Is the future of Georgian democracy at stake?

On June 29, The National Democratic Institute (NDI) published a pre-election assessment of the political situation in Georgia, emphasizing that “The vilification of political adversaries has become commonplace.”

According to the assessment, hate speech against religious and ethnic minorities can “still” be found in Georgian campaign rhetoric. “Reports of politically motivated harassment, improper campaign spending, claims of the attempted bribery of state officials, and use of administrative resources persist,” the document reads.

The mission noted that in light of the multi-million lari fine imposed on Georgian Dream opposition coalition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, the authorities must “ensure transparent, equal and the reasonable application of campaign finance laws… [Government] should review and consider further reforms to address civil society’s concerns about the proportionate implementation of regulations.”

Earlier on June 8, the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai was published underlining the necessity of further strengthening human rights in Georgia and taking preventive steps to force government to stop using the law for its own purposes.

For all sides, there are reasons for concern regarding the future of Georgia’s democracy and some of the recent developments in Georgia are only strengthening this feeling.

Global TV, a Georgian cable operator and satellite TV provider, forcefully closed by the Chamber of Control, represented one of the most important examples of using the law for the government’s own interests.

The Chamber of Control, an independent public institution, conducts audits of the state budget, public finances and the activities of the public administration. Presently, this body is actively involved in auditing the activities of political parties during this pre-election period.

In June of this year, the Chamber of Control sent documents to the public prosecutor’s office emphasizing that Global TV was involved in attempts of vote-buying by Bidzina Ivanishvili. The court-ordered the seizure of Global TV-owned satellite dishes, which were distributed free in Georgia’s rural regions (Global TV is co-owned by Bidzina Ivanishvili’s brother Alexander).

According to the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, a human rights NGO, Article 151 of the Criminal Procedures Code was violated; the article stipulates that a property can be seized only if the situation is concerned with the accused or a person who is related to the accused. The chief prosecutor’s office initiated a criminal investigation into possible vote-bribery, but no one has been charged yet in the case. Consequently, the GYLA underlined the fact that the court order on the seizure of property was not in line with the law.

Some experts considered the case to be the government’s attempt to use the law for its own political interests– in particular, by interfering with the free flow of information to the public leaving those in Georgia’s rural areas without an alternative point of view. The point is that Global TV is the only cable operator which is carried in the Channel 9 package, a television station co-owned by Ivanishvili’s wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze.

The lack of an alternative point of view and information is the main challenge within the Georgian media. Consequently, the US Ambassador and several Georgian-based NGOs have succeeded in urging the government to introduce the Must Carry principle, which obligates cable TV providers to carry all channels with news programming. The government has allowed this principle for 60 days before the elections.

The second disturbing event was the use of civil servants in attempts to prevent opposition leaders from communicating with Georgian voters in the regions. The Mereti village was one such case that became prominent: A fistfight erupted in the village of Mereti, in Shida Kartli region on June 26, as Bidzina Ivanishvili was holding a campaign meeting with locals.

The village is located in the immediate vicinity of the breakaway South Ossetian administrative border. The clash happened during conversations with the residents of the village when a group of people began shouting “Misha! Misha!” and women were exclaiming that Bidzina Ivanishvili is a traitor and he is controlled by Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Consequently, two people, both supporters of the Georgian Dream coalition and one woman were hospitalized. Later, four men were arrested and jailed for ten-days following a fistfight incident in the village of Mereti. Two the four jailed men are activists of the Georgian Dream, who have denied involvement in the incident.

The Interior Ministry denied allegations that its employees were involved in the Mereti incident, though many NGOs and experts recognized civil servants as the main force which not only escalated the situation in the Mereti village and pushed it toward violence, but were also deeply involved in the fist fight.

The Public Defender’s Office launched an investigation into the Mereti village case, because of the video footage aired by various media outlets. “Those who were involved in the incident are public servants, including the employees of the Gori local self-government body and emergency situations service of the Shida Kartli region,” the statement of The Public Defender’s Office (PDO) read.

The last event which raised concerns was the recent appointments of interior ministry strongman, Vano Merabishvili as Georgia’s new Prime Minister. Some human rights activists were alarmed by the appointment of Merabishvili, as his tenure as the Interior Minister was tainted by the events of November 7, 2007 and May 26, 2011, when Georgian police and Special Forces were blamed for using excessive force and breaching human freedoms.

Darkening the picture is another fact: BachoAkhalaia’s brother, Data Akhalaia was allegedly involved in the notorious murder of Sandro Gvirgvliani, the head of the United Georgian Bank’s Foreign Department, in 2006. Data Akhalaia led the Department of Constitutional Security (DCS) at the Interior Ministry at that time and he was suspended from his post following the scandalous murder, which turned out to be one of the most serious challenges for Merabishvili.

