An alternative view of Georgia’s European identity and past history

Georgia intends to submit an application for membership of the European Union in 2024. Whilst most Georgians assert the country’s European identity, alternative views are emerging. In this op-ed, GIPA doctoral student Archil Sikharulidze challenges the concept of Georgian “Europeaness”, and those who promote it.

Georgia has wholeheartedly set its course toward NATO/EU membership. This aspiration to become an inherent part of the Western civilisation – frequently termed as ‘civilisational choice’ and/or to re-join the ‘European family’ – comes not only from political, social and economic considerations but also from academia. In November 2003 the country experienced the so-called Rose Revolution when an allegedly pro-Western trio of local politicians, Zurab Zhvania, Nino Burjanadze and Mikhail Saakashvili, ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze and assured the country’s Western allies that they would put Georgia on a “democratic track”. This coloured revolution led to dramatic shifts in local academia. In particular, a renewed higher education system and respective educational institutions – many supported by various external Western donations, grants and scholarships – focused on the American and, especially, European dimensions and frameworks. This led Western scholarly approaches and literature to become absolutely dominant.

Nation-Building Perspective

Tradition, historiography, and history, as key pillars of a nation-building process, have been externally influenced in Georgia. Motivated and educated abroad, modern Georgian scholars were determined to revise the so-hated Soviet legacy and rethink Georgian history; to reconsider Georgia as a phenomenon in the history of humankind. So far, we are witnessing ongoing efforts by both international and local scholars to rewrite Georgian history from the Western-oriented, and to be more precise, European-oriented nation-building perspective. This is the perspective which represents the generalised West as a ‘historical homeland’, Russia as the ‘evil empire’, and Turkey and Iran as strategic partners with complicated pasts that should be left in the past. Georgian history as a whole is the subject of studies and emendations on the country’s path toward Westernisation-Europeanisation.

Apart from rethinking Georgian history in general and focusing on Russia’s long-lasting ‘war on Georgian sovereignty’, there are time periods which only became widely researched and actualised recently.

A new wave of mainly young leftist Georgian scholars in collaboration with foreign colleagues actively study and promote the so-called First Republic timeframe. In 1918 Georgia gained independence from the collapsed Russian Empire and became a sovereign state, chaired by Noe Zhordania, one of the leaders of the Social Democratic party. Arguably, at that time, the Georgian government aspired to strengthen ties with Europe, especially Germany, and escape from Russia’s ‘sphere of influence’. Despite harsh opposition, Georgia was captured by the Red Army in 1921 and was integrated into the Soviet Union, thus, losing independence and sovereignty to Moscow yet again. Seemingly, researchers of the First Republic are trying both to restore the damaged reputation of the Georgian Social Democratic party on the one hand, and its political ideology more generally on the other. They emphasise the continuous strife of local elites as well as the whole Georgian nation for self-determination overall, independence and sovereignty from Russia in particular, and the idea of a European future as an integral part of Georgian history.

Another heavily researched issue is the so-called great purge or massive Soviet repressions of the 1930s. Inspired by Germany’s approach to ‘denazification’, researchers from the SOVLAB (Soviet past research laboratory), amongst others, are pushing for de-Sovietisation by exposing the brutality and merciless nature of the Soviet regime and remembering the victims of its terror by setting-up memorial tables. There are also calls on local government to grant access to confidential archives hiding detailed accounts of both victims and abusers, and so-called collaborators. Using the so-called German model for Georgia in combination with the comprehensive lustration approaches implemented in the Eastern European countries is being considered as a path towards political and historical redemption – liberation from the nasty Soviet legacy.

Being remembered and discussed annually, the so-called 9 April 1989 events represent a ‘historic anchor’ for Georgian elites to draw the line between “us” and “them”, Georgian patriots and Soviet/Russian murderers – a ‘red line’ between Georgia and Russia. This tragic incident, which led to deaths of more than 20 people in Tbilisi, is probably the most widely recalled and observed, especially by local researchers and experts; and, paradoxically, is still less studied, transparent, clear and objective due to the high level of emotional sensitivity and politicisation around it. Any kind of ‘non-patriotic’ revision leads to a harsh academic reaction due to a prevalence of so-called ‘scientific patriotism’.

One should separately emphasise the phenomenon of Zviad Gamsakhurdia in Georgia’s historiography. Gamsakhurdia, a prominent Soviet dissident and the first president of an independent Georgian state, has for a long time been simultaneously considered as a founding father of modern Georgian statehood as well as the most notable Georgian nationalist. The politician was a ‘freedom fighter’ who fought against Soviet/Russian imperialism on the one hand, and an example of destructive Georgian nationalist sentiment on the other hand. Interestingly, we are witnessing a dramatic shift in this well-established framework, with local researchers turning Gamsakhurdia into a ‘role model’ in the scope of a larger European-oriented nation-building historical perspective.

And lastly, the lion’s share of research is focused on a period after the so-called Rose Revolution which is, in accordance with a general framework, considered as a continuation of Georgia’s historical strife to become a member of the “civilised world” and “Western family” by joining NATO and European Union. It should be noted that the US, as a crucial political and military ally, is extensively represented. Georgia’s entire modern existence is being analysed and narrated through the prism of West-East rivalry, where Georgian people are desperate to re-join with the ‘historical homeland’ while the Kremlin aspires to destroy, demolish, and shatter its dreams.

A ‘new Georgian’

Arguably the best expression of the role of Europe, Europeanness, and the European identity in the modern interpretation of Georgian history are in the words of the prominent Georgian politician Zurab Zhvania, who declared “I am Georgian, and therefore I am European”. This formula, which was probably more of a slogan shared among a narrow group of local elites rather than regular citizens, became a symbol of the Georgian nation-building framework. According to the main narrative, Georgia is not going to ‘become’ a member of the European family; rather it is the oldest European nation, forcefully ripped out – arguably, by Russia – of its ‘civilisational space’ and is now doing its best to re-join it. Europe, according to the storyline, historically unwilling to recognise Georgian ‘Europeanness’, is finally ready to lay aside geopolitical and other considerations and accept Georgia; thus, Tbilisi has a unique opportunity to make a centuries-old dream come true. The concept of ‘Europeanness’ – introduced by Korneli Kakachia and others, as a combination of European-minded elites on the one hand, and preference of liberal political order on the other hand – is at the forefront of any agenda in the country. Thus, local political, academic, business and other elites do consider EU-Georgian relations as a key pillar of Georgian existence; a grand mission that other dimensions of the state’s domestic and foreign policies should serve. The ‘Europeanness’ that has already turned to ‘radical Europeanness’ is continuously overshadowing a dramatic need for Tbilisi to pursue more pragmatic and down-to-earth political approaches both at home as well as beyond its borders. ‘Europeanness’ or ‘radical Europeanness’ fits an idea of a ‘new Georgian’ repeatedly expressed by Mikhail Saakashvili and representatives of his political team. Saakashvili, the third president of Georgia, openly argued that a grand idea of the so-called Rose Revolution – thus, a grand idea of him and his supporters – was to deconstruct the corrupt, unattractive Georgian mentality and create a ‘new Georgian nation’. And the European identity is the kernel of that concept.

Georgian academia, which is often a precise reflection of the Georgian political agenda, is respectively focused on creating the necessary historical and ideological foundations for a European-oriented, nation-building perspective. Being extensively ideologically, financially and logistically maintained and supported by American and European grants, many of local scholars and researchers follow agendas offered by the state’s strategic partners; putting the Georgian ‘European identity’, ‘Europeanness’, ‘civilisational choice’ and other pro-American/European narratives as the logical conclusion of every single research project. Interestingly, despite pushing the concept of Georgia as the oldest ‘European nation’, there is a clear understanding that this assumption is barely reflected in European historiography. Thus, Georgian and American/European scholars actively collaborate to “cut a window to Europe” by uncovering a heretofore unknown European nature to Georgia’s past.

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“Position” & “opposition” TV Channels in the Week

კვირის „პოზიციური“ და „ოპოზიციური“ გაშუქება

ქართველი მაყურებლისთვის სიახლეს არ წარმოადგენს ის, რომ ერთი და იგივე დღე ან კვირა სხვადასხვა მედიასაშუალების მიერ შეიძლება რადიკალურად განსხვავებული აქცენტებით გაშუქდეს.

ეს არის მედიის პოლიტიკური პოლარიზების შედეგი, ხოლო განსხვავება მედიების მიერ წარმოდგენილ სურათს შორის ყოველთვის იზრდება არჩევნების მოახლოებასთან ან სხვა პოლიტიკურად მნიშვნელოვანი მოვლენების დროს.

