Georgia’s Public Figures Selection Methodology: The “Zidanes y Pavones” Policy

On June 13, Georgia’s PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili resigned from his position citing a disagreement with the leader of ruling party Georgian Dream, Bidzina Ivanishvili. On June 20, Georgian parliament held a confidence vote and appointed Mamuka Bakhtadze, 36, former minister of finance of Georgia, as the new PM. Earlier, Bakhtadze’s nomination was highly criticized by the political opposition and some members of local civil society as a step backward. They argued that even though Kvirikashvili had serious political and economic flaws, he was comparatively more independent from Georgia’s “kingmaker” Ivanishvili than his predecessor Irakli Garibashvili (Nov. 2013 – Dec. 2015). The government’s critics believe that an inexperienced, little-known and young Bakhtadze has been chosen by Ivanishvili as a replacement for Kvirikashvili to strengthen/restore his informal grasp on power in the country.

We can debate whether these allegations are right or wrong, but it is undoubted reality that there is a pretty questionable selection methodology in Georgia. Apart from nepotism and other painful reflections of the 90s, there is still something puzzling in this “human resources” approach, which we can define as the “Zidanes y Pavones” policy.

“Zidanes y Pavones”

In the early 2000s, Florentino Perez, current President of Real Madrid C.F. (a professional football club based in Madrid, Spain) announced a policy of club management that was formulated as “Zidanes y Pavones”. In theory, it meant the aspiration of the club to purchase world-leading football players from all around the globe and use “homegrown wonder kids” to make the team totally unbeatable on the field as well as a financially successful market brand. To achieve the goals, Real Madrid bought such prominent football players as Luis Figo (2000-2005), Zinedine Zidane (2001-2006), Ronaldo (2002-2007), and David Beckham (2003-2007) while wholeheartedly supporting very talented “homegrown” wonder boy, Francisco Pavon. Unfortunately, in practice, this approach appeared to be flawed. Though Perez managed to build a well-known and well-bought brand, he failed to secure this success on the field. The club went four years without success in the Spanish Football League between 2003 and 2007 and would fail to qualify beyond the last 16 of the Champions League for seven consecutive seasons after 2004. Perez was forced to leave his post in February 2006. Analysts outline three main reasons as to why this policy failed. The first was divisions in the team. Real Madrid was split into “superstars” and “ordinary” players that complicated interaction between members and factually made it impossible to build a strong united and consolidated team. The second reason was the tremendous pressure that all players faced. In the wake of continuous demands from club management to show the highest possible results, both “superstars” and “homegrowns” had no actual time to adjust, settle, develop and, most importantly, grow professionally. And finally, the accent was put more on the financial part of the policy rather than football itself. There was no sense investing so much money into expensive football players when Real Madrid could have pursued a more pragmatic and game-oriented policy. “Superstars” and “homegrown wonder kids” are attractive concepts but, at the end of the day, a team needs hard-working and game-oriented players who will create a core, rather than market-oriented stars and inexperienced youth. All in all, the “stars” attracted and “wonder kids” tried, but without the backbone of honored and experienced players who passed through fire water and copper pipes, Real Madrid failed to be an effective and efficient football team.

Saakashvili’s “Pavones”

From the beginning of his governance, Saakashvili expressed willingness to engage youth in policy and decision-making processes. This approach was probably highly welcomed by all sides. But unfortunately, Saakashvili pursued a very strict “Pavones” policy, meaning that in his statements the Georgian President called citizens above the age 35 as “flashy” and unnecessary. He believed that the only way to get rid of the so-called “soviet mentality” was to make a bet on “Zidanes” (Georgian emigrants) and, mostly, “homegrown wonder kids” (local human resources) to lead the country to a better future.

Probably the most prominent “Zidane” in Saakashvili’s cabinet was a Georgian emigrant from Paris, Salome Zurabishvili. Zurabishvili, who had been a French career diplomat since 1974, was appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia in March 20, 2004. This decision was a marketing step to make Tbilisi more recognizable and attractive for the Western world. On the other hand, Georgia has witnessed the rise of “homegrown wonder kids” such as Kakha Lomaia, Giga Bokeria, Gigi Ugulava, Irakli Okruashvili, Vano Merabishili, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, of course, Vera Kobalia.

Saakashvili’s team, like Real Madrid, had initial positive success, especially in handling corruption and reforming the education system. But, very soon, the Georgian “Zidane” rose against Saakashvili and finished her public servant career without significant results. Kakha Lomaia’s “breakthrough” in the education sphere was pretty soon continued by a poor and blank chain of questionable and, we may argue, ineffective decisions that still effect the education system of Georgia today. Saakashvili’s beloved “son,” Irakli Okruashvili, was too arrogant, selfish and self-confident- leading to his exile and political downfall.

