every single individual who may challenge their power and social status. Hence, local society and men are simply not interested in modifying the existing system to a more gender neutral one where gender parity is still based on nepotism, loyalty to the existing government and other questionable “merits”. But rather, there is interest in promoting meritocracy, creating a basis for a fair, competitive environment where both male and female individuals will be able to reflect their knowledge, skills and professionalism in general to be hired for real achievements and merits rather than belonging to particular families, groups, institutions or gender classes.

Discontent

Failure to push forward the Gender Quota Bill proves something that representatives of various groups are aware of but are not willing to recognize – there is a growing gap between the non-governmental sector and Georgian society. This gap appeared due to various processes, but one of the most important is the evolution of local NGOs from purely social movements (late 90s and the beginning of 2000s) to very active political actors nowadays. There is an increasing feeling that, like every political actor, local NGOs have their own social, economic and political agenda which is frequently not in harmony with the demands of the masses on the ground. Far worse, the more this sector is involved in the politics, the less credible it becomes for the Georgian electorate.

This discontent had led to a situation where society was not ready or interested in accepting the bill, but CSOs were still pushing for it due to strong external support. The ruling party got stuck between two lines of fire. On the one hand, Georgian Dream is definitely willing to please the CSOs and strategic partners to score more political points but, on the other hand, it realizes that voting for projects that are not well-received among its electorate may lead to dramatic consequences during the next elections. As a result, the bill failed to pass the parliamentary vote but the Chairmen, Irakli Kobakhidze, promised CSOs and Georgia’s strategic partners to continue working on it.

The Gender Quota Bill is an interesting initiative that may or may not lead to more gender equality. But its failure to pass parliamentary voting shows that regular citizens are more interested in establishing a fair, competitive environment in the country in general to ensure that individuals are hired based on their achievements and merits rather than their belonging to various groups, institutions and/or gender classes. Georgian society is ready to involve women in the decision-making process due to their professionalism, and not in connection with their gender. At the same time, there is a strong feeling among regular citizens that local CSOs have their own political, social and economic agenda that frequently does fails to match the demands existing on the ground. This leads to a growing discontent between Georgian society and CSOs; CSOs that, in theory, should represent Georgian society and its interests.

The original article was published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here.