ამ მხრივ საინტერესო დასკვნების გაკეთების საშუალებას გვაძლევს აგვისტოს მეორე ნახევარზე დაკვირვებაც: ამ დროს ქართული ტელემედია, როგორც წესი, ახალი სატელევიზიო სეზონისთვის ემზადება და პოლიტიკური გადაცემების ნაწილიც ე.წ. საზაფხულო პაუზის რეჟიმშია, თუმცა მედიის პოლიტიკური პოზიცია და დამოკიდებულება მიმდინარე მოვლენების მიმართ ნათლად იგრძნობა საინფორმაციო გამოშვებების სტრუქტურასა და შინაარსშიც.

მაგალითისთვის შეგვიძლია შევადაროთ ტელეკომპანია „იმედისა“ და ტვ „პირველის“ მთავარი საინფორმაციო გამოშვებების გამხსნელი (პირველი) თემები 23-27 აგვისტოს შუალედში და ვნახოთ, რა ჩათვალეს ამ მედიასაშუალებებმა დღის მთავარ ამბად:

როგორც ვხედავთ, „იმედის“ შემთხვევაში, რომელიც მმართველი გუნდისადმი პოზიტიურად განწყობილ არხად ითვლება, საინფორმაციო გამოშვებებში აქტიურად შუქდება „ქართული ოცნების“ წინასაარჩევნო კამპანია 2 ოქტომბრის ადგილობრივი თვითმმართველობის არჩევნებისთვის და ხელისუფლების სხვა აქტივობები, ხოლო რაც შეეხება ტვ „პირველს“, რომელიც ბოლო პერიოდში განსაკუთრებით რადიკალური ანტისახელისუფლებო რიტორიკით გამოირჩევა, ეს მედიასაშუალება ცდილობს დღის მთავარ თემებად გამოიტანოს ქვეყანაში არსებული მძიმე ეპიდემიოლოგიური ვითარება და სხვა პრობლემები, რაც მას საშუალებას მისცემს გააჟღეროს ბრალდებები მოქმედი ხელისუფლების წინააღმდეგ.

აღნიშნული ტენდენციები, რაც ამ მედიასაშუალებების სარედაქციო პოზიციით არის განპირობებული, კიდევ უფრო თვალსაჩინო და მკაფიო ხდება, თუ შევხედავთ საინფორმაციო გამოშვებების მთლიან სტრუქტურას:

კერძოდ – „იმედის“ შემთხვევაში ნათელია აქცენტების პოზიტიურ სიახლეებზე გაკეთების მცდელობა და ზოგადი საინფორმაციო სურათის ოპტიმისტურად წარმოჩენა მაშინ, როცა ტვ „პირველის“ შემთხვევაში პოზიტიური სიახლეები ძალიან იშვიათად ან ფაქტობრვად საერთოდ არ გვხვდება.

რაც შეეხება ხელისუფლების გაშუქებას, „იმედი“, როგორც უკვე აღვნიშნეთ, განსაკუთრებულ ყურადღებას უთმობს ხელისუფლების როგორც შიდა, ისე საგარეო აქტივობებს, ხოლო ტვ „პირველზე“ ხელისუფლება ძირითადად მხოლოდ კრიტიკის კონტექსტში შუქდება.

ამის მაგალითად შეგვიძლია დავასახელოთ პრემიერ-მინისტრის უკრაინაში ვიზიტისა და ყირიმის პლატფორმის სამიტის თემა, რომელსაც „იმედმა“ ბევრად მეტი დრო დაუთმო, ვიდრე ტვ „პირველმა“, სადაც ეს ამბავი შემაჯამებელ გამოშვებებში ფაქტობრივად საერთოდ არ გაშუქებულა და აქცენტი მხოლოდ შარლ მიშელთან ირაკლი ღარიბაშვილის არაფორმალურ შეხვედრაზე და მიშელის მიერ საქართველოს ხელისუფლების „გაფრთხილებაზე“ გაკეთდა.

მეორე მხრივ, ტვ „პირველმა“ „იმედთან“ შედარებით ბევრად მეტი ყურადღება დაუთმო პანკისის ხეობაში ჩატარებული სპეცოპერაციის თემას და ხელისუფლების კრიტიკის კონტექსტში არაერთხელ გაუსვა ხაზი იმას, რომ სპეცოპერაციის მიზანი შესაძლოა არა ტერორისტულ ორგანიზაციასთან დაკავშირებული ადამიანების დაკავება, არამედ „ხმებზე ნადირობა“ და წინასაარჩევნოდ ხეობის მოსახლეობის „დატერორება“ ყოფილიყო.

მთლიანობაში, საინფორმაციო გამოშვებების ანალიზი ცხადყოფს, რომ ამ დროისთვის ორივე მედიასაშუალება აქტიურად არის ჩართული წინასაარჩევნო „საინფორმაციო ომის“ პროცესში და თუ ტვ „პირველზე“ ძალიან ხშირია ხელისუფლების (ზოგჯერ სრულიად დაუსაბუთებელი) კრიტიკა, „იმედის“ შემთხვევაში ასევე გვხვდება ოპოზიციური პოლიტიკური სპექტრის დისკრედიტაციის მაგალითები, რაც შეიძლება გამოიხატოს მათ მოხსენიებაში „რადიკალურ ჯგუფებად“ და ა.შ.

გარდა ამისა, „იმედი“ საზოგადოებას, როგორც წესი, აუწყებს „ქართული ოცნების“ მმართველობის პირობებში მიღწეული წარმატებებისა და „წარმატების ისტორიების“ შესახებაც, რაც ყოველთვის ამყარებს ხელისუფლებისადმი ნდობას, ხოლო ტვ „პირველის“ მიზანი საზოგადოებაში მაქსიმალური უკმაყოფილების განცდის ჩამოყალიბებაა, რის მიღწევასაც მედიასაშუალება ტრაგედიების აქცენტირებით და „სკანდალური სიუჟეტებით“ ცდილობს.

ქვემოთ მოტანილ ცხილებზე დაკვირვებით შეგვიძლია წარმოდგენა შევიქმნათ როგორც ქართულ მედიაში არსებული პოლარიზების ხარისხზე, ისე ამ პოლარიზების ხასიათზე და იმაზე, თუ რა საშუალებებით ცდილობენ მედიასაშუალებები სასურველი საინფორმაციო ფონის შექმნას.

ტელეკომპანია „იმედი“, „ქრონიკა“:

ტელეკომპანია „პირველი“, „პირველები“:

სტატია პირველად გამოქვეყნდა პლატფორმაზე მედიაკრიტიკა.

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Georgia’s argument over ‘Michel’ is finished, at least for now

While the democratic process in Georgia benefits from the advice and encouragement of friends and partners, its politics must find its way back to consensus and trust building on its own terms.

On April 19th, 2021 in Tbilisi during an official ceremony the so-called But the ruling party soon decided to abandon the agreement on June 28th. Inga Grigolia, executive director of the opposition channel TV Pirveli, quickly argued that this represented a step toward dictatorship in Georgia and called on all of the country’s opposition leaders to leave the parliament. Despite this, GD party officials have argued that the deal was ultimately broken by the rival United National Movement (UNM), which has refused to follow the agreement. Indeed, it is clear that neither the political opposition nor its supporters actually follow the spirit of the document. Some opposition leaders like Nika Melia (UNM) and Zurab Girchi Japaridze (Girchi) have already left parliament and plan to challenge the government from the outside. Additionally, some civil society figures, as well as European and American representatives, have criticised the opposition for its unwillingness to continue negotiations that could help find a peaceful solution to the country’s ongoing political crisis. At the same time, upcoming municipal elections are set for October and this means that political rivalry will once again reach a peak in Georgia.

Apart from a desire to simply maintain political power, what actually determined GD’s decision to abandon the agreement? Was the Charles Michel agreement ultimately fit for purpose? Perhaps most importantly, could the agreement actually help deal with the political crisis among Georgia’s elite?

Crisis postponement

Charles Michel’s document was initially full of problems. The deal was signed following the so-called March 8th agreement. However, it was pretty obvious that both the government and the opposition participated due to possible cuts in foreign financial support. Representatives of the local opposition were especially nervous as they were brought to the table largely due to the aggressive nature of the negotiations. The whole deal was directly enforced from the top-down both in a national and international sense. So far, both the government and (perhaps even more) the opposition have been unwilling to find common ground. The agreement did not solve the crisis. Instead, it simply postponed it for a while. Both sides were not enthusiastic about the deal and this led to GD seeing no sense in being devoted to a ‘piece of paper’. It must be also noted that the country as a whole is not in a crisis. Indeed, it is Georgia’s elites that find themselves in a crisis as soon as there is no real vision beyond statements related to NATO and EU integration. These people have fought a fierce battle for the hearts and minds of the Georgian population and this has nothing to do with being pro-Russian or pro-Western. Power ultimately corrupted these groups and this has left regular citizens in a difficult situation. Due to this, it could be said that there are still many problems to deal with in Georgian politics and society.

