There’s been a lot of concern about political turmoil in Georgia, much of which this blog has attempted to document. In an effort to keep coverage balanced, CES wanted to highlight to readers a recent article in Foreign Affairs by Thomas de Waal, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who specializes in Eurasia, particularly conflict reporting in Eurasia. His background is available here.
De Waal’s article offers a refreshing historical context to current issues and reiterates that despite concern in the United States, it is still far too soon to tell what kind of leader newly-elected Prime Minister Ivanishvili will be.
To remind readers, Georgia recently held parliamentary elections which brought the Georgian Dream party to power, with a new Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is also the richest man in Georgia. Ivanishvili must govern alongside President Mikheil Saakashvili and the two don’t exactly get along. De Waal, the author of the article, calls the ‘mortal political enemies.’ Many observers in the United States and Europe have been alarmed at a recent surge in arrests of government officials who support/supported President Saakashvili and are concerned this is political retribution at best, and at worst a harbinger for an autocratic governance led by Prime Minister Ivanishvili. De Waal’s article discusses similar circumstances in recent Georgian history and why Western observers shouldn’t be quite so concerned at the present time.
Some key points from the article which offer an alternative perspective for those concerned observers:
- Saakashvili’s decline in popularity is very similar to the man he replaced in the 2003 Rose Revolution – both men ‘brought progress [to Georgia] on several fronts but after a few years his way, allowing the country to slide into corruption and inertia.” So it can be seen as a sign of progress that in this instance, it was not a revolution that caused a change in leadership, but an election hailed (comparatively to other post-Soviet states) as free & fair (link here).
- de Waal states that the recent election is “best understood as a major step in a zigzagging but ultimately forward path for a country that still has some distance to go before it reaches democracy.”
- With regards to concerns that the new Prime Minister, Ivanishvili, is a puppet of the Kremlin due to having amassed his large fortune in Russia, de Waal points out that Ivanishvili left Russia in 2002, sold all his assets there and surrounds himself with a team of pro-Western advisers.
- de Waal also states that while the first month of the new government has been a public relations disaster, there are some positive aspects that have been overlooked:
- A well-known human rights lawyer, Tea Tsulukiani, has been appointed as justice minister; and
- The media is ‘ livelier’ and the government appears to be engaging with NGOs more.
- The series of arrests of former officials seem to be the most worrying for observers, particularly in NATO countries. de Waal reminds readers that the Ivanishvili government believes it was elected in part because it has a mandate to correct past injustices and many of the arrests were met with strong public approval.
de Waal’s conclusion is essentially (and this is simplifying a good article, so its worth checking it out for the full picture) that Georgia is not an “American” democracy, and will not be. The best thing that both Ivanishvili and Saakashvili could do to ensure the future of a Georgian democracy is to remember that they are human and will not be (and should not be) in power forever.
Again – check out the article.