The right to a fair trial in Georgia

Every attempt to reform the Georgian judiciary has been met with suspicion. It is no different when Georgian Dream pushes for them now.

The issue of the right to a fair trial in Georgia has plagued the country since its independence. No government has managed to bring the judicial system to an appropriate condition yet. Currently, the Georgian Dream party is pushing for grand reforms to finally settle the topic. While some may argue that the justice system has become more functional, there is strong evidence raising concerns the ruling government is still unwilling to fully give up on it as a political tool. Transparency International Georgia, as well as other local NGOs, argue that the recent appointments of judges on a permanent basis was flawed and politically motivated. These concerns have been echoed by a number of American congressmen and European actors.

It may sound like a typical story of corruption when the regime tries to subordinate the courts while civil society, in collaboration with external actors, fight to maintain its independence, but as usual, everything is not as simple as it looks in Georgia. When analysing the right to a fair trial, it is important to keep in mind that there always was, is, and probably will be politics behind the justice system. All actors have their own agendas and perceptions.

Background

There are no debates that Mikhail Saakashvili’s courts were totally flawed and controlled by the ruling party. Thus, the newly elected Georgian Dream, with help of local and international actors, initiated a reform process that aimed at building an independent, transparent and accountable judiciary system. As a part of the reforms, the Venice Commission called on the government to appoint judges on a permanent basis so that they could be invulnerable to changes of the political elites and influence from outside. The Ambassador of the European Union to Georgia, Carl Hartzell, argued that the process of nomination and appointment was open to the public and transparent like never before. But political opposition and local observers raised concerns that the ruling government broke the merit-based principle and appointed judges with highly questionable pasts. Particularly, they raised concern about those who were involved in sensitive criminal cases during Saakashvili’s regime and were previously perceived as “following the political order from above.” So far, critics of the Georgian Dream party have blamed it for “promotion” in exchange for “obedience.”

Furthermore, independent experts such as Ana Dolidze, the former chief legal adviser to the President of Georgia, argue that the government has given Saakashvili-era corrupt judges a platform to build the so-called “Murusidze-Chinchaladze clan” and control the whole system through political alliances. Some of these grave concerns are shared by Georgia’s strategic partners. As a result, the Georgian Dream was forced to halt its Supreme Court judicial appointments.

At the same time, contrary to everything said above, the latest statistics and reports show that courts are now functioning better than ever before. According to the statistics of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the amount of new applications submitted to a judicial formation increased with 30 per cent in 2019 compared to the previous year. Some 1,390 applications from Georgia were found to be inadmissible, a historic achievement. Furthermore, the Georgian government also won the important Rustavi 2 case in Strasbourg.

Therefore, while the system itself remains the least trustworthy institution according to a survey by the Caucasus Research Resource Center, the right to a fair trial is definitely more ensured in Georgia than previously.

Georgian politics behind the Georgian justice

On July 18th 2019, the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg published a historic judgement for Georgia regarding the so-called Rustavi 2 case. It was important due to the fact that the decision proved that Georgian courts can work appropriately and ensure the right to a fair trial, even in extremely sensitive cases.

The private opposition channel Rustavi 2, led by a close ally to Saakashvili and former high official, Nika Gvaramia, was sued by the former owner Kibar Khalvashi. According to Khalvashi, the channel was forcefully taken from him during the governance of the post-Rose Revolution government and allocated to the regime’s friendly forces. Khalvashi asked the Georgian courts to return his property. In 2017 Georgia’s supreme court reaffirmed previous judgements and ordered a transfer of the channel’s rights. Nika Gvaramia and the whole specter of the political opposition argued that Khalvashi was directed by the ruling government to close the only oppositional channel; furthermore, they argued that this was a direct attack on critical media and freedom of speech. Finally, Gvaramia stressed that the government was pursuing a direct order from the Kremlin to close the most pro-Western channel in the country. These allegations were mainly shared by respected local and non-governmental organisations such as Transparency International Georgia and the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association. The public defender Nino Lomjaria also expressed grave concerns. Gvaramia and others sent a letter to the ECHR emphasising that Rustavi 2 is crucial for Georgian democracy. They asked the court to suspend the decision of the supreme court and investigate the case. The European Court agreed. Rustavi 2 channel members, as well as political opposition and the “elite” civil society representatives, spend the next two years re-iterating that the case was a clear example of the grip of the ruling regime on the courts.

Shockingly for these actors, the ECHR not only supported the change of the ownership but also stated that no rights to a fair trial were violated and that there were no signs of Georgian democracy and freedom of speech being under a threat. Finally, European judges noticed that Nika Gvaramia was directly insulting the Georgian judiciary system and intentionally undermining the local court’s legitimacy and credibility.