GD strikes back

GD’s opponents currently argue that the government is unsure if it will receive enough support in the upcoming municipal elections to avoid an early parliamentary vote. This is ultimately one of the key parts of the Michel agreement. However, it would be naïve to think that the government will not be able to gather the necessary 43 per cent of votes in October. Moreover, it is obvious that GD will win the Tbilisi mayoral elections, as their candidate Kakha Kaladze enjoys widespread support. Due to this, there appear to be three complex issues that seemingly pushed the ruling party to abandon the deal.

The first issue is the UNM’s refusal to sign the agreement. The idea behind Charles Michel’s document was to guarantee the distribution of power and responsibilities within the country’s political system. The political opposition is keen to gain power but it seems that the UNM simply wants to make a come back without taking any real responsibility. It is generally accepted in Georgian political culture that responsibility is all about what the government is doing. As a result, other political forces are unwilling to recognise that their parliamentary membership also matters. Of course, a deal only matters when all the main actors agree to uphold its principles. As Machiavelli noted, if your opponent does not follow an agreement, then there is no sense in you following it.

Secondly, after the dramatic events that took place in early July, which even arguably led to the death of TV cameraman Lekso Lashkarava, some minor opposition groups refused to fully engage with the parliament unless their demands were accepted by Tbilisi. Furthermore, various opposition broadcasters worked with the political opposition to sabotage the everyday functioning of the parliament. Due to these events, even the minor parties are now refusing to actually implement the agreement. General lack of trust in the government, especially in relation to the commission meant to investigate the October 31st elections, has also played a role in parties refusing to respect the agreement. So far, both the UNM and various minor opposition parties have failed to follow the spirit of the document and left the real responsibilities to GD. Thus, in order to make the agreement easier to implement, the Michel deal placed all the responsibilities of power distribution on the ruling party. The other groups that signed the document just signed it and hoped to get more power instead of additional duties. These would simply be a political headache.

Last but not the least, various sovereignty issues are connected to judiciary system reform, particularly in relation to the courts and judges. According to the agreement, judges should have been appointed following talks with the political opposition. However, such negotiation is simply impossible as both sides are more interested in having judges and courts that are friendly to their own side. Georgian elites, political or non-political, are simply not ready to give up control of such a tremendous resource. GD has stated that it aspires to create a better justice system but there are issues that must be dealt with internally. Such changes cannot be imposed in a top-down manner, from Brussels/Washington to Tbilisi.

The grip on democracy

GD’s decision to abandon the agreement was criticised by many and has been considered a step backward in Georgia’s democratic development. However, this view is arguably rather naïve. Georgia is a developing country and as such it is still looking for its own path to democratic success. For the first time in the country’s history, Georgia had real freedom to choose what agreements it wanted to follow. As a result, recent events do not represent a move away from democracy. Instead, it could be argued that this is one of the most democratic decisions that has ever been taken in Tbilisi. You simply cannot turn Georgia into a democracy from the top-down. Instead, a democratic society must grow naturally and it should play a key role in the decision-making process. Overall, it seems that Georgia’s strategic allies are not ready to let this happen. Even a softer institutional intervention from outside cannot bring about lasting change in society. At some point, the grip that European and American diplomats and ambassadors have on the decision-making process becomes too clear. This was especially true with regards to the March 8th 2020 agreement, which was signed by Georgia’s political actors behind the closed doors of the US Embassy in Tbilisi. This document potentially offered yet another way out of the political crisis but it is still misunderstood due to the elite’s lack of accountability and transparency. It could be argued that the country’s political elites only feel accountable to strategic allies, such as various Western financial and political institutions. Due to this, the elites only care about Georgian citizens when an election is approaching. At the moment, therefore, Georgia’s political parties and government feel the need to engage voters. Tbilisi’s friends must let the Georgian people fail or succeed on their own. Today, Georgia resembles many other countries in Eastern Europe as its political system has various pros and cons. Georgian actors must now try to build a local political culture based on democratic principles.

The article was initially published by the New Eastern Europe.

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The “Broken TV” Effect?

„გაფუჭებული ტელევიზორის“ ეფექტი?

ბოლო რამდენიმე კვირის განმავლობაში და, განსაკუთრებით, 19 აპრილის შეთანხმების ანულირებულად გამოცხადების შემდეგ საქართველოს პარტნიორი ქვეყნების წარმომადგენელთა მხრიდან არაერთი კრიტიკული კომენტარი გაკეთდა როგორც ხელისუფლების, ისე ოპოზიციის მიმართ, თუმცა პოლიტიკურად პოლარიზებულ ქართულ მედიაში ვითარება, როგორც წესი, ისეა წარმოდგენილი, რომ პასუხისმგებლობა შეთანხმების შეწყვეტის გამო მხოლოდ ერთ მხარეს ეხება და პარტნიორების კრიტიკაც მხოლოდ მისკენაა მიმართული.

ამ მხრივ განსაკუთრებით გამოირჩევიან ოპოზიციური სარედაქციო პოლიტიკის მქონე არხები, რომლებიც მუდმივად (და ხშირად – ყოველგვარი დასაბუთების გარეშე) ცდილობენ დაარწმუნონ საზოგადოება, რომ დასავლეთმა მმართველ გუნდს „ბოლო გაფრთხილება“ მისცა, „წითელი ბარათი“ აჩვენა, „განაჩენი“ გამოუტანა და ა.შ.

ამ ტიპის ბრალდებების კონტექსტში უკანასკნელ ხანს გახშირდა ცნობები დასავლეთის ქვეყნების მიერ საქართველოს ხელისუფლების წარმომადგენლებთან და ოფიციალურ პირებთან მაღალი დონის შეხვედრებზე უარის თქმის შესახებ.

მაგალითად, 19 ივლისს ცალკეული მედიასაშუალებები გვარწმუნებდნენ, რომ ამერიკელმა კონგრესმენებმა და, მათ შორის, ადამ კინზინგერმა ირაკლი ღარიბაშვილთან შეხვედრაზე უარი თქვეს და რომ პრემიერ-მინისტრისთვის „ამერიკის კარი სამუდამოდ დაიხურა“.

როგორც ცნობილია ამ ინფორმაციას მალე გამოეხმაურა თავად ადამ კინზინგერი და გავრცელებული ინფორმაცია ოფიციალურად უარყო, თუმცა ცნობები „ჩაშლილი ვიზიტების“ შესახებ ამით არ დასრულებულა.

ზემოხსენებული ისტორიიდან დაახლოებით ორი კვირის შემდეგ, 31 ივლისს ქართულ ოპოზიციაზე დაყრდნობით მედიაში გავრცელდა ინფორმაცია, რომ 19 აპრილის შეთანხმების ანულირების შემდეგ ბალტიის სახელმწიფოებმა გააუქმეს ირაკლი ღარიბაშვილის ვიზიტები ამ ქვეყნებში, რომელიც, მათივე ცნობით, 8-9 აგვისტოს უნდა გამართულიყო.

საგულისხმოა, რომ მედიასაშუალებებს, რომლებიც მტკიცებითი ფორმით ავრცელებდნენ ამ ინფორმაციას არ მოუძიებიათ და მაყურებლისთის არ წარმოუდგენიათ შესაბამისი ქვეყნების ოფიციალური პირების, საელჩოების ან სხვა ოფიციალური სტრუქტურების კომენტარი და 4 აგვისტომდე მათი ერთადერთი წყარო ფაქტობრივად ქართული ოპოზიცია იყო, რომელიც ცხადია პოლიტიკურად დაინტერესებულ მხარეს წარმოადგენს და ამ შემთხვევაში ვერ ჩაითვლება ობიექტურ წყაროდ ან საკმარისად კომპეტენტურ სუბიექტად იმისთვის, რომ მის მიერ ცალმხრივად გაჟღერებული ვერსია უდავო ფაქტად ჩაითვალოს.

რაც შეეხება უშუალოდ საქართველოს საგარეო საქმეთა სამინისტროს, 4 აგვისტოს უწყებამ ოფიციალურად უარყო გავრცელებული ინფორმაცია ვიზიტების გაუქმების შესახებ და ხაზი გაუსვა იმ გარემოებასაც, რომ 8-9 აგვისტო 2008 წლის აგვისტოს ომის წლისთავს ემთხვევა და ხსენებულ დღეებში საერთოდ შეუძლებელია რამე ვიზიტი ყოფილიყო დაგეგმილი.

ამ განცხადების მიუხედავად, კონკრეტული მედიასაშუალებები 4 და 5 აგვისტოს ასევე მთელი დღის განმავლობაში მტკიცებითი ფორმით და კიდევ უფრო კატეგორიული ტონით განაგრძობდნენ იმ ვერსიის გავრცელებას, რომ ვიზიტების გაუქმება ბალტიის ქვეყნების „კოორდინირებული გადაწყვეტილებაა“ და ა.შ.