Many people expressed fears that the appointment of such people to these high-ranking positions represents an attempt to shape a ‘police regime’ in the country. “They’ve done it probably in order to reinforce police violence against the people. But no reshuffle of the government will save these authorities,” commented Bidzina Ivanishvili.

By and large, it seems that the pre-election period will be difficult and the situation will become even tenser in the days to come. The ruling party feels a real threat and will probably try to use its administrative resources to stay in power by all means.

Consequently, we can just hope that the political game will stay within the bounds of democratic, free and fair competition. The government will undoubtedly require mechanisms of containment, and international observers and their assessments will surely have a key role to play in this.

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

Tolerance and democratization?

This column is in react response to the article ‘Violence at Gay Demonstration Exposes Darker Side of Georgian Culture’ published in Georgia Today’s May 25 issue. In the piece, the author, Teona Betlemidze, discusses the clashes that happened on May 17 in Tbilisi, as the NGOs Identoba and LGBT Georgia organized a peaceful march to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The march was interrupted by the ‘radical religious groups’ such as the Union of Orthodox Parents and the Union of St. King Vakhtang Gorgasali. As a result, there was a confrontation.

This day was first celebrated globally in 2004. The date of May 17 was chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. According to the official site of the event: “An International Day Against Homophobia belongs to no one individual. It’s about all people hoping for a prejudice-free world that can provide a place at the table for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.”

The article also cites Ekaterine Agdomelashvili, Director of the Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group, a local human rights organization, who associates the case with a cultural problem: “Providing her explanation about these latest developments, Agdomelashvili said she sees the problem [intolerance toward gays] lying on the darker side of Georgian culture, the part which prioritizes religion and tradition over human rights.” At the same time, the author cites a comment by the French Ambassador to Georgia, Renaud Salins where he states that “It’s a struggle which is supported by the European Union, by many international bodies and it’s about more than tolerance, it’s about acceptance.”

All in all, the reader would conclude that tolerance toward homophobia and transphobia seems to be an inherent part of the democratization process; which is supported by international bodies. Meaning: that confrontation over the rights of gays is an aspect of the ‘darker side of Georgian culture.’

Is that credible? Is intolerance toward gay rights and other minorities a sign of a non-democratic, backward society? The examples show a different picture.

Democracy means that when the majority governs the state, as a consequence, the minority is governed by the majority. The rights of the minority are based on the goodwill of the majority. Everyone must have civil liberties without taking into account race, skin color and sexual orientation.

Nevertheless, human rights and- in particular- the rights of minorities as we know them, are the brainchild of Western culture. These are really unique principles, but they are not universal. Therefore, an attempt to push them forcefully against the wishes of the majority of society sows the seeds of confrontation.

Samuel Huntington, the famous American political scientist, became prominent for his book The Clash of Civilizations, where he developed a thesis of a post-Cold War new world order. According to Huntington, during the Cold War era, conflict occurred between the capitalist West and the communist East. Thus [conflict] is most likely to occur between the world’s major civilizations. He identified seven, and a possible eighth major civilization: (i) Western, (ii) Latin American, (iii) Islamic, (iv) Sinic (Chinese), (v) Hindu, (vi) Orthodox, (vii) Japanese, and (viii) African. The main point of his work was that the West, particularly the US, must abandon its imposition of its ideal of democratic universalism and its associated military interventionism. An attempt by the West to universalize its values and spread it along the world pushes other civilizations into confrontation. Huntington put forth the idea that Western civilization and its culture is unique, but not universal; therefore, other nations should have an opportunity to choose whether to accept them or not.

In his book, The Middle East, Space, Society, and Politics, Professor Revaz Gachechiladze, former Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Georgia to the State of Israel wrote: “Judaism is actually a national religion. In Hebrew, individualism uses one word – Yuhudi, to emphasize his ethnicity [Jew] and religious affiliation [Judaist]. And even the secular Jew is closely tied with Judaism by hidden, but strong threads.” Consequently, for the hundreds of thousands of Arabs living in Israel it is impossible to become a full member of Israeli society. No matter how unbearable for them, becoming a citizen of Israel means becoming a Jew.

Moreover, Jews do does not consider Arabs as equals. According to a survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in November 2010, “more than half of Israeli Jews believe that the state has the right to encourage Arab citizens to emigrate… The study found that 53 percent of Jewish citizens would prefer to see Arabs leave Israel. While 55 percent said Jewish cities should receive more government resources than Arab communities.” And still no one doubts that Israel is one of the most democratic states in the world with a developed society and culture.