Georgia’s “elite” civil society became silent. Gvaramia, grinding his teeth, called it a “huge mistake,” while leaders of the political opposition like Giorgi Baramidze, the former Acting Prime Minister, and Khatia Dekanoidze, the former Minister of Education and Science, assessed the judgement as a pro-Russian. They asserted that the ECHR was being bribed by the Kremlin and Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili.

What is the question about?!

To generalise the debate in Georgian society, we can argue that the judiciary reforms raises a highly philosophical dilemma: is the glass half empty or half full?

Obviously, local political opposition, along with representatives of the so-called “elite” civil society, consider the glass half empty. Logically, opponents of the government use this approach for the purpose of political rivalry to undermine the ruling party and gain electoral votes. But in the case of the “elite” civil society members, it has to do with a combination of political preferences, general agendas, and beliefs.

On the other hand, there is the current government that continuously compares its achievements with the legacy left by United National Movement, and consequently argues that the glass is half full. The comparison is crucial to remind the Georgian population, which is frequently keen to forget lessons of the past, that the post-Rose Revolution regime simply failed to fulfill any standards for the right to a fair trial. But, at the same time, this narrative cannot be used as an excuse. Furthermore, the government should not simply ensure “better” courts, it must raise the stakes and make the whole system respective to European standards. They need to finally set the institution free, something that the ruling power is not ready to do yet.

The magna challenge

The judgement on the Rustavi 2 case shows that there is clearly one magna challenge with regard to the establishment of an independent and objective judiciary system in Georgia. That is the unreadiness of local actors to obey, respect and follow.

The United National Movement had no concerns with the right to a fair trial when the reigns of power were in their hands and they controlled the courts to oppress opponents. But, as soon as they lost control and were threatened by the system they directly nurtured, former government representatives suddenly proclaimed that the institution is flawed and in need of total reconsideration. The judges, who were highly praised at that time by representatives of the government, were transformed from democracy-defenders to enemies of the state. This example refers us to an old established perception among political actors and, generally, wider society: the court is free and fair if it produces “appropriate” judgement. This means that no actors, including “elite” civil society and the general population, are actually ready to recognise that the court can provide the right for fair trial even if members of political opposition are being jailed, arguments expressed by civic activists have not been shared and, of course, government has been held responsible for its actions. All in all, the judiciary system works appropriately not only by restraining the regime but, generally, through making everyone equal and accountable. The courts must ensure that former or current elites are accountable, as well as any regular citizen. This is something that is still unobservable with the state.

So far, the real reforms must be continued and the government should be ready to give up this institution as a political tool once and for all. But, at the same time, the most important pre-condition for building well-trusted courts is to come to a common agreement that the judgement must be followed and respected. It cannot be abandoned, local courts cannot be intentionally discredited and simply undermined by neither side due to mercantile, narrow political interests.

The article was originally published by New Eastern Europe.

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Big trouble in little Georgia

For years, Georgia’s politics has been organised around the “search for a saviour”. But now this search has quietly ended, what is left?

This year, it is the absence of a “Messiah figure” who will “save the country”, as well as the obvious crisis of the country’s political party system. For years, Georgian society has been consolidated around the prospect of finding a “saviour”, which, in turn, has undermined the role of parliament, and left the country’s party system underdeveloped. Indeed, Georgia’s voters are used to choosing political figures rather than political blocs.

Nowadays, when Georgia’s “Messiah era” has come to an end and it is up to political parties to lead the state, the political establishment has nothing new to persuade voters that the old promises are still achievable. The electorate is confused. And this leads to an election campaign organised around mutual accusations, absurd initiatives, conspiracy theories and dangerous incidents. 

A short history of Messiahs

The unexpected break-up of the Soviet Union left Georgia in dire need of re-shaping its domestic political culture. While there were attempts to make the transition to a “western political system”, political memory, in combination with the political, social and economic instability of the 1990s, led to the formation of a Messiah-centered presidential system. 

Georgian society sought a “firm hand” from within the political establishment who would rescue the state from its deep political, social and economic crisis. In this situation, the main purpose of elections in Georgia was to consolidate society and find the “chosen one” who would oppose the existing repressive regime and rebuild the state.

Soon enough, Georgian society found a new “saviour” — Eduard Shevardnadze, a representative of the Soviet nomenklatura, who was elected in 1992 with 77% of the vote. Later on, in September 1993, when rumors began to emerge that Shevardnadze was planning to leave, protesters gathered outside the parliament, kneeled and begged him to stay in power. Ilia II, Patriarch of All Georgia (and the most trusted person in the country), personally called Shevardnadze a “nation leader”. He was re-elected in 2000 by 79% of votes.

For years, Georgian society has been consolidated around the prospect of finding a “saviour”

Much like his predecessor, however, Shevardnadze was unable to fulfill society’s aspirations and, by the end of 2003, Georgia was on the edge of collapse. State institutions were weak and corrupt. And this was the moment when another “saviour” appeared — Mikhail Saakashvili, who, backed by the US, initiated a new campaign to save Georgia. After pushing Shevardnadze to resign, Saakashvili was elected as president with 96% of the vote. Later on, his political team, the United National Movement, took a constitutional majority in Georgia’s parliament and he became the undisputed leader of the nation.