მეტიც – „მთავარი არხის“ ცნობით, ბალტიის ქვეყნებმა ირაკლი ღარიბაშვილი პერსონა ნონ-გრატადაც კი გამოაცხადეს, რაც ცხადია შეუძლებელია სიმართლეს შეესაბამებოდეს, ხოლო ტელეკომპანია „ფორმულამ“ აუდიტორიას აუწყა, თითქოს ბალტიის ქვეყნების სამთავრობო წყაროები ადასტურებენ იმას, რომ საქართველოს პრემიერ-მინისტრს ამ ქვეყნებში ვიზიტზე უარი უთხრეს.

რეალურად, ლიეტუვური გამოცემა, რომელსაც 4 აგვისტოს შემდეგ ქართული მედია მტკიცებულების სახით წარმოგვიდგენს და სადაც ვიზიტების შესახებ სტატია სწორედ 4 აგვისტოს გამოქვეყნდა, გვამცნობს, რომ ეს „გამოცემის წყაროების მიერ მოწოდებული“ ინფორმაციაა და არა უშუალოდ რომელიმე ოფიციალური უწყების მიერ დადასტურებული ცნობა.

აღსანიშნავია ისიც, რომ ხსენებული სტატია ლიეტუვურ გამოცემაში გამოქვეყნდა მას შემდეგ, რაც ქართულმა ტელევიზიებმა გაავრცელეს ინფორმაცია ვიზიტების გაუქმების შესახებ. შესაბამისად, ლიეტუვური მედია ვერც ერთ შემთხვევაში ვერ იქნებოდა ქართული მედიის პირველწყარო და ეს 5 აგვისტოს „მთავარ არხთან“ კომენტარში დაადასტურა თავად სტატიის ავტორმა, გინტარას რადაუკსასმაც, რომელმაც განაცხადა, რომ ინფორმაცია ვიზიტების გაუქმების შესახებ მან თავდაპირველად ინტერნეტში ნახა და ამის შემდეგ დაინტერესდა აღნიშნული თემით.

კონკრეტული, ოფიციალური წყარო ან ციტატა მას არც ამ შემთხვევაში წარმოუდგენია, ხოლო რაც შეეხება სტატიის „კრიტიკულ სულისკვეთებას“ საქართველოს ხელისუფლების მიმართ, ეს ცხადია ვიზიტების გაუქმების მტკიცებულებად ვერ ჩაითვლება და თუ გავითვალისწინებთ იმასაც, რომ სტატიაში რამდენჯერმე ციტირებულ ლიეტუველ პოლიტიკოსს, ჟიგიმანტას პავილიონისს წარსულშიც არაერთხელ დაუფიქსირებია საკუთარი სუბიექტური დამოკიდებულება საქართველოში მიმდინარე პოლიტიკური პროცესების მიმართ, კითხვის ნიშნები შეიძლება იმასთან დაკავშირებითაც გაჩნდეს, რამდენად იზიარებს ან არ იზიარებს ლიეტუვის ხელისუფლება მთლიანობაში პავილიონისის ხედვას.

საბოლოო ჯამში, ბრალდებებისა და უარყოფების რამდენიმედღიანი კამპანიის მიუხედავად, შეიძლება ითქვას რომ ქართული საზოგადოების უდიდესმა ნაწილმა მედიიდან მაინც ვერ მიიღო რეალური და ობიექტური ინფორმაცია იმასთან დაკავშირებით, თუ რა საფუძველი აქვს (ან აქვს თუ არა საერთოდ რამე საფუძველი) საინფორმაციო კამპანიას ვიზიტების გაუქმების შესახებ, თუმცა ამ პროცესში კიდევ ერთხელ და მკაფიოდ გამოიკვეთა ქართული მედიისთვის დამახასიათებელი რამდენიმე პრობლემა.

მაგალითად, მედიის მიერ გაჟღერებული ბრალდებების ინტენსივობა და გაშუქების სტილი აშკარად მიანიშნებს იმას, რომ ოპოზიციური მედია ყველა მეთოდით ცდილობს მმართველი გუნდის დისკრედიტაციას და აქედან გამომდინარე, უკვე თავადაც გვევლინება პოლიტიკურ მოთამაშედ.

ამასთან, იმის გამო რომ „საგარეო ლეგიტიმაცია“ საქართველოში ნებისმიერი ხელისუფლებისთვის კრიტიკულად მნიშვნელოვან ფაქტორად ითვლება, მედიაც სწორედ ამ მიმართულებით ახორციელებს „დარტყმას“, თუმცა შიდაპოლიტიკურ დაპირისპირებაში პარტნიორი ქვეყნებით და საგარეო პოლიტიკით მანიპულირება განსაკუთრებით სახიფათო პრაქტიკაა, რამაც შესაძლოა უკვე თავად შექმნას დიპლომატიური გაუგებრობის საფრთხე ან ხელი შეუწყოს საზოგადოების ნაწილში კონკრეტული ქვეყნების მიმართ ნეგატიური განწყობების გაჩენას.

ამ საზოგადოებრივ-პოლიტიკური გამოწვევების გარდა, „გაუქმებული ვიზიტების“ გაშუქების პროცესში აშკარად იკვეთება პროფესიონალიზმის დეფიციტის პრობლემაც ქართულ მედიაში, რაც საერთაშორისო მნიშვნელობის ამბების გაშუქების დროს განსაკუთრებით მკაფიოდ ჩანს და ინფორმაციის მოპოვებისა და გავრცელების სტანდარტებს უკავშირდება.

ფაქტია, რომ როდესაც მედიასაშუალება ავრცელებს საერთაშორისო სკანდალის ტოლფას ინფორმაციას, იგი განსაკუთრებული პასუხისმგებლობით უნდა მოეკიდოს ამ ინფორმაციის დამადასტურებელი წყაროების წარმოდგენას და იმ შემთხვევაში, თუ საკმარისად დამაჯერებელი მტკიცებულებების მოპოვება შეუძლებელია, ინფორმაცია შესაძლებელია გავრცელდეს მხოლოდ როგორც ვერსია და არა როგორც ფაქტი.

ამის მიუხედავად, ქართულ მედიაში სამწუხაროდ ხშირია შემთხვევები, როცა ინფორმაციის პირველწყარო საერთოდ დაუდგენელია, მაგრამ ცნობა მაინც მტკიცებითი ფორმით ვრცელდება, ხოლო მედიასაშუალებები ამ შემთხვევაში ფორმალურად ეყრდნობიან სხვა მედიასაშუალებებს, რომლებიც თავის მხრივ საერთოდ არ ასახელებენ წყაროს, საიდანაც კონკრეტული ინფორმაცია მიიღეს და ა.შ.

რეალურად, ამას შეიძლება ვუწოდოთ „გაფუჭებული ტელეფონის“ (ან სულაც „გაფუჭებული ტელევიზორის“) ეფექტი, როცა მედია წყაროს კონფიდენციალურობის უფლების გამოყენებით ავრცელებს ნებისმიერ ინფორმაციას (რომელიც შესაძლოა მიზანმიმართული პროვოკაცია ან ბანალური ჭორიც კი იყოს), თუმცა საზოგადოებისა და მაყურებლის წინაშე ფაქტობრივად არავითარ პასუხისმგებლობას არ იღებს მიუხედავად იმისა, რომ არსებობენ კონკრეტული ოფიციალური უწყებები და სუბიექტები, რომლებთანაც შესაძლებელია გაჟღერებული ინფორმაციის გადამოწმება.

დასკვნის სახით შეგვიძლია ვთქვათ, რომ „გაუქმებული ვიზიტების“ გაშუქების პროცესში პროფესიონალიზმზე პრეტენზიის მქონე მედია ინფორმაციის გადამოწმების მიზნით ნებისმიერ შემთხვევაში უნდა დაკავშირებოდა ბალტიის ქვეყნების ოფიციალურ სტრუქტურებს ან თუნდაც მათ დიპლომატიურ წარმომადგენლობებს საქართველოში და წარმოედგინა აუდიტორიისთვის მათგან მიღებული კომენტარი(ც).

სამწუხაროდ, ასეთი მცდელობები ჯერ-ჯერობით ძალიან იშვიათია და ეს პროფესიონალიზმის დეფიციტის გარდა კიდევ ერთხელ ადასტურებს იმასაც, რომ მედიის მიზანი ხშირად არა ობიექტური ინფორმაციის მიწოდება, არამედ სწორედ სასურველი ვერსიის გავრცელება და საზოგადოებაში კონკრეტული განწყობების ჩამოყალიბებაა.