Hence, an attempt to consider intolerance toward gays or other minorities in a multi-cultural, multi-civilized world as a sign of an undemocratic, retrograde, retarded society with ‘dark’ stains in its culture, without taking into account such factors as politics, religion or moral issues, seems to be a shortsighted approach and a hasty conclusion.

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

You may also read a counter-responce by King William here.

The return of the OSCE Mission?

Member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Matteo Mecacci, and Chairman of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, paid a three-day visited to Tbilisi in May. His visit sparked hopes regarding the reopening of the OSCE mission in Georgia four-years after its closing.

According to official information posted on the Italian Embassy’s website on May 16, Matteo Mecacci held various meetings in which he noted that “in the resolution approved in Belgrade last year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE has called for the reopening of an OSCE field mission in Georgia, and I believe that all OSCE Member States should support this goal with the aim of protecting the rights of the people who are still suffering after the 2008 conflict.”

Moreover, according to the Maestro TV report, while he visited Georgian and Russian checkpoints in Egneti, on the administrative border with South Ossetia, Matteo Mecacci announced the possibility of launching a new OSCE mission in Georgia by July 2012: “I am here due to the government’s invitation. I have met many people. I understand their condition and the OSCE will do everything to protect human rights. Recently, the Parliamentary Assembly discussed the issue of launching an OSCE office here, which will begin supposedly in July.”

The announcement made by the OSCE representative came as a surprise not only for the Ossetian side, but for Georgians as well. While the Georgian media was circulating information about the re-launching of the OSCE mission, the South Ossetian Foreign Ministry issued a special statement denying any talks or negotiations with South Ossetian authorities on the issue.

“Such nonsense is reported by the Georgian media. Currently, more than a year later, no negotiations about this issue are taking place. There were negotiations in 2009, 2010, and 2011 raised by the OSCE chairman. However, we did not accept their proposal, and neither did they accept our conditions,” said the head of the South Ossetian Presidential Administration, Boris Chochiev.

On May 16, The Messenger published an article reporting that Matteo Mecacci was confused about the Georgian media citing him about the information pertaining to the launch of the OSCE mission in conflict zone in July of 2012.

“With reference to the article published yesterday in our newspaper, S. Ossetia denies the return of the OSCE mission. Matteo Mecacci has kindly requested that we publish the following article, underlining that in his interview with Maestro TV, he never stated that the OSCE field Mission to Georgia will be re-established in July of 2012.” The article did not specify whether the Maestro TV report was simply a misunderstanding or purposeful misinformation.

The first OSCE mission in Georgia was established in late 1992 to facilitate the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Georgia’s South Ossetia region. In Tskhinvali, the region’s administrative center, the OSCE had eight unarmed military monitors. Military monitors were in charge of the monitoring of, and reporting of the ceasefire in the South Ossetian conflict zone. After hostilities resumed in the region in August 2008, they were pulled out of Tskhinvali.

With the obvious intention getting rid of the international monitors, Russia blocked the extension of the mission’s mandate, which expired in December 2008. As a result, the OSCE mission to Georgia after seventeen-years of being in the conflict zone was shut down on June 30, 2009.

Ever since this time, Georgia has tried to restore the mission. Despite the fact that European counties such as Finland and Greece were promoting the idea, Russia has been successful in its attempts at blocking the initiative. Moscow wanted the new mandate to reflect the post-August War’s “new realities” in the region- in particular, Russia’s recognition of the breakaway region’s independence.

The main question, however, is not the possible restoration of the OSCE mission, but the way in which the OSCE representatives would be settled in conflict zone. Therefore, the mandate, its obligations and effectiveness are more essential topics.

The OSCE mission in South Ossetia failed not because it ended up being closed; the mission failed because it has proven to be ineffective in promoting peaceful relations between Georgians and S. Ossetians, and has been ineffective in preventing the large-scale conflict that occurred in August 2008.The main reason for this was its lack of effective tools.

No doubt, the possibility of re-establishing the OSCE mission in the region is crucial for Georgia. Substantially, the OSCE mission differs from the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) by functioning directly inside the conflict zone. Therefore, the presence of an international mission inside the conflict zone will surely push the conflict towards the internationalization process. This in turn ensures that Georgia won’t stand alone against Russia. This also ensures that human rights problems would be taken into account and the process of demilitarization will become more rapid. This is the goal for which Georgian government has been fighting for years. But still, without effective instruments of mediation and influence, the OSCE mission loses its huge importance.

In the paper entitled The Failure of the OSCE Mission to Georgia – What Remains?- Center for OSCE Research analyst, Silvia Stцber, called the August War of 2008 “the major turning point” in the mission’s fate.

“The locus of this military conflict was the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict area. In nearly two decades however, it proved impossible to achieve a viable agreement that was acceptable to all sides – an agreement that would resolve the differences not only between the South Ossetians and the Georgians, but also between Georgia and Russia,” Stцber notes in the research.