Saakashvili’s aggressive rhetoric and authoritarian nature pushed him to resign and set new presidential elections in 2008, which he won with a smaller majority. By 2012, Georgian society had come to a critical point, when United National Movement changed the constitution and turned the state towards a parliamentary system. This reform should have ended the era of Messianism in Georgia, but there were fears that Saakashvili was planning to continue governance by simply switching posts.

The transformation of Georgia’s political system from presidential to parliamentary model and the defeat of Mikhail Saakashvili’s government reflected the end of a long-lasting culture of Messianism. It was time for the political party system to take the lead.

Big trouble in little Georgia

Assessing the pre-election process in September, US Ambassador to Georgia Ian Kelly noted: “I wish the election campaign to be as good in the United States as it is in Georgia”. Even though local government took the statement as a compliment, the election campaign that can hardly be called a success. 

Indeed, the campaign started not with political debates or programmes, but a fistfight in Samegrelo. On 22 May, 2016, members of the United National Movement were attacked and brutally beaten by unidentified persons in the village of Kortskheli in western Georgia. While the participants were later detained, the UNM accused Georgian Dream of initiating the incident. The ruling party responded by publishing documents that verify close ties between the attackers and the UNM. The investigation is still in progress.

What remains to be seen is how this crisis will develop and how it will influence the post-election environment. Currently, there is only uncertainty

At the beginning of August, leaders of Georgia’s Centrist Party, Lado Bedukadze and Nikoloz Khachisvhili, hit the stage by offering “Russian pensions” (i.e. significantly higher payments) as an election promise to every pensioner in Georgia. Moreover, the party’s election campaign video footage promised to legalise the future presence of Russian troops in the country. Even though this initiative was absurd and unachievable, it got a wide-range reaction. The party was later expelled from the race.

An equally absurd initiative was proposed by David Usupashvili, a prominent Georgian politician who recently resigned from the position of parliamentary speaker. Usupashvili, leader of the Republican Party, promised to establish an “American base” in Georgia in the run-up to joining NATO. The idea contradicts the foreign policy that the coalition Georgian Dream government has pursued until recently. For years, Georgian Dream, in cooperation with US advisors, has tried to move Georgia-Russia relations out of the US-Russia relations context. The mere possibility that a US base would appear in the South Caucasus would definitely backfire and, of course, escalate the situation in the region. 

By the beginning of September, the election campaign had come to entertain conspiracy theories, after an audio recording that allegedly reveals Saakashvili’s plan to overturn the election results was leaked to the press. The recording supposedly documents a conversation between the ex-president of Georgia and fellow members of UNM in which they plan for mass riots and political disturbances in the post-election period. 

Moreover, Giga Bokeria, a prominent figures in the UNM and former secretary of the National Security Council, is allegedly heard to propose a “revolutionary scenario”, which is approved by Saakashvili. The security services have summoned the alleged participants for questioning, and an analysis of the tape’s authenticity is currently taking place.

The election campaign has now entered the stage of various local confrontations and serious incidents. On 2 October, three members of the youth wing of Georgian Dream were hospitalised after they were physically assaulted allegedly by UNM supporters (again in Samegrelo). The next day, shots were fired at a campaign meeting of Irakli Okruashvili, a past ally of Saakashvili, in Gori. While one of the former defence minister’s security team and a supporter were wounded as a result, Okruashvili claimed that responsibility for the attack lies with local Georgian Dream activists. 

The whole election campaign and the events of the past week reveal that there is a big mess in little Georgia. These “Messiah-less” elections make it clear that Georgia’s mainstream political parties have more or less the same “ideology” and the same goals, while parties with opposite approaches lack necessary financial and human resources. 

What remains to be seen is how this crisis will develop and how it will influence the post-election environment. Currently, there is only uncertainty. 

The article was initially published by OpenDemocracy.

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The lost “meritocracy”

In an article entitled “Georgia, A democracy Under Construction” published October 31, 2011, author Sébastien 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 gov-ern 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 – can-not. 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 re-search 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 di-lemmas.

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 de-bates, 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 133 million lari on its development with-out 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.

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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 Hu-man 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, es-teem, 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 plea-sure tour, right?! Boys and girls, my ad-vice 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 in-come is already equal to that of the [United Arab] Emirates or Singapore? We have unimaginable poverty around here, around 20 percent of our population sur-vives 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 re-siding 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 im-proving the living conditions in the Georgian countryside.

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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 sur-vey, The National Movement with 47%is the leader in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Approximately a month later, IRI released its latest sur-vey. 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 sur-vey 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 afore-mentioned 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 Soso Tsiskarishvili evaluated the IRI sur-vey 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.

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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 para-military 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 diplo-mats 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.

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