სტატია პირველად იყო გამოქვეყნებული პორტალზე მედიაკრიტიკა.

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“Make Georgia great again”

The aftermath of the recent elections in Georgia has shown that it will be challenging to find a compromise in the current political environment in the country.

The historical parliamentary elections that took place in November in Georgia are now officially over. The Central Election Commission (CEC) recently issued the final results and the newly elected legislative body will soon meet for the first time. While the victorious Georgian Dream party is celebrating its third consecutive term in power, the opposition still refuses to recognise the results. Moreover, opponents of the government argue that corruption influenced the pre-election campaign and the electoral process as a whole. As a result, this group has demanded a repeat of the parliamentary elections with new rules and a reformed electoral administration. Despite this, Georgian Dream has made it clear that it will not reconsider the election results. Currently, the government and opposition are set to meet for the third stage of negotiations facilitated by European and American diplomats. Georgia is now very close to reliving the events of 2008, when the United National Movement gained a constitutional majority and simply decided to rule the state without even acknowledging the opposition. Georgia’s strategic partners have called on both sides to participate in parliament and contribute to the democratic transformation of the state.

Generally, the elections have shown that it is almost impossible to find compromise in the political environment of Georgia. There are only two real political powers in the country and all the main political actors have seemingly become victims of their own propaganda.

Elections (not) stolen

Obviously, some parts of Georgian society, including the academic, non-governmental and business sectors, are troubled by the fact that Georgian Dream won the majority of seats (90 out of 150). They believe that a third term will damage the state’s development and set a bad precedent for the future. For these groups, the adoption of a Western-style “two terms” rule is viewed as the best possible outcome for Georgia and its democracy. These actors tend to focus on the government’s failures and corrupt practices when discussing past elections. At the same time, another part of Georgian society considers these allegations simply to be a long-established practice during Georgian elections. They do not view such accusations as important or a reason to question the results. Interestingly, international observers, who were led by the OSCE/ODIHR, agreed with the second group’s understanding of the elections. This caused an outcry from many representatives of the political opposition. For example, Mikhail Saakashvili, the third president of Georgia, and members of other parties called the head of the electoral mission, Tiny Kox, an “experienced KGB agent”. In contrast to this, NATO, the American Embassy in Georgia and other European states agreed with the findings of these “Russian agents” from the OSCE/ODIHR.

Moving on from these labels, it is clear that Georgia’s strategic partners and international observers said nothing new about the country’s politics. Moreover, these actors are aware of the methods and approaches that almost all Georgian governments and political leaders use to stay in power and gain electoral support. Overall, it has been more important for these outside forces to make sure that Georgia did not challenge the “red lines” that were crossed in Belarus. Thus, the international assessment of the elections appears to match the reality of the situation. Whilst the process was competitive and voters were capable of fully participating in the elections, its fairness was questionable. However, due to the fact that elections in Georgia continue to possess the same flaws and failures as past votes, there is no real reason to question the legitimacy of this year’s contest. If we express doubts over whether or not the government has been elected in accordance with all democratic standards, then we will be forced to question all the elections that have ever been held in Georgia.

Georgia’s American model

Both local and international actors are trying hard to develop traditions of coalition government and, more generally, a pluralistic political culture in Georgia. In order to achieve these goals significant reforms were put in place regarding issues such as the electoral threshold. Before, it was as low as one per cent. Despite these changes, however, the outcome remained the same. Voters are always forced to choose between either keeping the same political establishment in charge or replacing it with another. There is no strong demand for coalitions and complicated formulas. Instead, there is just one party, one power, one ideology, one outlook and one force ruling the country. These traditions show the unwillingness of the Georgian people to compromise and acknowledge the achievements of their opponents. The best examples of this are the narratives expressed by the leading Georgian Dream party and the United National Movement. Members of the ruling party rarely remember the successes of the former government. On the other hand, Saakashvili and his allies do not even recognise that they lost power in 2012-13, blaming “Russian agents” and “Russian hackers” for the defeat. It is subsequently crucial for this group to end Georgian Dream’s control of the state and “make Georgia great again”. Such rhetoric makes it impossible to organise coalition governments and even engage in peaceful dialogue without the “supervision” of American and European actors.

Past elections have shown that voters unite around Georgian Dream and the United National Movement, while smaller parties that promote themselves as “alternatives” win a small amount of seats. The electoral threshold is set to be increased again for the next elections and this will probably see the parliament dominated by these two leading powers. This could result in the formation of Georgia’s own ‘American’ political model, where voters effectively choose between their own versions of the Democratic and Republican parties. In a rather ironic twist, any acceptance of the opposition’s demands by the government would only speed up this shift to a more American system.

Gone with the propaganda

A strong belief in propaganda continues to be the biggest challenge for all political actors in the country. The ruling administration, deceived by its own media, still believes that the electorate hates the representatives of the former government and is afraid of their return. As a result, the government believes that the people will always vote for Georgian Dream and that they will always be thankful for being ‘liberated’ from Saakashvili’s regime. These statements are at least partially misleading. The United National Movement is more active than ever before and is benefitting from the mistakes of the government. Sooner or later, the past will not help Georgian Dream stay in power. It will need to offer something new, which is a difficult task in Georgia’s political system.

There is political opposition, with the UNM at its core, naïve enough to argue that Georgian Dream has done nothing positive for the country. Moreover, Saakashvili has created an alternative reality in which the people dream of his return to power and the restoration of a national “greatness” that has never actually existed. In this political narrative, the former government of Saakashvili never did anything wrong or broke any laws. It is viewed as a generally democratic, pro-Western regime that was overthrown by the Russian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili and his followers. Unfortunately, other opposition parties, such as European Georgia, Lelo, Strategy Agmashenebeli and Girchi, are not strong enough to break this illusion and act in an independent manner.

Consequently, political actors in Georgia remain detached from wider society. They believe that the population unilaterally supports the ideas of the government or the opposition. In reality, what people actually want are clear and well-structured policies that deal with poverty, unemployment and other important socio-economic challenges.

The article was originally published by New Eastern Europe.

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The Minor Chessboard

Малая шахматная доска.

Всемирная политика сфокусировалась на Южном Кавказе, и «малая шахматная доска» вновь оказалась в центре внимания. Глобальные и региональные силы разыгрывают очередную партию, распределяя зоны влияния в геополитической войне. Весь мир становится свидетелем исторических событий: Россия вводит дополнительные военные силы в регион, в Армении – траур и политическое потрясение, в Азербайджане празднуют пока ещё не выигранную войну, в Грузии политическая оппозиция грезит об очередной революции, а государственный секретарь США Майк Помпео на всех парах летит в Тбилиси.

Сейчас уже можно с уверенностью говорить о том, что глобальный международный порядок окончательно рухнул. Страны Южного Кавказа вновь оказались в прокси-войне представителей «великой шахматной доски», и всем заинтересованным игрокам придётся пересмотреть политику, чтобы подстроиться под новые реалии.

Глобальный контекст

Наверное, никто не будет опровергать тот факт, что ввод российских военнослужащих в зону конфликта является геополитическим и военным успехом Москвы. Этот для многих западных коллег ошеломительный исход армяно-азербайджанского противостояния стал доказательством неоспоримого доминирования России на Южном Кавказе. Кремль без единого выстрела, без шума и суеты сумел выдавить прозападные силы в лице Николы Пашиняна из Еревана, обеспечить историческую благодарность Баку, сдержать Анкару и, самое главное, снова намекнуть Вашингтону, что он не потерпит вмешательства в своё «жизненное пространство».

Промежуточные итоги показывают, что так называемый западный мир никакого реального влияния на Южном Кавказе не имеет – регион находится на попечении в первую очередь Москвы, а потом уже Турции.

В свою очередь, Анкара, которая на протяжении последних лет пытается выйти на сцену глобальной политики не как вторая по мощи военная сила НАТО, а как наследница великой Османской империи, – завершила этот процесс. Сейчас уже ни у кого не возникает сомнений по поводу того, что она имеет собственную внешнюю политику, не имеющую ничего общего со всемирным «демократическим походом» Запада. Политические элиты и в Вашингтоне, и в Брюсселе, и в Тбилиси (что немаловажно) вынуждены будут признать расклад и осознать, что «как прежде» уже не будет.

Ну и наконец, не следует забывать о том, что отстранение Турции от западного мира и возросшее влияние Кремля – очередной сильный удар по интересам Тбилиси, не только по его надеждам на вхождение в НАТО/ЕС, но и по попыткам переформатирования его восприятия не как части Южного Кавказа, а так называемого Черноморского региона. Путём перехода в «новую лигу» государство надеялось заинтересовать западно-европейские страны и ускорить свою интеграцию в западные институты. Однако констатация того, что Россия «наступает», превращает Грузию в ещё более важную составляющую именно южно-кавказского «фронта».

