Thursday, July 21, 2005

Not all Roses...

/ revolutions / revisited /
Neal Ascherson reports from Georgia about the "Rose revolution's" rather unimpressive performance, and the less than democratic wrokings of the Saakashvili government. Tellingly he mentions in passing that:

Those who work in television... say that restrictions on reporting have become tighter than they were under the Eduard Shevardnadze regime which Misha overthrew.

This is a picture consistent with what Liz Fuller reports in RFE/RL, in an article titled "Is Georgia Becoming Progressively Less Democratic?" where she mentions that "In a lengthy and detailed analysis of the aftermath of the 2003 Rose Revolution published in December, one London-based analyst suggested that the transition from Eduard Shevardnadze to Mikheil Saakashvili (who was elected president in early January 2004 with 96 percent of the vote) was one from 'democracy without democrats' to 'democrats without democracy.'"

Indeed it is possibly indicative that in a story related to the bizarre sounding power reform in Georgia, it is mentioned that:

"On June 6, an angry crowd of around 250 people broke into the provincial government building, demanding a meeting with the governor to protest against the new system. A meeting was granted the next day, but the governor, Giorgy Khachidze, was unsympathetic.

'I will not tolerate disorder even if the whole district comes to my door, men, women and children. If the police and I cannot restore order, we will call in the military,' he said."

The prospect of the army "restoring order" in demonstrations concerning electricity price hikes, is more reminiscent of Latin America in the 1980s obviously, rather than Western European democracies (although I have a dark presentiment that I'll live to see the day where this might change)...

The Orange Revolution seems to be running into obstacles as well, mostly economic, but issues of double standards in tackiling corruption and of political inaction are also apparent.

Yet the legacy of the revolutions (such as they were) is such that one can hope that popular reaction might possibly be now a permanent democratizing option. Once people have been on the streets and tasted victory, their passivity can no longer be taken for granted. As Victor over at Apostate Windbag pointed out a few months ago, like McNuggets, McRevolutions may also leave an unwanted aftertaste.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, if you followed the comments on that post, you can guess my opinion of the Windbag's powers of analysis. That said, I agree about Georgia... basically they've replaced a dull, old, pro-Russia authoritarian leader with a charismatic, young, pro-western authoritarian leader.

But I'm inclined to doubt that the current situation will last past the medium term. That's because it is driven in large part by Russian hostility to Georgian aspirations; and such hostility is rather anomalous, historically speaking.

In large part it's due to the breathtaking incompetence of the brief but disastrous Gamsakhurdia administration. Gamsakhurdia was a fanatic anti-Communist, an ardent nationalist, and a toe-sucking idiot. During his short (~8 months) time as President of Georgia, he managed to lose South Ossetia (which was no big deal) and Abkhazia (which was). In both cases he pretty much locked in place the present dynamic, in which Russia acts as the defender of these separatist regions against Georgia and the long-term guarantor of their de facto independence.

(Gamsakhurdia's career is amazing even by the standards of the Caucasus. At one point, in 1993 IMS, he was actually leading an army to invade his own country. He eventually died under circumstances that are "unclear" -- officially a suicide. Oddly enough, he's buried in Grozny, capital of Chechnya. The current government of Georgia is working to rehabilitate him. Long story.)

Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia were bound to be problems anyway, but IMO they could have been solved by competent leadership. Shevardnadze, frex, wanted to give them autonomy with one hand, but with the other to engage in quid-pro-quo negotiation with Moscow to ensure that autonomy didn't develop into independence. After all, Moscow had (and still has) good strategic reasons to want a friendly and cooperative Georgia. Unfortunately, Gamsakhurdia screwed this up, and now Georgia and Russia are locked into confrontation.

Phew. Anyhow, point is, the current situation is a bit weird, and so the "Rose Revolution" was a bit of a fluke... as opposed to, say, events in Serbia 2000 or Georgia 2004, which were IMO very likely outcomes of long-term trends.

Georgia doesn't really fit the pattern of former Soviet republics. In most of those, Russian influence is almost entirely anti-liberal. In Georgia, though, the confrontation with Russia helps empower nationalism and many of the most conservative and corrupt elements in society. If they could make a peace with Russia, they'd have a lot more room to maneuver internally. That's why it's hard for the current regime (or any Georgian government) to be both liberal and pro-Western.

Also, keep in mind that Georgia has even less experience of liberalism and democracy than Russia. Sociopolitically, it resembles Armenia, Turkey or the central Asian 'stans more than it does Eastern Europe. (Though most Georgians would find this comparison deeply offensive.) So I was never more than tepidly enthusiastic about the Rose Revolution.

Mind you, it doesn't seem to have gone drastically bad yet, and is doing some good stuff. So I'm not ready to say it was a waste of time either.

Doug M.