By and large, the presence of the OSCE monitoring groups in the breakaway South Ossetia would be an immensely positive step forward in terms of internationalizing the conflict and preventing further escalation. However, without providing the mission with effective mechanisms, any mission would be doomed to fail.

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

The lost “meritocracy”

In an article entitled “Georgia, A democracy Under Construction” published October 31, 2011, author Sйbastien Maillard wrote: “In order to create a new enlightened class of citizens open to the West out of nothing, the Saakashvili government began by generalizing the teaching of English in schools. For his part, Giga Bokeria, a close aide to the president, who dreams of a “meritocracy” (providing everyone with the same chances throughout the country), said: “We reformed examinations in order to put an end to corruption, and we now want to provide laptop computers to every student.”

Meritocracy, in the first and most administrative sense, is a system of government wherein appointments and responsibilities are objectively assigned to individuals based upon their merits- namely intelligence, credentials, and education, and are determined through evaluations or examinations.

According to scholarly consensus, the earliest example of an administrative meritocracy based on civil service examinations, dates back to Ancient China. The concept originated in the 6th century BC, when it was advocated by the Chinese philosopher Confucius, who invented the notion that “those who govern should do so because of merit, not of inherited status.” This sets in motion the creation of the imperial examinations and bureaucracies open only to those who passed tests.

By and large, political meritocracy means conditions when the state is governed by an intelligent and creative group of people. The legitimacy of such a group is based on its meritocratic nature.

Mikhail Saakashvili has dreamt of a meritocracy for a long time. In his speech delivered at Harvard University in 2010, Saakashvili noted: “They [Russia] tried to destroy our statehood and diplomacy in August 2008, but the process of development in Georgia is so strong that it is impossible to defeat. We are speaking about a long-term process that requires patience. I hope that foreign armies will never get in our way [through] their intervention; our people will never return to corruption, authoritarianism and nihilism. They have become used to meritocracy, individual freedom and democratic values. This is our main success today.”

Yet, once again, in one of his latest speeches given to the participants of the Young Scientists and Inventors Olympiad, Mikhail Saakashvili emphasized: “Meritocracy means that the best will receive financing, while the weak – cannot. Yet, I believe that everyone should have a chance to get stronger. That is why we have to surely develop this system.”

However, even though the leader of the ruling National Movement party has dreamed for a long time about meritocracy and has tried to promote it. Some of the latest initiatives have sparked doubts about whether the Georgian government still embraces “meritocratic” principles or has fallen victim to groupthink.

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. It is the mode of thinking that occurs when the desire for harmony within a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus without the critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints.

The primary socially negative cost of groupthink is the loss of individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking. Irving Janis was one of the first psychologists who led the initial research on the groupthink theory. Janis described three conditions of groupthink: 1) high group cohesiveness; 2) structural faults: a) insulation of the group; b) lack of impartial leadership; c) lack of norms requiring methodological procedures; d) homogeneity of members’ social backgrounds and ideology; 3) situational context: a) highly stressful external threats; b) recent failures; c) excessive difficulties with regard to the decision-making task; d) moral dilemmas.

The main symptom of political groupthink is the non-existence of political, expert and examining debates; decisions are made by a small group of “decision-makers” who have become closed and a great distance away from reality and people.

The newest proposals by the Georgian government looks like a perfect example of groupthink: a 3dimensional government, the city of Lazika, and Kutaisi as the parliamentary city. In all three cases the source of ideas was Mikhail Saakashvili, whose initiatives were embraced by the National Movement and the parliament without debates, doubt or hesitation, as if these were direct decrees.

Creating a system of an electronic government (3D government) which doesn’t even exist in the most technically developed state of Japan, has been evaluated by Tina Burjaliani, the Deputy Minister of Justice of Georgia, as possible and realistic. The idea to build the new city of Lazika invited discussions among critics about the cost and the need of such an initiative; Re-settling the Georgian parliament in Kutaisi, effectively distancing it from the political center of Tbilisi, and spending more than 133million lari on its development without the proper political and expert calculations, seems ridiculous not only for Georgian public, but also to some prominent foreign experts. For instance, Caucasus analyst Thomas De Vaal evaluated this decision as a “shame”. And still, the government pushes all three projects forward.

Apparently, Mikhail Saakashvili dreamed so long for a meritocracy that it overlooked the fact of shaping “groupthink” inside his invariable political team; the “groupthink” which by its own nature neglects “meritocracy” as such.

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

The consequence of inconsistency

“The Georgian [people] need access to the internet and computers to know what’s happening, so that people know what services are in highest need; what enterprises have a chance to become successful so we do not lag behind and have something to offer to the world’s markets,” Saakashvili said in Kvareli.