Региональный контекст

С точки зрения Южного Кавказа – Карабахский прецедент является очень важным и опасным. Это, по сути, первый случай, когда страна, имеющая территориальные проблемы, смогла частично их решить именно военным путём. Прецедент «восстановления» суверенитета может сильно встревожить, с одной стороны, другие частично непризнанные государства, а, с другой – дать надежду некоторым полисам и соответствующим патриотам, что в случае хорошей военной подготовки и внешней поддержки «исторические земли» всё-таки возможно вернуть. Такие «страхи» и «надежды» увеличивают возможность конфронтации не только в самом регионе, но и в более глобальном плане. Более того, растёт уровень неопределённости, что зачастую и становится причиной крупномасштабных политических, социально-экономических и военных потрясений.

К сожалению, промежуточные итоги военных действий только подстегнут радикальные движения в Армении, укрепят уже существующие в Баку и, безусловно, воодушевят тех грузин, которые надеются на то, что, не ведя переговоры с Сухумом и Цхинвали, рано или поздно можно будет устроить свой «блицкриг». И плохо то, что в данном случае будет меньше призывов к «миру» и больше призывов к «действию».

Госдеп летит в Грузию

На фоне вышесказанного грузинские политические элиты всё ещё проявляют инфантилизм, закрывая глаза на потрясения в регионе и мире. Сразу же после начала очередного военного противостояния вокруг Нагорного Карабаха, местные группы показали свойственное Тбилиси «безразличие», выступив с заявлениями о том, что страна готова помочь «братским» народам урегулировать процесс мирным путём. Однако, каких-либо серьёзных инициатив предложено не было, и стало понятно, что это инерционная политика, присущая государству с того момента, когда оно изъявило желание вернуться в «европейскую семью». Попытки «вернуться» туда, где Грузия никогда не была, до сих пор отнимают у местных мыслителей, ответственных за политические решения, все силы; так что они вспоминают о Южном Кавказе, да и обо всём постсоветском пространстве лишь в редкие моменты кризиса.

Однако рано или поздно грузинским элитам придётся открыть глаза и начать играть на «малой шахматной доске».

А исходя из того, что Тбилиси внезапно собрался посетить госсекретарь США Майк Помпео, – эта партия скоро начнётся. Не секрет, что такие события планируются заранее и по традиции представляют хорошую возможность для Грузии пропиарить свои стратегические отношения с Америкой. Но на фоне внутриполитической борьбы этот визит оказался для всех внезапным. И, скорее всего, он обусловлен двумя факторами. Во-первых, тем, что страна остаётся, по сути, единственным прозападным государством во всём регионе, включая Турцию, а во-вторых, необходимостью уже непосредственно от лица администрации Дональда Трампа повторить посыл международных партнёров политической оппозиции – выборы легитимны, и пора вернуть процесс в здание парламента. Несмотря на надежды оппозиционных партий, ведомых Единым национальным движением и Михаилом Саакашвили, этот подход не изменится со сменой правительства в Вашингтоне. Так называемый обобщённый Запад немало вложил в Грузию, чтобы сформировать там правила игры и установить порядок с мало-помалу развивающейся демократией. И пока статус-кво держится, надеяться на то, что стратегические партнёры дадут столь нужный для оппозиции «зелёный свет» на революционные процессы, не следует. Более того, сейчас, как никогда раньше, все заинтересованы в том, чтобы Тбилиси твёрдо стоят на «своих двух» и готовился к возможному ухудшению ситуации в регионе.

Статья была изначально опубликована на платформе Россия в Глобальной Политике.

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Georgia’s ‘deter-engage’ dichotomy

Georgian Dream could become the first party to retain power for a third consecutive term. What would this mean for the country’s foreign policy?

On October 31st, Georgia is likely to experience historic parliamentary elections. On the one hand, the country may witness its second peaceful transition of power. On the other hand, the ruling Georgian Dream party could become the country’s first government to retain power for a third consecutive term. At the same time, Georgia is closer than ever before to achieving a coalition government. This possibility is welcomed by both local pro-Western forces and the country’s European and American partners. Despite this, rivalry between the parties remains fierce and is more focused on internal issues such as economic prosperity, equality, equity, poverty and unemployment. But there is also an external dimension in the form of Georgia’s foreign policy. Overall, it is interesting to question to what extent these elections may affect the state’s position in the region. This is especially true with regard to relations with Russia. Overall, it could be argued that the state is yet again facing a ‘deter-engage’ dichotomy in relation to its links with Moscow.

A brief history

After the so-called Rose Revolution in 2003, the newly elected government of Mikhail Saakashvili and the United National Movement tried to reset Georgia-Russia relations. However, they failed to do so due to conflicting foreign policy goals. Whilst a pro-Western government in Tbilisi tried to integrate into institutions such as the EU and NATO, Vladimir Putin’s Moscow hoped to maintain a grip on its so-called “near abroad”. As a result, the Tbilisi-Moscow ‘honeymoon’ ended almost as soon as it began. Influenced by this development and the neoconservatism of America’s Bush administration, Saakashvili decided to compete with Moscow. This turned Tbilisi into a pro-Western stronghold within both the South Caucasus and post-Soviet space as a whole. Georgia’s ruling elites were certain that the West, represented most importantly by America and NATO, would be willing to stop the Kremlin from using military force against its valuable ally. These dreams were shattered during the conflict in August 2008, when it appeared that neither Brussels nor Washington were ready to actually counter Moscow’s interests in the South Caucasus. Georgia’s foreign policy, therefore, was in need of revision and so the Georgian Dream party, led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, made an offer to the electorate. The leader suggested that it would be better to ‘deter’ potential Russian aggression through a change of language. Tbilisi subsequently discouraged anti-Russian sentiment and military rhetoric. Instead of war, there would be reconciliation. Saakashvili lost power and this new policy was introduced as official policy. However, this attempt to reset relations did not lead to a breakthrough. During this period, Moscow started its ongoing process of ‘borderisation’ and even kidnapped Georgian citizens. Such cases of kidnapping have often involved torture and murder. Many former officials, as well as some representatives of Georgian civil society, have subsequently described this desire to not irritate Russia as a betrayal of the country’s interests.

The effect of elections

Currently, Georgian society is being offered two distinct approaches to the Kremlin. The opposition, led by the United National Movement and European Georgia parties, wish to return to a form of military engagement and ‘fight back’ against the Kremlin. At the same time, Georgian Dream continues to support a policy of ‘deterring’ Russian aggression in order to avoid a potential repeat of the catastrophic events of the 2008 war. Despite this, it is indisputable that Georgia’s general foreign policy orientation will remain largely the same, with the country continuing to focus on EU-NATO integration. In particular, Tbilisi is striving to become a member of the West at the expense of a proactive policy in the South Caucasus.

Naturally, only the final outcome of the parliamentary elections will determine whether Tbilisi continues its current approach or switches to the previous one. If Georgian Dream is victorious, the state will further try to avoid direct confrontation with the Kremlin. This is considered the best guarantee of peace, not only for Georgia and Russia but for the whole South Caucasus region. However, a government made up of those who support an ‘engage’ policy will likely encourage increased confrontation between Tbilisi and Moscow. Such aggressive rhetoric could end an already volatile status-quo. Even in America and Europe, there appears to be no shared agreement as to which side should win. Some Western actors openly support the political opposition, while others prefer Georgian Dream’s more balanced and peaceful politics. Despite allegations of interference, the Kremlin appears rather indifferent. This is due to the fact that Tbilisi will still remain oriented towards the West regardless of its government. Furthermore, it could be argued that Russia has done little to encourage Tbilisi to adopt an openly friendly policy. This only encourages beliefs that Moscow simply has no interest in avoiding conflict. Overall, it seems that the Kremlin has achieved its political and geopolitical goals and is satisfied with the existing status-quo.

The article was originally published by New Eastern Europe.

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Georgia, NATO and South Caucasus

On September 27, 2020 arguably Azerbaijanian military forces initiated a full-scaled operation against self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (RNK) and Armenia officially for securing and restoring the country’s territorial integrity. We may argue that this confrontation is not yet another escalation but rather a real war that can lead to a collapse of South Caucasus regional stability and order. This is even more realistic in the wake of Ankara’s obvious involvement and the Kremlin’s national interests, on the one hand, and deterioration of US global hegemony, on the other hand. In the same time, according to Craig Turp-Balazs from Emerging Europe, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has told Georgian PM Giorgi Gakharia to “prepare for membership” during tet-a-tete visit to Brussels on September 29. Generally speaking, it seems that South Caucasus is going to become the platform of rivalry between the so-called “great nations” again; and despite the “firm statements” from the heart of Europe it is pretty clear that NATO’s presence in the region is not welcomed by key actors. Furthermore, the North-Atlantic alliance is the weakest player on the chessboard.

