Georgia is facing such a serious challenge, we will go mad if we'll take it all too seriously! We are not going to be a viable nation if we are not going to be a democratic state. This is a matter of survival.
The cynical optimists
Alexander Rondeli, President of the Georgian Strategic and International Research centre was interviewed by Judite Cunka, TV Panorama
It is going to be two years soon after the Georgians went out in the streets. Have the expectations of the residents been met – namely – the expectations that the new administration will be better and that it will help to increase the living standard?
In the course of the so-called rose revolution people put great hopes on Michail Saakashvilli and hi steam; this is the problem of these people. Even if Saakashvilli succeeded in acting like Jesus and all the governmental steps were correct, the results still would be evident in long-term only. Nothing will happen overnight as from the Soviet times we have inherited terrible situation and the former regime, that of Shevardnadze, stopped reforms half-way.
We are going through a difficult period, the new government will have to attack problems at all fronts. But the guys are so young! Have they administered a country before? They are doing for the first time. But – they are patriotic and are trying to do their best. The have brought fresh air in politics. Air that is even too fresh - initially they promised a lot, now - dissatisfaction is starting to surface. Life, of course, is slightly better. There is an invisible progress, major reforms have taken place in the country.
For instance, there has never been such substantial educational reforms before. We have introduced national exams, there are no more entrance exams in universities and this is where corruption was in full blossom before. There have been economical reforms, tax collection has increased three-fold. In the course of one year and a half the budget has increased almost three times!
At the same time unemployment is our largest problem, and this is related to the slow development of manufacturing. Investments are not coming in as rapidly as we would like the process to happen. At the moment we have not succeeded in creating good business climate. We are struggling with corruption and it has dramatically decreased, however, investors do not trust us, they are scared from the tense Georgian-Russian relationship, the conflict in Abhaz and South-Ossetian areas.
We are very proud that we have successfully reformed our militia. National traffic control was a sign of major corruption, decay, and total degeneration of the state. At the moment transit operations function in peace, nobody can stop them and force undue payments. Army has faced reforms as well – it is not the fact anymore that some structures and ministries had their own armed forces. At the moment the forces are united and the minister of defence is a civilian.
Many things have been done while people want to see the roast-beef on the plate today, right now. The new government faces major hardships here, as it has to adopt serious, long-term decisions so that the future would yield results, while at the same time the political battle must be fought and popularity may not be lost. If you win 96% of votes, it is clear that you will never win those votes again no matter how good and numerous votes you’d get. Therefore it is logical that the Saakashvilli government has lower ratings at the moment. The new administration sometimes is behaving as young cockerels – they scream a lot and tends to be too rough and impatient. In the brief period of independence we have not learned to think and act after having thought, we tend to fluctuate from extreme to extreme.
To push the government ahead and to make it work rationally you need constructive oppositiotn. What about that in Georgia?
Opposition is a serious problem of ours. The government is often criticised for not wanting to have opposition, for the fact that it is not giving opportunity even to lift their head. I think it is more untrue than true. The whole entire former opposition now is in the government and time will pass while new opposition will develop.
You may not live without opposition, it must be a watchdog. The behaviour of the new government sometimes leads you to think that they don’t love opposition. It is the result of the low political culture level. Unfortunately we don’t have the tradition of the political dialogue, the opponent often is viewed almost like an enemy. Mutual offence, that sometimes tends to become hysterical, has bad influence on people. But we are learning.
What forms the opposition – the old regime or there are new forces growing?
A part of the former opponents who never made it into the power structures now have discredited themselves so much that they are close to nobody at the moment. The former regime is scared, it is the unhappy, silent majority. They are waiting for the new government to make a mistake and some are lifting their heads as there are some failures.
Opposition is one of the elements of civic society. How weak or how strong is the civic sector in Georgia?
We don’t know how to cooperate, at the same time, in comparison with other former southern republics of the former USSR we are not doing that badly after all. Tbilisi is a leader here, it has numerous non-governmental organizations. Of course, it is still far before we match the European and East European level and we have to learn a lot before that. Here you, Baltic experience would be useful – how to manage the political dialogue, how actively should the civic society go into the political processes, how to feed in the political culture, how to build equal relations among all social layers.
In what areas would Georgia find Latvian assistance and advice useful?
Those areas would ensue from our objective to enter European and trans-Atlantic structures. One may think it to be naïve or ridiculous, that we are making so much noise about it, as it is still a long way to go before Georgia will find itself there. However, these are our long-term objective, they are not random objective and this is far from just a fancy. We are a multi-national and multi-religious country. We are not going to be a viable nation if we are not going to be a democratic state. This is a matter of survival. It is probable that not everybody in Georgia understands that, but the elite understands that very well and the rest of the residents should understand that, too.
Of course, we are talking a lot and doing little at the moment. Latvians could be good consultants here. You are Nordic people, you are tranquil and balanced, you know us, the Georgians from our co-habitation period in the communal soviet apartment. The Baltic countries know our advantages and disadvantages and can look at us with a tint of humour. I think that the Baltic countries have more patience for working with us that the others do. We look at you as at a model that we should work to match. The fact that you are taking the function of consultant is the best that can happen, it is a very noble step.
First of all, we are interested how did the Latvians manage to organized and harmonized their public structures and legislations with the European and international standards. If you looked closely at what we were doing, you'd certainly be in a position to recommend what to do and what not to do, as you've been through it and have acted in unique circumstances.
