Latvia’s Experience Could Be Meaningful But…

Georgia is interested in the Baltic Sates’ experience with integration into EU and NATO. This experience could be meaningful but we miss real action. There are also other countries that are interested in sharing their experience with us.

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Interview with George Tarkhan-Mouravi, Co-director of Institute for Policy Studies by Ilze Sedlina

Georgia is now an independent, democratic country. Do Georgia’s people think democracy is good for Georgia?

I think that it is very difficult to compare changes – democracy – with something that was stagnant. When there were first signals about the radical changes and when the new government came to power, there were a lot of expectations. Of course, some of the people’s hopes were met but most of them were not. But the changes are ongoing and it is difficult to judge them. Right now lots of changes are taking place and it is good because situation was more inert before. People were loosing hope that something will really move forward. Now people feel disappointed, frustrated but at least something is changing.

There are many aspects of democracy – human rights, good governance etc. I cannot say that everything is going well. Some changes have improved the situation but some not. If we talk about the best thing that has been done it is fight against corruption in all the structures. As a result we see that much more investments are coming in Georgia, that state’s budget income is increasing. But if we look at the problems, I can mention Ajara autonomy in Southwestern part of Georgia.

The main problem why Georgia’s people see negative aspects is because radical changes cannot take place in one or two days. There is a long way to go. If I talk about changes and democracy, I have to admit that it is not good that one political group dominates the other. Not only dominates but overwhelms all political landscape. It could be good for quick reforms, for quick decisions but it is not good for democracy. One political scientist described the situation as dominant power syndrome because opposition is weak, executive branch dominates over parliament and judiciary is not truly independent. This creates lack of checks and balances system, and it is not good for democracy in Georgia.

How it is for nongovernmental organizations to work in Georgia these days?

When there were Rose Revolution thousands of people and many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were involved in it. Of course NGOs were in front of this movement. As a result new elite came to power. When you look at the top politicians many of them represent former NGOs. You could think that it has strengthened NGOs’ positions but it is not so. Very often critique by NGOs addressed to government is interpreted as critique towards democracy. It is a problem for our government to take critique as a constructive proposal.

You were talking about weak opposition in Georgia that undermines check and balances system. Strong opposition is really important to push government work harder. How do you think how much time will be necessary to form strong opposition?

Right now the situation in Georgia is quite interesting. There are many people who are expecting some new revolutionary changes but it is not good because now we need stability. I think Georgia now is on the right way and it should move forward towards democracy but not back.

I think some movement towards stronger opposition could take place after two years when we are having elections, and this year will be very important also because of the elections in Russia.

What about the future of Georgia? Will Georgia look towards European Union (EU)? Where Georgia sees itself in the future?

Georgia was very much looking towards EU. It was one of the promises and slogans of our President and government. But after two years of work the government realized that it is unlikely to get into the EU very quickly. I think that right now Georgia is loosing one of the strong incentives for the integration in EU because it is not an easy and fast process.

Another more realistic direction is Euro-Atlantic integration. I think that NATO is a real aim for Georgia. There is a lot of support from the United States and from the Baltic States. Developments in Russia, Iran and another places in Central Asia increase the strategic importance of Georgia. But movement towards NATO also depends on how the government will proceed with required reforms. But I think in long run there is a desire for Georgia to become a member of both – EU and NATO.

Latvia and other Baltic States have a lot of experience with integration in EU and NATO. We think that our experience could be useful for Georgia. But how Georgians see it?

I think you are absolutely right saying that you have a lot of experience. Your advantage is that you know Brussels; you know what they are asking and what they evaluate. From this point of view your experience is very valuable and it could be very important for Georgian government. Some assistance is already provided; particularly Estonia is very active in that. Such assistance from Latvia could be used not only on government level but also on civil society level. Now we are talking about the new model of corporation – three plus three – three Baltic and three Caucasus countries.

We know that your experience could be meaningful but we miss real action. There is a lot of experience that could be useful. There are also other countries that are interested in sharing their experience with us. If we are talking about NATO Turkey is very active. Bulgaria and Rumania as future EU members also are active in sharing their experience with EU integration. Of course your advantage could be Russian language and our common past in the Soviet Union.

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