Generally speaking, Saakashvili’s “Pavones” were highly motivated for change, but frequently had no idea how to go about it effectively and efficiently; they had no respective experience and, simply, no time to grow professionally. The pressure that Saakashvili unleashed on them was too oppressive and Georgia’s “Pavones” started making serious mistakes that resulted in criminal punishments for Gigi Ugulava, Vano Merabishvili and some other “homegrown wonder kids” later on. By the end of Saakashvili’s term, Georgian society had no understanding of the merits that Saakashvili had applied in his selection methodology; the best examples are the appointments of Khatuna Kalmakhelidze (Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance, Dec. 2009-Sept. 2012) and Vera Kobalia (Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Jul. 2010-Oct. 2012).

The Same Old Story with Georgian Dream

There were hopes that Saakashvili’s policy that put forward “Pavones” and totally overlooked experienced and honored local human resources would be re-thought by PM Bidzina Ivanishvili. Unfortunately, these expectations were misleading. Ivanishvili shared his predecessor’s policy and, as an example, appointed Archil Kbilashvili as Prosecutor General. Kbilashvili’s (Oct. 2012-Nov. 2013) approach to a few very sensitive criminal cases lead to his early resignation and total disappearance from the public eye. During an open-door debate with political opposition and other members of Georgian civil society, Ivanishvili was asked by Aleko Elisashvili (Georgian politician, civil activist) whether Kbilashvili had the respective experience and/or expertise handling not only criminal cases but, generally speaking, to occupy the position of Prosecutor General. The Georgian PM noted that Archil was a “good” guy but “a little bit inexperienced.:

Another example of the “Pavones” policy was the appointment of Irakli Garibashvili as a Prime Minister of Georgia. Garibashvili (Nov. 2013-Dec. 2015), who was in his early 30s at that time and had no idea of politics at all, was highly criticized by all actors. His approach to state-management and political rhetoric was full of inconsistencies and showed a clear lack of understanding of political processes; by and large, he was unaware of the rules of the game. At the same time, Georgian Dream had its own “Zidane”; not an immigrant but, as Kvirikashvili argued, a person with tremendous managerial skills and knowledge of “how to-do” and “how to-fix” things – Aleksandre Jejelava. Jejelava (Minister of Education and Science, Jun. 2016-Nov. 2017), who, in accordance with existing traditions, had no serious experience in public service, was “Zidane” due to his status of a certified international level trainer and for the “catchy” phrases he liked to throw around. These were his only achievements in the position and we may definitely assess Jejelava’s progress by the formula – he came, he said and he left to continue his studies.

Bakhtadze’s appointment as a PM was probably irritating for many Georgians due to a fact that people are sick and tired of this “Zidanes y Pavones” policy that brings useless “stars” and arrogant, selfish and self-confident “homegrown wonder kids” to power. Georgian society has already experienced the outcomes of such a policy – partial success with significant flaws. There is no doubt that Georgia needs “Zidanes” to be attractive and “Pavones” to have gifted youth, but Tbilisi needs more a system where the backbone of state institutions will be experienced and honored resources. Until that time, Georgia, like Real Madrid, will face challenges with effectiveness and efficiency. Currently, this is expressed by poor and blank state institutions with no clear vision; and, of course, continuous reshuffling of cabinet ministers every two-three years.

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The lost “meritocracy”

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

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

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

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

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

Yet, once again, in one of his latest speeches given to the participants of the Young Scientists and Inventors Olympiad, Mikhail Saakashvili emphasized: “Meritocracy means that the best will receive financing, while the weak – can-not. Yet, I believe that everyone should have a chance to get stronger. That is why we have to surely develop this system.” However, even though the leader of the ruling National Movement party has dreamed for a long time about meritocracy and has tried to promote it. Some of the latest initiatives have sparked doubts about whether the Georgian government still embraces “meritocratic” principles or has fallen victim to groupthink.

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

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

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

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

Creating a system of an electronic government (3D government) which doesn’t even exist in the most technically developed state of Japan, has been evaluated by Tina Burjaliani, the Deputy Minister of Justice of Georgia, as possible and realistic. The idea to build the new city of Lazika invited discussions among critics about the cost and the need of such an initiative; Re-settling the Georgian parliament in Kutaisi, effectively distancing it from the political center of Tbilisi, and spending more than 133 million lari on its development with-out the proper political and expert calculations, seems ridiculous not only for Georgian public, but also to some prominent foreign experts. For instance, Caucasus analyst Thomas De Vaal evaluated this decision as a “shame”. And still, the government pushes all three projects forward.

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

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