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

Questions for Discussion are following:

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

Disputants:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia’s Culture of “Breakthrough” Celebrations

This year, Tbilisi celebrated the EU’s decision to pursue an “open-door” policy and give Georgian citizens the right to enter the Schengen zone without visa. The decision was highly praised by various political actors and proclaimed as a significant political victory for the post-Soviet state.

At the same time, some experts have doubts about the visa liberalization policy. Moreover, the notion of a “great victory” reminded many of a few similar stories that have been celebrated by local political elites as grand achievements that later turned out to be a part of political populism and simple exaggeration; an attempt to overshadow a domestic political, economic and/or social crisis.

From George W. Bush to the 2008 August War

There are three prominent cases that have been re-thought: George W. Bush’s visit to Georgia, the NATO Bucharest Summit and the 2008 August War.

For such a small country as Georgia, which at both the internal and external level significantly depend on support from strategic partners, it is a great honor to host high-ranking officials. The US President’s visit was the highest victory for Georgia, especially when taking into consideration the fact that this was the only time a US president had ever visited South Caucasia. George W. Bush gave a speech in the city center of Tbilisi on May 10, 2005 and proclaimed Georgia as a beacon of democracy in the region. Moreover, he argued that his administration had drawn a ‘red line’ over Caucasia, meaning that Russia should not try to intervene in the State’s affairs. Only, during the 2008 August War, Georgian society realized that the visit was more about PR rather than real politics. Georgia’s president Mikhail Saakashvili used it to legitimize his government’s aggressive “zero tolerance” policy that led to power abuse and frequent cases of human rights violations that Bush’s administration mainly ignored. Bush himself considered the Tbilisi trip a political step to boost his political popularity at home by showing the “success story” of his foreign policy, which was under fire over the Afghanistan and Iraq operations. Finally, neither Saakashvili nor Bush thought about the impact the visit would have on Georgian-Russian relations. While the leaders of both countries were trying to solve internal issues, the Kremlin perceived it as a direct threat to national security. Moscow’s approach became even more offensive which, in combination with Bush’s Tbilisi “assurances” and Saakashvili’s hot-headed nature, led to the 2008 August War.

The NATO 2008 Bucharest Summit is probably the most interesting case. At the end of 90s, the second president of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, knocked on NATO doors. Saakashvili’s pro-Western government took all measures to finally integrate Tbilisi into the military organization; it even conducted a state referendum to officially prove the devotion of local society to the goal. In 2008, due to extreme support from the Eastern European countries (Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia) and the US administration, Georgia was never before as close to acquiring the so called MAP (The Membership Action Plan). But despite this unique political back-up, the attempt failed and instead of received MAP, representatives of NATO member states expressed merely a commitment to integrate Georgia and Ukraine once they meet the respective criteria. This commitment was proclaimed by Saakashvili’s government as another strategic victory while American and European officials praised Georgia’s democratic development. And, once again, only the August 2008 War made it clear that the decision was a huge blow to Bush administration’s foreign policy and a reflection of the Saakashvili government’s failure to gain support from leading Western European countries. Nowadays, it is frequently argued that the Bucharest decision was a political miscalculation of the West that gave a green light to Putin’s regime to stimulate the August 2008 War, rather than a victorious moment for Tbilisi.

Finally, we cannot avoid assessment of the August 2008 events themselves. This war is important not only from a political and geopolitical perspective, but also as a clear example of state propaganda. While Moscow tried hard to persuade the local electorate that this was a big victory for the Russian Federation, Tbilisi aggressively promoted the idea of exposing the Kremlin’s real face. In fact, both states lost. While Russia managed to restrain Georgia’s aspiration to become a NATO member, it created two practically internationally non-recognized self-proclaimed states totally dependent on Moscow’s political, financial and military donations. In turn, Saakashvili’s government, to undermine the catastrophic results of the conflict on the country’s political, economic and social dimensions, focused more on Russia’s international prestige. Tbilisi argued that it had managed to expose the evil nature of the Kremlin’s regime. As Russian scholar, Ivan Kurilla, perfectly noted, it is questionable whether Georgia exposed something but it is definitely unarguable that Saakashvili put his country in a position where neither the West nor liberal groups in Moscow were capable of blaming with total confidence the Russian government for the outbreak of the war. Hence, the game wasn’t worth playing.