Dream’s on South Caucasus

It is not a secret that while some members of NATO are highly skeptical with regard to further enlargement to the South-East, others do perceive it as a critically necessary step in a fight against the so-called Russia’s neoimperialistic policy or revisionism. Among the most motivated states are United States of America and Eastern European countries, like Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These actors, perceived by Moscow as a “Russophobic alliance”, push for Georgia to be integrated to the block as soon as possible, considering Tbilisi as a perfect platform in the Russian “backyard” or how the Kremlin calls it “near abroad”. It was George W. Bush’s neoconservative administration that dreamed about friendly Georgia that could have been integrated to NATO and used to introduce the military block to previously totally alien geopolitical space, mainly dominated by modern Turkey, Iran and Russia. But resurrected from comprehensive political, economic, social and military crisis Kremlin stopped this ambitious project postponing the membership perspectives for the years. Currently, there has been a shift in approaching to the enlargement narrative and debate. Particularly, more and more voices were calling to introduce the so-called Black Sea region concept, meaning that seemingly resultless dialogue with regard to NATO on South Caucasus could have been replaced by NATO on the Black Sea. Obviously, South Caucasus have always been perceived as Russia’s zone of influence were Western European countries were not keen to interfere, oppositely to the Black Sea region where two NATO member states are already presented – Turkey and Bulgaria. Furthermore, additionally Ukraine and Georgia do represent significant allies and possible future military strongholds. 

But it seems that this rapprochement is unable to push forward NATO’s aspirations to gain a foothold in South Caucasus due to a few reasonings. The first of all, we should outline deconstruction of America’s worldwide hegemony and self-identity crisis taking place in Washington. Secondly, Turkey’s heavy involvement in Nagorno-Karabakh confrontation is yet another prove that Ankara pursues its own geopolitical goals, considering itself foremostly as a successor of Ottoman Empire and its great mission rather than the North-Atlantic alliance member. Thirdly, the Kremlin’s grip on the “near abroad”. Fourthly, unreadiness of both, Azerbaijan and Armenia, to witness introduction of a new actor to the region. And, finally, unwillingness of the Western European states, especially, Germany and France to engage to this absolute mass. Thus, we should not expect to see an appraisal on NATO; furthermore, without America’s and Turkey’s military and financial capabilities, the block is probably the weakest player on this chessboard, unable to contribute to regional security.

“Be prepared”

Georgia has been “prepared” for NATO membership at least for the last decade. It is widely known that Tbilisi perceives the military block as a milestone in securing its territorial integrity and sovereignty from Russian assaults. Furthermore, NATO became more than just a “defense shield”, membership is considered to be a threshold in the country’s democratic and institutional development; finally, a guarantee of restoration of territorial unity. Despite endless promises given by NATO representatives that Georgia will joint the alliance, there are fears among Georgian political elites that overstretched membership plan can lead to dissatisfaction among regular citizens; this, in turn, may cause re-orientation of Georgia’s foreign course. As a response, American analyst Luke Coffee and Anders Fog Rasmussen, former NATO Secretary-General resurrected the idea of the German precedent, meaning that the state can be integrated to the alliance amending article 5 on the separatist regions of Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia. This approach, initially raised by Georgian actors in mid and late 90s, became widely popular among some American and Eastern European analysts but was highly criticized by Georgians as a recognition of territorial lost. So far, in the wake of a clear stagnation, recent statements by NATO Secretary-General was extremely necessary positive booster. But it is paradoxical that Nagorno-Karabakh confrontation actually proved once more that Georgia’s NATO dreams are unachievable.

Actually, to be grounded and realistic there are only three scenarios that can lead to Georgia’s NATO membership: 1) Gorbachev-Yeltsin model, meaning regime change in Moscow and re-iteration of Gorbachev-Yeltsin era when Russia was unwilling as well as too weak to counter the West; 2) the Turkish model, repeating scenario when Ankara was invited to the military block due to fears of the so-called communist or Soviet threat; and finally, 3) in the case of a war between the West and Russia. Yet it seems that neither of these events are going to happen in the nearer future, what makes Tbilisi’s NATO aspirations very long-term objective. Furthermore, the whole Georgian idea of being a NATO member was and still is to finally end the wars and not to engage to yet another one. Thus, the best option is to wait until some positive changes will take place in the Kremlin.

The article was originally published by Caucasus Watch.

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Georgia’s wayward son

When it comes to Mikheil Saakashvili and his legacy as president, Georgians praise and curse him simultaneously. His announced return should the largest opposition party win in upcoming elections should be seen through the lens of the local society, most of which would not warmly welcome such a homecoming.

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili announced a “come back” to Georgian political life. In a short advertisement video, the prominent politician asked the local society for forgiveness and promised to complete reforms that he and his political party United National Movement (UNM) initiated before being defeated later in parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012-2013. Saakashvili, who chairs the executive committee of Ukraine’s National Reforms Council, stated that Georgia is in total stagnation, returning to the so-called “dark” 90s as a result of a traitorous policy pursued by the government of the Georgian Dream. Soon after, the UNM, the main opposition party, stated that in the case of being victorious in the parliamentary elections set for October 31st, it will nominate its “founding father” as candidate for prime minister. Saakashvili, who actually has never really left Georgian politics, announced that, if victorious, he would occupy the post for two years and then continue his career in Ukraine.

While some parts of the political opposition, as well as civil society, expressed gratitude for the readiness to help liberate the state from, what they call, a Russian-controlled oligarchy represented by typhoon Bidzina Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream, others expressed serious concerns. Giga Bokeria, a former high-ranking official under Saakashvili who established a new political movement called European Georgia, stated that Saakashvili’s aspiration is to return Georgia to the past.

Political rivalries aside, it is time to finally speak out on issues that make him a significant historic figure that will probably never “come back” again. Moreover, for the sake of Georgia’s democratic development, it would be best for Saakashvili to not return.

Georgian Che

Mikheil Saakashvili is extremely popular among American neo-conservative circles, Eastern European political figures and, of course, liberal and even non-liberal elites in the post-Soviet space. He is known best for being a highly successful reformer who transformed Georgia from a “rogue” state into a developing pro-western country. Most importantly, he is respected by some groups in the West for his harsh anti-Russian rhetoric. At the same time, he has been continuously seen by Russian liberals as a counter-example to Vladimir Putin; thus, his fall from power was well-celebrated in the Kremlin. Paradoxically, the former president of Georgia is also notorious among those considered pro-Russian elites in Armenia, as well as pro-governmental groups in Azerbaijan and Central Asia that are sick and tired of systemic corruption, violence and the inability to build a career beyond loyalty to existing political regimes.

All these actors, unfortunately, lack fully objective information when it comes to Saakashvili’s true legacy, overwhelmed by his tremendously well-performed PR campaign. So far, they often simply can’t understand why so many people at home praise and curse him at the same time.

To understand this inconsistency, we should accept, once and for all, that Saakashvili is not a reformist but first and foremost – a revolutionary. What’s more the former president truly believes in his own path – the “Misha Way”. In other words, he believes that he knows what is true and false; what is patriotic and what is unpatriotic. Generally speaking, there is only one right way, the “Misha Way” and Georgia, as well as the local society, should follow it whether they express willingness to or not.

As the revolutionary, Saakashvili is ready to pursue and fight for his ideas and goals till the end. This disposition was perfectly reflected during his governance when there was no dialogue, no debate and no exchange between the state and the people. Furthermore, after the constitutional amendments introduced in 2004, Georgia’s political system became hyper-presidential, in which parliament played no role while Saakashvili ruled over the state almost as a sheikh.

Soon after, the state developed its media platforms as well as the business sector. As a result, the processes in the country were driven solely by the will of its leader, Saakashvili, and a small group of individuals. Moreover, democratic values such as human rights, freedom of speech and the press and private property were largely abandoned for the sake of revolutionary breakthroughs – a modernisation which by all means has not been coordinated and harmonised with the Georgian people.

Yet another factor that we should emphasise is the unique PR skills of the former president of Georgia, as he manages to exaggerate achievements, on the one hand, while being able to fully overshadow the negative sides on the other hand. For example, police reform was tremendously successful in fighting “petty corruption” and ensuring the fight against crime, while being a total failure in defending local society from elite corruption and state abuse or the impunity of the security services that were involved in hundreds of criminal cases including killings, tortures and other grave misdeeds. This state reform protected Georgian society from crime but was incapable of doing the same when the state behaved as a criminal itself.

Thus, at the end of the day, Saakashvili gave the local population much-needed hope for a better future but, at the same time, sacrificed a desirable, democratic institutional development. Logically, Georgians praise and curse him simultaneously, depending on what was and is more important for each particular citizen.