The Society for Spreading Computer Knowledge recently held a ceremony in Ilia Chavchavadze’s museum home in Kvareli. The ceremony, which featured an opening speech by President Saakashvili, was attended by several prominent figures.

Ilia Chavchavadze was a Georgian writer and public figure in Georgia in the 19th century, and is considered by many to be the father of modern Georgia. During his lifetime, Ilia Chavchavadze contributed greatly to the creation of an educated and tolerant society in Georgia, founding and chairing his own organization called the Society for Spreading Literacy among Georgians.

According to Saakashvili, the Society for Spreading Computer Knowledge will play the same role as Chavchavadze’s organization did. The newly-founded society aims to promote and deepen Georgian society’s knowledge of the computer and the internet, to help the country in its shift towards modernization. Deputy Minister of Justice Giorgi Vashadze said that during the first stage, the centers for spreading computer knowledge will be located in various villages; later, they will cover all villages in Georgia: “Georgian citizens will have the opportunity to spread information regarding their own products and businesses throughout the whole world, export the information and familiarize those tourists who plan to visit Georgia with their services.”

Despite the emotional speech given by Mikheil Saakashvili and the frequent use of Ilia Chavchavadze’s ideas and statements, the project and the whole idea of the Society for Spreading Computer Knowledge seems to be irrelevant, and appears to be a hasty and inconsistent political decision.

In his paper entitled A Theory of Human Motivation published 1943; psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a theory known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This hierarchy of human motivations consisted of physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness, love, esteem, and self-actualization needs. This pyramid-like structure ordered the largest and most fundamental human needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualization at the top.

The most fundamental and basic four layers of the pyramid contain what Maslow called deficiency needs: esteem, friendship, love, security, and physical needs. With the exception of the most fundamental (physiological) needs, if these “deficiency needs” are not met, the body gives no physical indication but the individual feels anxious and tense.

Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic needs must be met before an individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher-level needs. The most important deficiency needs are: physiological (enough water, food and sleep to survive) and safety (personal, financial and health/well-being, safety net against accidents/illness and their adverse impacts security). Without satisfying these crucial needs the person isn’t motivated to move on.

Interestingly, during the same speech given at Ilia Chavchavadze’s house museum, the president of Georgia made an angry statement: “I came to know that 30-40 representatives of the Ministry [of Economy] planned to travel to Brazil to organize a Georgian stand at the conference on environment protection issues. So these guys are willing to take a pleasure tour, right?! Boys and girls, my advice would be – let’s go on tour in your own country… Georgia… [because it’s no time for such pleasures like going to Brazil]. Do you think that Georgia’s income is already equal to that of the [United Arab] Emirates or Singapore? We have unimaginable poverty around here, around 20 percent of our population survives on less than two dollars [a day]…”

Based upon the statement made by Mikheil Saakashvili, the creation of computer centers in the villages, providing computers for rural families and financing such projects altogether, must be evaluated as an inconsistent political decision. In Georgian villages people lack not only personal, financial and health safeties, but sometimes even food, water, gas and light which is essential and crucial for surviving.

So an attempt to foster computer literacy and internet knowledge in places where the poorest part of Georgia’s people survive mainly on social assistance seems ridiculous. Currently, the paramount needs of rural families are not being met; and consequently, those residing in Georgian villages cannot spread or export any information or products, as they possess neither.

On the other hand, an attempt to draw parallels between the newly founded society and its predecessor seems to be even more absurd. The Society for the Spreading of Literacy among Georgians led by Ilia Chavchavadze was founded to protect Georgian culture and Georgian identity through the spread of literacy; this need for protection was spurred on in large part by the Russification process launched upon Georgian lands.

Today, Georgian culture isn’t under attack or doubt, therefore, the main goal of the Georgian government should be satisfying the basic needs the population. It seems that the creation of such a society is more “election talk”, rather than a consecutive, consistent step toward improving the living conditions in the Georgian countryside.

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

A place where the government is always the winner

The political surveys conducted in Georgia by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) seems to be areas where the government never loses. Within the segment of the population that is critical to the Saakashvili regime, this has raised several questions and concerns.

On March 27, NDI issued a survey that revealed the ratings of Georgia’s political parties. According to the survey, The National Movement with 47% is the leader in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Approximately a month later, IRI released its latest survey. The survey again emphasized the leadership of the ruling party (45%) and its leader Mikhail Saakashvili (77%).

While the government commended the professionalism of the NDI and IRI surveys, the opposition parties (excluding the Christian-Democratic Movement), refused to recognize the survey results. Their basis for not trusting these two American organizations is based on the fact that since Mikhail Saakashvili and The National Movement came to power in 2004, the ruling party has been the number one political force in Georgia, despite the frequent occurrence of human rights violations that include cases of torture in detention facilities, and the forceful dispersal of various opposition demonstrations.