All in all, each “breakthrough” analyzed above was presented by the Georgian government as a grand achievement to hide some concrete political misdeeds mainly connected to an inability or unwillingness to pursue a logical, politically calculated and balanced policy at home and on the international arena or were simply highly motivated political exaggeration.

What is wrong with Visa Liberalization?

There are lots of taboo topics in Georgia that will by default lead to an aggressive response from local conservatists (LGBT community rights) or liberals (NATO membership). The new issue that will probably cost the status of the pro-Russian movement is the visa liberalization. From March 28, Georgian citizens holding biometric passports are free to travel to the Schengen Zone without a visa for a period of 90 days within any 180-day period for purposes other than work. The EU’s political decision to open the door for Georgians was warmly received by pro-Western movements and democratic governments worldwide. Proponents of the Ukraine ‘Maidan’ used this precedent to motivate local society to continue on its existing political course while liberal elites opposing Putin’s regime in Moscow tried to attract more voters. The Georgian government, as usual, went all out to celebrate this “breakthrough”. European and Georgian officials and members of civil society are pretty confident that visa free movement will bring Tbilisi closer to Brussels. Only a minority of international and local experts express doubts and point to the questions this “open-door” policy raises.

One of those is whether the move will actually promote pro-Western attitudes and make more Georgians familiar with European culture? Receiving a Schengen Visa was a challenging task due to a lack of financial resources rather than the unwillingness of the local population to visit the EU. Moreover, it was never problematic to travel Europe in the scopes of various international forums, conferences, school exchanges or other activities that are well-organized and funded in Georgia. Lastly, in comparison to other areas like the USA or UK, the Schengen Zone was always perceived as the easiest to enter. So far, the move, in practice, should create new opportunities for those Georgian citizens who had issues with affordability and this is practically impossible to achieve due to the poor socio-economic situation. Georgian society experiences comparatively high levels of poverty and unemployment. Furthermore, local salaries are largely far below the European ones, added to which the country is witnessing probably the worst socio-economic crisis for the last decade. Unless improved, these factors will keep Georgian elites that never had problems with visiting EU “in” the European dream and representatives of financially less-prosperous groups “out”.

One more question that comes to mind is whether the visa free policy is about freedom of movement between Tbilisi and Brussels or is more about countering, as Georgian neoliberals actively argue, increasing pro-Russian and anti-Western sentiments in the country today. It became a tendency after the collapse of the “Rose Revolution” government, to maintain an alarmistic approach regarding internal processes in the State. Former members of Saakashvili’s regime, then representatives of other non-governmental groups, started promoting the idea of a possible deviation from the Western course with the “enhancing of ties” between Tbilisi and Moscow. Such attitudes finally found reflection in the articles and speeches of various European experts, scholars and officials calling on EU member state representatives to acknowledge Georgia’s achievements and instead offer something that would keep Georgian society devoted to the western course. As soon as NATO and EU membership was off the table, the EU leaders decided to grant Georgian citizens visa free movement.

Georgia has a long history of “breakthrough” celebrations following various political decisions announced by the government as a great victory. Lately, to the dissatisfaction of local society, it has become politically motivated exaggeration and/or an attempt to overshadow the incapability or unwillingness of the state apparatus to handle existing domestic challenges or government-non-friendly processes. EU’s visa free travel approach is definitely a positive step for Georgia, but we need to be aware of its political, social and economic aspects in order not to give the government another opportunity to hoodwink Georgian society.

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

Euphoria hits the Western media

On October 9, the Georgian Dream Coalition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili and the members of his political team met with president of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili, marking the moment in which the Georgian Dream would take reins of power over the country, thus forcing the UNM (United National Movement) to step aside and become the parliamentary minority after governing the state for the last eight years.

The defeat of the ruling party in the parliamentary elections held on October 2 represented a drastic shift in the political, social and economic environment in Georgia, and at the same time it was the marked a precedent in the region when the ruling force recognized its defeat in the elections and allowed the political opposition an opportunity to lead the state.

Such dramatic events were considered by some domestic as well as foreign experts as an important step away from Georgia’s post-Soviet era towards democracy. This transition was symbolic of the positive changes occurring not only in Georgia itself, but in the whole region. Therefore, the worldwide media just couldn’t turn blind eye on the ongoing developments in Georgia. The BBC, CNN, RIA Novosti, Foreign Policy, The Times, Sunday Times – all these prominent magazines and newsmakers kept tabs on the vote itself, as well as the post-election events in the country.