Despite this paradox, all sides agree that Saakashvili is a historic figure – the “Georgian Che” who motivated Georgian society to continue its state-building process. Yet, the “Misha Way” was unable to live up to the strong desire for nation-building fully in line with democratic values.

The article was originally published by New Eastern Europe.

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On the West we rely

The Georgian parliament has adopted constitutional changes that have been applauded by their international partners. As a result, the Georgian Dream government might struggle with an even more alienated opposition.

On June 29th 2020 the Georgian parliament finally adopted constitutional amendments that have been praised by an absolute majority of local and international actors as “historic”. The new electoral system, which introduces a mixed model consisting of 120 members of Parliament proportionally elected and 30 majoritarian MPs, is seen as an opportunity for Georgian democracy to build a culture of collaboration and coalition governments. And while this statement may be seriously challenged, there are issues that are more relevant and important in Georgian society.

Particularly, members of the political opposition, Irakli Okruashvili and Gigi Ugulava, had been previously pardoned by president Salome Zurabishvili. These individuals, arguably perceived as criminals by the majority of Georgians, were released as a result of international pressure from some representatives of European Parliament and American Congress. Local oppositional parties praised the decision, calling it a step towards less political turbulence; more justice and peace is expected in buildup to the upcoming parliamentary elections set for October 2020.

Meanwhile, the majority of the electorate of Georgian Dream is most likely shocked and astonished as they simply cannot understand how former members of the ruling government who directly participated in building a semi-authoritarian regime while oppressing media and human rights can be protected and lobbied by the state’s strategic partners in the EU and USA. This is especially relevant as it relies on judgements by the ECHR and International arbitrage in The Hague. Moreover, there is an apparent embarrassment due to the behavior of Georgia’s allies who directly intervened in internal affairs and pressured the government, or even threatened it.

Terrorists or freedom fighters

It goes without saying that the biggest issue here is the alleged existence of political prisoners in Georgia. Some members of European Parliament as well as American Senators and Congressmen are extremely keen to refer to almost all the members of political opposition who went to jail as political prisoners. Of course local judiciary and prosecutor offices are far from Western standards and need to be further strengthened and distanced from the state’s grip. At the same time, all statistical data shows that these institutions are freer and more independent than ever before. Thus, Georgians can be sure that their rights will be better protected than in the past. This fact is sometimes even challenged despite clear evidence.

Secondly, it is up to local and international legal institutions to give final judgement on whether a person has been persecuted due to political views and activities or not. But what bothers regular citizens of Georgia is that there are active attempts by some Western officials to whitewash members of Saakashvili’s government; although it is a government prominent for its brutal dispersal of peaceful protests, massive oppression of political opponents, seizure of oppositional media outlets and total disregard of human rights. And these outcomes frequently come through direct misrepresentation of data and even ECHR judgements. For example, Małgorzata Maria Gosiewska, Deputy Marshal of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland, represented former Minister of Internal Affairs Ivane Merabishvili as a political prisoner and cited an ECHR judgement as a legal document. Ms. Gosiewska blatantly misled listeners as the court ruled that the state hadn’t violated Mr. Merabishvili’s right to a fair and public trial and his sentence was given in accordance to international practice. Generally speaking, there are serious hesitations and doubts about fairness of conclusions made by some politicians, especially Europeans. This is especially relevant in wake of a call by Marketa Gregorova, Czech activist, member of the Czech Pirate Party, and elected MEP, to investigate dispersal of a questionably “peaceful” political protest on June 20th 2019. If this issue is so urgent and relevant for some members of EU parliament then why do they continue to whitewash Ivane Merabishvili, who brutally stamped out dozens of peaceful protests which resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of people being injured and three people being killed?!

Generally, an extremely large gap in perceptions exists between regular Georgian citizens on the one hand and some political actors on the ground and abroad on the other hand. This challenge can described within the framework given by a character from the movie Die Another Day, in which he stated “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. For the larger Georgian society, Gigi Ugulava and other former top officials are criminals mentioned in judgements by the ECHR in cases such as Sulkhan Molashvili v. Georgia (political persecution and torture), Enukidze and Gvirgvliani v. Georgia (torture of civilian and concealment of evidences), Batiashvili v. Georgia (intentional fabrication of evidences), Rustavi 2 Broadcasting Company Ltd and Others v. Georgia (unlawful expropriation of private media property) and so on.

Politics above the law

The lion’s share of allegations against Georgian Dream from its American allies is arguably mostly politically motivated. At the very least, the allegations made by American Senators and Congressmen are definitely political rather than legal. Arguably the best example of this is the claimed oppression of American business, as in the Frontera Resources case. This Texas company has operated in Georgia since 1997 and continues promising to find natural resources, such as gas and oil. The Georgian Dream government argued that the company violated an agreement, resulting in approximately one hundred Georgian citizens not being paid salaries for more than year. The company, however, was and still is arguing that it has found the largest oil and gas deposits, which have been false claims for the last two decades. Therefore, the government of Georgia decided to break the contract. This situation was addressed by American Republican Congressman Pete Olson, who directly called Bidzina Ivanishvili and the current government pro-Russian puppets; additionally, Mr. Olson argued that Frontera Resources has been pushed away in order to give Georgian gas to the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and the Kremlin in general. This narrative was picked up by members of the political opposition despite the fact that one of its own leaders from the United National Movement, MP Roman Gotsiridze, was personally calling Frontera Resources a “charlatan” company and urging the government to defend Georgian citizens. These allegations did not disappear even after a judgement by an international arbitrage, located in The Hague, ruled in favor of the Georgian government and gave the state permission to break cooperation with the American company due to a breach of contract. But what is especially disturbing is that some representatives of leading international and local NGOs, such as Transparency International, including Georgia’s Executive Director Eka Gigauri, are still using this case to express “concerns” and contribute to the legally false claims of Congressman Olson and the local political opposition.

It seems that these organisations, at least some of their members, have their own ideological and political rivalry or confrontation with the ruling Georgian Dream, which pushes them to turn a blind eye to the legal aspects and focus more on a political agenda. The same scenario happened during the private Rustavi 2 channel dispute when NGOs argued that Bidzina Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream controlled local courts, pushing the institution to transfer property rights to pro-governmental businessman Kibar Khalvashi. This narrative is still proliferated by these same organisations and people despite an ECHR judgement that ruled in favor of the decision made previously by a Georgian court. Moreover, none of the claims made by NGO representatives had been publicly shared. By the end of this ruling. members of the political opposition called the judgement pro-Russian and claimed the ECHR was bribed by Bidzina Ivanishvili and influenced by the Kremlin.

Behind the back politics 

The biggest concerns among regular citizens are raised most often due to political negotiations and agreements facilitated by European and American diplomats between the Georgian Dream government and political opposition. The most important achievement of this process was the March 8th agreement that, in theory, should have depolarised the environment in the country and ensured more transparent and democratic parliamentary elections, which are set for October 2020. But as soon as the ruling party and political opposition started disputing the agreement itself, Georgian citizens realised that they had no clue what was happening at all. It took place behind closed doors and agreements were made in secret. Thus far, local voters are in a frustrating situation as political actors are representing things in a completely contradictory manner while European and American diplomats keep silent. Georgia’s strategic partners have often “negotiated democracy” with local political elites “behind the back” of Georgian society. Thus, the above concerns are obviously not baseless. In a country where “shadow politics” is taking place on a regular basis, it is highly questionable whether yet another example of “international shadow politics” can strengthen democracy or increase trust in the political process. Moreover, this can easily be perceived as a intervention into domestic affairs and an attempt to defend interests of political elites on the one hand and national (political, geopolitical and economic) interests of the EU and USA on the other hand, without asking for an opinion from Georgian voters.

By and large, the substantial astonishment among a significant portion of Georgian society, namely those who sent Mikhail Saakashvili’s government to the “political bench”, stems from them simply being unable to understand how the former officials, involved in corruption and other legal cases, can be lobbied by the West and even called “freedom fighters”?! Furthermore, why do some European and American officials think that Georgian democracy will be strengthened by keeping these perceivably corrupt individuals active in politics and even appointing them to high political positions again?! The usual pro-Western actors in the country, as well as their allies abroad, should be ready for increased anti-Western criticism and skepticism among regular citizens of Georgia who see lobbyist attempts as a glaring intervention in domestic affairs and a politically-motivated liberation of alleged criminals. Most importantly, however, are the concerns raised about whether the European and American actors involved in the process promote principles of equality before the law or an old quote known as “all are equal but some are more equal”. And it seems that in this case Gigi Ugulava and Irakli Okruashvili fall into the second basket, because there is no doubt that no one can be bothered to save individuals who lack political labels and/or political protection.

The article was originally published by New Eastern Europe.

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