Critics argue that no matter how strong the criticism was among the public to the government’s handling of challengeable situations, the authorities were unchallengeable in the surveys. This, they say, makes the NDI and IRI surveys predictable and disappointing.

On March 21, in his private TV show entitled Without Accreditation, the show’s host, journalist Shalva Ramishvili, openly slammed NDI’s survey results on Maestro TV.

A few days later, Georgia’s main oppositional union the Georgian Dream, published a statement emphasizing that: “It is becoming more and more apparent that one of the projects that the organization has been carrying out for years- in particular the sociological study on political parties- is not only unable to serve its goal, but has become counterproductive in establishing a competitive political environment that enables citizens to make informed political choices.”

“On the one hand,” the statement continues, “the methodology and the format of holding and issuing the polls and, on the other hand, manipulation of the results by the nation-wide TV stations have led to the loss of trust towards the organization within a significant segment of [Georgian civil] society. NDI’s latest studies have made these problems even more vivid and commenting on them or analyzing them has no sense”.

A week later, the Georgian Dream sent an open letter to the US Ambassador to Georgia John Bass, noting that conducting surveys according to the current methods “will not facilitate the formation of the free will of the citizens and open the way for well-informed choice… it will [however] reinforce the government`s propagandist machine and provide them a chance to use the aforementioned brands for various manipulation.”

For this purpose, the Georgian Dream called on the embassy to suspend the surveys by NDI and IRI prior to the parliamentary elections.

Spokesperson of the Georgian Dream, Maia Panjikidze, explained their position by pointing out that, while NDI and IRI are very important and authoritative organizations, they still hire Georgian companies for conducting the surveys.

“This is why we do not trust the surveys,” she said. “It is unbelievable that people support the government and are happy in a country where two million people are engaged or want to be engaged in the poverty program” (receive a monthly allowance from the state budget).

Independent political analyst SosoTsiskarishvili evaluated the IRI survey by saying that it is an expression of the “American idea, financed by Swedish money and implemented in the Caucasian-Georgian manner.”

The criticism unleashed by the Georgian Dream and some other commentators is a brave political step considering the crucial role of the US in assisting Georgia domestically and internationally.

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

Jobs.ge announcement strikes a blow to Georgia’s higher education reform

Jobs.ge is perhaps Georgia’s most comprehensive and frequently visited web-source for company representatives, public service providers and other individuals who want to post or search for job vacancies online. Generally considered the best source for employment opportunities in the country, jobs.ge also serves as a good source of information for getting a sense of Georgia’s current political, social and economic climate.

However, as we will see, employers seem to assess the value of a candidate’s academic qualifications unevenly and somewhat arbitrarily.

For example, on November 14, 2011, Ilia State University (ISU) published a vacancy notice on jobs.ge searching for candidates to fill positions at its Language Centre. The three vacancies included one for an Assistant Director, which entails planning and coordinating paid (online) educational courses, the distribution of course information, and cooperating with foreign lecturers. The second vacancy posted was for a Marketing Specialist/Web-Marketing Specialist needed to develop marketing projects for the Language Centre and to disseminate information about the courses. The third posting was for an internship in the field of Education Management, helping in the evaluation of surveys and planning online courses.

A degree in higher education in the field of Education Management is one of the requirements for consideration for the Assistant Director vacancy. However, the posting also underscores that those with a German higher education diploma in the field of Education Management or a related fields will receive priority.

Further, as additional requirements desired for the suggested position, the university specifies: In case of possessing German higher education diploma the priority will be given to those candidates who returned to Georgia maximum one year ago.

In other words, for all applicants possessing a Georgian higher education diploma, it is necessary to have a degree in Education Management, but in cases where the applicant possesses a German higher education diploma, a degree in Education Management is not compulsory. In short, one with a German higher education diploma need only have a degree in a related field to receive preference compared with those holding a Georgian higher education diploma in Education Management.

In addition, a person holding a German higher education diploma and those who arrived in Georgia no more than one-year ago is given additional priority compared with a person with the same qualifications, but who returned more than one-year ago.

In evaluating the requirements it is easy to conclude that an applicant with a Georgian higher education diploma in Education Management had three times less chance to obtain the desired position at Ilia State University, in comparison with a person with holding a German higher education diploma in the same or relative field.

The same applies with the position of Marketing Specialist/Web-Marketing Specialist. Even as an intern, a person is required to have higher education in the field of management. The announcement also notes that priority will be given to those holding a German diploma or those possessing work experience in Germany in Education Management or in the related fields of education or teaching.