The next – regional cooperation; even though it seems at the first glance that the Baltic states and the Caucasian states and incomparable and too different regions. The Baltic states have unique experience in liaising with the neighbouring states. You have done what is not happening again and again in some other countries. We definitively are not doing well when we look at you as an ideal model. Even though there are economical and political regional differences, you still could advise us on many things.
However, Latvian and Russian relationship is not being successful for year, just like the Georgian case.
We are trying to free ourselves from dependence on Russia and this is not related to hatred or lack of love. Quite simply speaking – if we ever return in the political and military orbit of Russia, we will never become a democratic state. Russia is not interested in seeing us as a democratic country and even if it wanted that, it could not help us as it is far from democratic. Interests of Moscow in the Caucasus are strongly linked to territorial control over Georgia.
Russia, of course, is not interested in seeing NATO and EU member states in the Caucasus. Even though it would mean have stable and predictable neighbours, Moscow thinks that is being besieged and stripped from its economic zone. At the moment the politics from Moscow with regard to the Caucasus and Georgia has been destructive and this stimulated us to get rid from total dependence on Russia.
Just like Latvia, Georgia depends on Russian energy resources and Moscow is using that – time by time cutting off electricity in Georgian territory.
Yes, it is a very serious issue. We are being told – see, we cannot give you energy resources for nothing. Nobody can give you anything for nothing. It is going to be a heavy winter. We have to survive for yet another two years when a major gas line becomes functional in the Southern Caucasus, this is when we will be independent. We’ll have oil at the end of the year as the oil pipeline – Baky-Jaihan is functional.
A small country may not be dependent and may not live alone in the shadow of a large and powerful state. This often is being presented as Russophobia, but this wrong and this is unfair. No matter how small a country is, it has its own, national interests. We know very well what we could encounter when we are dependent.
I have felt it on my own skin. I had a major hear stroke at the moment when there was not gas, no heating, no electricity. It was in winter time, in February. Cardiogram was done under candle light and machines were battery-operated. This made us understand again and again who was the “owner’ and this is not a singular instance.
You mentioned the Abkhazian and South-Ossetian regions, where conflict is close to breaking out for a while. What is happen there at the moment.
It must be noted that Russia de facto is appropriating territories. De jure they are afraid to do so as there are international rights that they are trying to observe. At the same time occasionally large countries are keen on applying double standard, especially, if those country apply imperial thinking. Abkhazia is fully seized, so is South-Ossetia. Moscow makes all decisions there.
The image is build that the Abkhazs and the Ossetians can’t get along with us and vice versa, that peace is impossible and there is no way of getting us to the negotiation table. Nevertheless, I would say that they are doing everything possible not to get us at the negotiation table. They secretly promote separatism. Besides, Moscow has let separatism in its own home - in the North Ossetia the situation is very complicated. This is case when you are throwing stones around even you know you live in a house made of glass.
What about Adjaria? Has the conflict been solved there?
It has returned under Georgia and it is a great success of Michail Saakachvilli. It was simpler there, a mere feudal power was ruling there, the Moscow puppet Aslan Abashidze. For how long could his power be viable in a province with Georgian majority? In the times of Agashidze two kilometres of road where not covered in asphalt while not all roads are. When Abashidze was let go, I was surprised to read in Russian press that Adjaria is the only place in Georgia where life is going on quite well. I was there recently and saw that is was real Soviet life.
If we succeeded in solving the two conflicts… We are very worried about that, this is like a bleeding wound. It is shameful as the two are Georgian territories. Unfortunately the solution is out of sight. Without European and Western intervention, without strong pressure on Russia things won't change.
What about your closest Southern neighbour – Azerbaijan, Armenia? No revolution about?
Even though we have several smaller disputes, one could say that we are brother or sister nations. We beat them is some things, this creates healthy and unhealthy jealosy. At the same time both Armenia and Azerbaijan beat us, too. I would not like to criticize anyone, as it is a difficult period for all of us. We are going through new country building process and this is happening under complicated circumstances. It is possible that Georgia is not the luckiest one of all. Maybe this is why we try to get everywhere first, we make most of noise as we have suffered most. This is our nature - we are cynical and we are pathological optimists simultaneously. This is a weird combination, but is good for survival. We are facing such a serious challenge, we will go mad if we'll take it all too seriously! It is better to add some humour to all that and try to improve.
In Europe everyone is focusing on two countries – the large country of Ukraine who is hoping for participation in European and trans-Atlantic structures and at Byelorussia where dictatorship has gained stronghold. Are you following the events there?
In the post-Soviet space Ukraine is the second most important country after Russia. It is important for us to see where it is going. If Ukraine is going to slide back, it is going to be a serious blow that will pose threat for our national security. International situation is not favourable for Ukraine – the oil and energy prices are growing, and this creates additional difficulties for Kiev.
As to what is happening in Byelorussia - we are not well informed. We are being subject in Byelorussian fairy tales, too. Recently an acquaintance of mine was there and from the airport he was brought to a diner right away with the reasoning, that, “You’ve arrived from a country where people are starving. Eat some!" This is ridiculous, of course, but maybe this is how we think about Byelorussia as well? Well, I don’t think so. But what we see on TV and what we read in press does not create nice image of Byelorussia. We are not getting everywhere with an old horse-cart, we need a new vehicle.
This publication is made in the framework of the UNDP Latvia and Latvia Ministry of Foreign Affairs joint project “Strengthening Institutional Capacity for Development Cooperation Framework of the Government of Latvia”.