Three main issues are under discussion in the international media: the reasons behind the UNM’s defeat, the incoming government, Georgia’s democratic transition and the country’s relationship with Russia.

What led to the loss?

“Indeed, defeat was the best thing that could have happened to him [Mikhail Saakashvili] and his country’s reputation,” notes James Nixey, Manager and Research Fellow, at the Russia and Eurasia Programme.

In his article ‘Georgia: Post-Election Analysis’ that Chatham House published on October 2, James Nixey concludes that the recognition of defeat was the only and the best way for Mikhail Saakashvili and his political team to “ensure that his [Mikhail Saakashvili] legacy is not entirely in tatters.” The reason behind total loss, according to him, lies in the “disappointing economic picture, the centralization of power and the small matter of partial responsibility for the August 2008 war.”

In the short paper published by the Georgian Journal on October 3, Mark Mullen, the former Director of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) Georgia from 1997 until 2004, emphasizes two fundamental reasons behind Misha and the UNM’s decreased popularity among citizens of Georgia: “the punishment of those in Shevardnadze’s government and the amendment of the constitution on 6 February 2004.”

Defining the first reason, Mullen notes that “so many great things happened: the administrative reforms, the end of petty corruption, fixing roads and in general creating a real state. But at the same time, a large part of [that] was based on punishment. On treating people as if they were a problem to be rolled over rather than a constituent group to be listened to.”

The international media as well as local experts agree that Mikhail Saakashvili definitely played a role on improving democracy in Georgia, but the main problem of his was “accusations of authoritarian behavior masked as democracy.”

In the article ‘Democracy wins as Rose Revolution admits defeat in parliament elections,’ published in The Times Europe, Roger Boyes exclaims that “Bidzina Ivanishvili’s victory in the parliamentary elections has astonished the region.” According to the journalist, it seems that Georgia is on its way to shaping real democracy in the region where before the Rose revolution, no one could even imagine such a possibility.

In another report, the BBC’s Damien McGuinnes notes that “it is [parliamentary elections] a momentous day for Georgia– a day which strengthens the country’s democratic credentials.”

In another article published by BBC, Georgia’s election is described as “a milestone for democracy in the ex-Soviet state.”

By and large, the peaceful transition of power was welcomed by the international media; this fact has demonstrated that a Soviet country can become a beacon of democracy in the post-Soviet space and particularly, in a strategically important region.

Russia or the West?

Doubts about Bidzina Ivanishvili’s political orientation– which included questions of whether Georgia will replace its pro-Western orientation with a pro-Russian approach, was prominent in the minds of many during the whole pre-election campaign. Considering the international reaction, the international community expects that the leader of the Georgian Dream Coalition will be loyal to the old pro-Western approach chosen by the former government of Mikhail Saakashvili.

On October 3, The Sunday Times published an article by Maria Antonova entitled ‘Georgian Dream to ease, not end Russia’s nightmare.’ In it, the expert noted that there won’t be drastic changes in the political attitude between representatives of two states; the only innovations that could appear may be an attempt to more or less place the Georgian-Russian relationship in the scope of the world’s widely accepted ‘game rules’; but there can’t be agreement on the main issues such as the fate of the separatist regions of Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia.

Bidzina v. Misha

It’s no secret that personal aspects are still important when it comes to political developments in any country.

“More than 20 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the West has become familiar with a wide variety of leaders to emerge in this space — Soviet apparatchiks, fierce nationalists and K.G.B. trained strongmen. However, Bidzina Ivanishvili nominated Monday as Georgia’s next prime minister, does not resemble any of them, not even remotely,” writes Ellen Barry of the New York Times in the October 8 article ‘Georgian Leader Emerges as an Enigma.’

According to her, “Mr. Ivanishvili provides a contrast with Mr. Saakashvili, a cosmopolitan charmer who speaks fluent English and intuitively understands what the West expects.”

In order to portray Bidzina Ivanishvili, she cites Thomas de Waal, an expert on the Caucasus at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, as saying that the billionaire politician is a novice, and that has its pros and cons.

“The bad side is he is quite unpredictable and says some quite eccentric things. The good side is he is still learning and corrects himself. He is receptive to advice,” Thomas de Waal is quoted.

Hence, it is clear that the international media, as well as foreign experts, are in some kind of euphoria over the parliamentary elections and probable developments in the country.