At the end of the day, it seems ISU is looking for individuals that hold a foreign diploma and those with work experience abroad, as well as someone who is new to the current Georgian realities. Hence, the logical question remains: Why did ISU decide to disregard its numerous, highly-skilled graduates in favor of these other candidates?

In 2005, Georgia signed a treaty to become a member of the Bologna Process (this process made university degree standards and quality assurance standards more comparable and compatible throughout Europe), committing to establish the European Higher Education Area. The idea behind this was to ensure the development of the modern education system, improve the level of education and therefore, foster a highly-skilled, well-educated generation who can meet the demands of the Georgian employment market and be compatible on foreign job markets as well.

The implementation of this Western model – the introduction of a three-level education system (Bachelor’s degree; Master’s degree and Doctor’s degree) is considered to be one of the most successful reforms in Georgia. Ilia Chavchavadze State University of Language and Culture was one of the first universities that pushed through these related changes as part of the reform movement. It was then re-organized and the re-selected staff underwent professional training sessions. In 2006, the university was transformed into a modernized university based on the Western education system and its new name was Ilia State University.

However, ISU clearly has doubts regarding the level and/or quality of education its graduates possess- at least the contents of the vacancy announcement suggests this. In turn, this leads us to one final question: has there been any reform at all? Are Georgian Universities capable of providing Georgia’s job market with qualified personnel?

The level of success of Georgia’s educational reform has been put under question by the insiders themselves. And this, actually, can be considered as a blow to the Georgian higher education system reform.

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

Who is telling the truth? Alasania or Dmitrov?

At the special briefing on March 20, Irakli Alasania, leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats, which is part of the Bidzina Ivanishvili-led opposition coalition called the Georgian Dream, announced that the Georgian government is preparing armed paramilitary groups to be used in case of defeat in the parliamentary elections of 2012. Three weeks later the EU ambassador to Tbilisi, Philip Dimitrov, Head of the EU delegation in Georgia was a guest on the TV show ‘Direct Talk’ hosted by journalist Eka Beridze on the opposition-minded Maestro TV. On the same day, the Georgian news agency Interpressnews published a piece emphasizing that the EU ambassador considers the talks regarding paramilitary groups as fiction. The next day, Alasania accused Interpressnews of spreading misinformation and for the misinterpretation of Dmitrov’s words. All these developments confused many, leading them to ask where was the truth?

According to Alasania, the Georgian government is gathering armed paramilitary groups in the Western part of the country, particularly in Samegrelo, to use them in civil clashes. The clashes he believes, are likely to take place if the national movement loses the parliamentary elections in October, 2012. Alasania sent the documentations to the Georgian Security Council and warned foreign diplomats to carefully research the issue.

On TV show ‘Direct talk’ on April 11, Eka Beridze asked the EU ambassador to Georgia Philip Dmitrov: “Irakli Alasania said at a meeting with diplomats that the government is setting up illegal paramilitary groups in the regions and that it might be in preparation for civil war in the case of defeat in the elections… In your opinion, is such a signal a subject to pay attention to in fact?”

Dmitrov answered: “The EU has a respectable presence in Georgia, this is not only the delegation which I lead, and these are also 200 people who are monitoring on a daily basis everything that is happening at the ABL, especially on this side of the ABL. If anybody tried to prove to us that there are processes there that we cannot see, this would mean that we, the EU are not very reliable and I cannot accept this.” The analytical conclusion of the Interpressnews journalist is a perfectly accurate interpretation of the EU ambassador’s statement. Philip Dmitrov shared the position of Georgian officials: they say that the rumors regarding setting up any paramilitary groups are a lie; therefore, Irakli Alasania is just peddling misinformation.

So, who’s lying: Alasania or the EU ambassador?

On the one hand, it is hardly believable that Irakli Alasania, one of the leading political figures of ‘Georgian Dream’ could use the issue of paramilitary groups for political scores. Neither strengthening tensions in society, nor misleading the diplomatic missions would be effective in getting political and economic support at a domestic or international level.

At the same time, it’s clear as day that in elections held in Georgia it is decisively important to have approval from the West. Without external support of the US and the EU and unbiased parliamentary elections, the ‘Georgian Dream’ won’t be able to challenge the government. Consequently, ungrounded speculations irritating the Georgian public and Western partners could lead to diffusing voters and external support. Therefore, spreading information of paramilitary groups without having some serious facts on hands is reckless and irrelevant – a politically grave error.

On the other hand, based upon the fact that Georgian democracy is the last ‘issue’ of the ‘democracy spreading project’ launched by the Bush Doctrine, the fact that the US and the EU were supporting the Georgian government in spite of lots of misdeeds; the general policy approach of the EU ‘neutrality’ and the upcoming elections, it is more likely that Dmitrov may be holding something back, preferring not to talk about it.

