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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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. How-ever, the posting also underscores that those with a German higher education diploma in the field of Education Management or a related field 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 maxi-mum 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 Ger-man 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 Ger-man 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 re-mains: 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.

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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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