And still, there are serious challenges for democracy in Georgia and the euphoria which exists in the West may further prompt opportunities for the crisis. Last time the West was in such excited state about the events in Georgia was during the 2003 Rose Revolution. Consequently, Georgia’s strategic partners overlooked some misdeeds of the former government which finally led to the crisis of democracy in the country.

By and large, Georgia expects that both the domestic and the international community will overcome its euphoric condition and begin a sober evaluation of the developments. It is up to the people to start pushing the new government to be loyal to democratic institutions and values.

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

The suspicion of paramilitary groups in the Samegrelo region resurface

On August 10, opposition channel Maestro TV unveiled an exclusive videotape recorded by its regional correspondent Nana Fajava in the Samegrelo region of Zugdidi. The video recording shows that approximately one-hundred unidentified individuals armed with truncheons and shields going through tactical exercises. Some commentators have asserted that the purpose of these exercises is crowd control in the case of riots and the dispersal of rallies.

This news reignites previous claims made by Irakli Alasania, leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats and one of the leaders among the Georgian Dream coalition, that paramilitary groups in the Samegrelo region are allegedly being organized by the Georgian government to be used in the event of their defeat in the forthcoming parliamentary elections on October 1.

Alasania had said in March that the government was setting up armed paramilitary groups in the western part of the country, specifically in Samegrelo, in preparation for post-election civil unrest. Alasania sent the video to the Georgian Security Council and warned foreign diplomats to carefully research the issue.

Later, the government called on Alasania and the Georgian Dream Coalition to stop spreading misinformation; at the same time, the Georgian Security Council noted that the documents sent by Alasania are useless and do not prove anything. Additionally, foreign diplomats did not provide a serious response to the release of the video.

On Maestro TV’s Direct Talk program anchored by Eka Beridze on April 11, the EU Ambassador to Georgia, Philip Dmitrov, exclaimed that the EU has a “respectable presence in Georgia”, therefore, “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.”

Such sharp difference in positions gave rise to confrontation between Alasania and Dmitrov. It even provoked people to ask the question: who is telling the truth– Irakli Alasania or Philip Dmitrov?

The advent of the videotape has placed the issue of paramilitary groups back on the opposition’s agenda. Zviad Chkhaidze, described by Maestro TV as a Reserve officer, analyzed the videotape and concluded that based upon the exercises, the individuals involved in the training activities were newly recruited. Additionally, Chkhaidze assumes that this is a militarized group; therefore, he was surprised to see unidentified individuals in civil uniforms. “They should have been wearing special uniforms” Chkhaidze emphasized. He went on to explain that such groups are usually paramilitary in nature and procedure obliges them to wear special uniforms.

Irakli Alasania, leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats

Kakha Mikaia, one of the leaders of Georgian League of Voters, claims that policemen have been involved in the tactical exercises. According to Mikaia, the exercises were commandeered by the Counter-Intelligence Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. He asserted that the main purpose of such groups is to oppress opposition activists in the Samegrelo region and break up a political rally planned in the region in September.

Additionally, among the participants of the exercises, Mikaia recognized Giorgi Samushia, who was allegedly involved in the dispersal of opposition rallies in 2007. According to Maestro TV, on October 28, 2007, Samushia along with other unidentified persons in civil uniforms and armed with batons, attacked a peaceful political meeting held by opposition forces; several were injured in the clash.

Kakha Kukava, the leader of Conservative Party of Georgia notes that the absence of special uniforms is a sign that the groups is of special-purpose. According to Kukava, such groups have been used during the dispersal of the 7th November and 26th of May political meetings when the violent actions and cruelty of several unidentified persons without special uniforms and armed with truncheons and shields caused the severe injury and deaths of several opposition activists.

Maestro TV’s journalist tried to contact the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, but a representative of the ministry refused to make any comments except to note that the exercises have been planned and they do not differ from other systematic maneuvers. The members of the ruling party and the Georgian government have since refrained from making comments regarding the issue.

By and large, the pre-election period has already been marked by the confrontation between the governmental and opposition activists. The Georgian government has already been charged with an attempt to use administrative resources to oppress anti-governmental parties and particularly, the Georgian Dream Coalition. Consequently, the issue of special paramilitary groups raised by Irakli Alasania may become even more critical leading up to the parliamentary elections. The fact that the exercises took place in the Samegrelo region and the individuals recorded have been observed in civil uniforms training for the dispersal of rallies is in favor of Alasania’s earlier statement made at the special briefing in March.

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