The upcoming elections are an exam not only for Georgian democracy, but also for the US and the EU, which wholeheartedly supported it; the prestige of both Georgian strategic partners is open to the question.

The Caucasus expert Thomas De Vaal once noted that the main goal of the West in Georgia is to maintain peace and stability. Therefore, it is logical that proving the information given by Irakli Alasania – of which can raise questions regarding the success of the EU missions, Georgian government and the whole project of Georgian democracy – can lead to regional disturbances and in general, break the fragile peace and stability.

On this note, Philip Dmitrov can be holding something back in order to “fix” the issue in diplomatic ways. Of course, it is hardly possible to know the truth. But the judgment day will come in October 2012.

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

Is there a political cost to building a hi-tech military?

On April 11, after presenting the newest Georgian catapult-launched unmanned aerial surveillance (UAV) vehicle, President Mikhail Saakashvili visited the first modern Georgian military manufacturing facility Delta. The president congratulated the employees at the facility for their hard work and for building the new niche industry. “A new hi-tech field is taking shape in Georgia,” he exclaimed.

However, what are the consequences of Georgia’s hi-tech military build-up? Will there be a political cost to this new endeavor?

In June, 2009 Wikileaks released classified cables of conversation between Ambassador of the United States to Russia John R. Beyrle and US Ambassador to Ukraine, John Tefft. In a cable dated June 17, 2009, Beyrle pointed out that the US must avoid supplying Georgia with lethal military armaments. The ambassador’s view was that Washington’s assistance should be limited to providing only non-lethal military technology to Georgia, so Georgia could secure its borders, maintain stability and take on counter-terrorism steps: “From our vantage point, a burgeoning military supply relationship with Georgia is more of a liability for Georgia than a benefit… It would do nothing to secure a long-term resolution of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, allowing Russia to ‘justify’ its military buildup in the conflict territories,” he documented.

On the other hand, in a cable dated June 18, 2009, Tefft counter-argued that the US must assist Georgia in restoring its military capabilities by providing it with the lethal military armaments: “Current Georgian operational thinking is that if they can defend Tbilisi from occupation for 72 hours, then international pressure will force the advance to pause. To achieve this extremely limited goal, Georgia needs sufficient anti-armor and air defense capability to stall a ground advance, which it currently lacks,” Tefft noted. “The development of this capacity is not solely equipment-based, but it will require the acquisition of new lethal defensive systems. If Georgia does not procure the equipment from the U.S., it will almost surely seek to procure it elsewhere, as it has done in the past.”

The so called ‘Battle of Johns’ includes two different foreign policy approaches: John R. Beyrle, who in light of Obama’s ‘reset’ policy with Moscow, believes the US should not provoke Russia by supplying Tbilisi with lethal and offensive-minded military technology. The opposite point of view is held by John Tefft, who emphasizes the necessity of restoring and strengthening Georgia’s military capabilities despite the provocative nature of the policy.

In the aftermath of the 2008 US elections and the launching of the ‘reset’ policy with Russian, it was assumed that John R. Beyrle’s ‘reset’ policy-oriented approach would take over. However, Georgia’s recent advances in hi-tech military technology prove the opposite.

Taking into consideration Georgia’s current political, social, and economic troubles and the small window available for developing hi-tech military equipment, it is hard to believe that Georgia could modernize the Delta manufacturing facility, produce the first Georgian light-wheeled armored vehicles (Didgori and Lazika), a multiple rocket launcher (MRL) system and a new UAV, without the intense financial, military and technological assistance from Washington.

On May 26, 2011 the appearance of the ‘Didgori’ gave rise to doubts whether the US assisted in its production or not. Now those doubts have only been strengthened, as Georgia simply couldn’t afford to build a modern, well-equipped remotely-piloted vehicle without the appropriate technology and devices.

“Only a few countries have the same technology and it is significant that possessing such technology is even more important in the further advancement of intellectual knowledge and technology,” noted Mikhail Saakashvili.

So, it can be assumed that the reason Georgia is part of the ‘few countries’ is probably due to the fact that John Tefft’s approach has prevailed in this matter.

In this scenario, even though Washington hadn’t directly supplied Tbilisi with financial, military and technological assistance, Russia will surely blame the US, and become more aggressive towards Georgia. This military assistance may damage Washington-Moscow, Moscow-Tbilisi and even Washington-Tbilisi relations. It may even place the whole notion of a ‘reset’ policy with Russian and the US in jeopardy.

Never one to miss the opportunity to disgrace and offend Russia, Mikhail Saakashvili’s harsh tone and manner of speeches only strengthen the possibility that negative consequences could result from all of this.

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

Center for Systemic Political Research (CSPR)

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