With November 23 fast approaching, the authorities are planning, as they say, splendid celebrations to mark the one-year anniversary of the 2003 Rose Revolution. But as time goes by, more and more critical voices are heard speaking out against the new authorities’ failure to deliver on their political promises.
Civil Georgia offers the series of interviews with leading Georgian experts and civil society leaders to outline those main trends which have been prevailing in the Georgian political scene after the Rose Revolution.
Civil Georgia conducted its first interview in these series with legal expert Davit Usupashvili. Long-time civil activist Usupashvili was one of the fourteen civil society leaders and representatives from the Georgian expert community who openly addressed President Mikheil Saakashvili with a letter in mid-October, blowing the whistle on the perceived limitation of freedom of expression and political opposition in the country.
Q.: How would you evaluate the post-revolution situation in Georgia?
A.: Much has changed since the November 23 ‘Rose Revolution’ in Georgia. From the positive changes I would emphasize the growth of public activism and involvement in the life of the state. Nihilism and pessimistic stance prevailed before the revolution. The November events brought great hope to society.
Many new people, enthuastic and educated, who are eager to establish successful state agencies out of ineffective bodies have taken over the managing offices in the government agencies.
The Georgian “stocks” have been rising on the international arena. In the late nineties, the international community was disappointed by Georgia; however, after the Rose Revolution, this attitude changed and Georgia is considered to have good prospects. The interest and attention towards it has increased .
We can probably add some more positive trends, but at the same time this post-revolution period has witnessed many failures as well.
To keep the revolutionary temperature [before November events in 2003, the opposition] needed to not only criticize the old authorities but also to offer the new plans to the population. Therefore, the current authorities gave promises [before the elections] which were often unrealistic. This has triggered disappointment among the substantial part of the population.
One of the flaws of the new authorities is that they continue to use the revolutionary style and to apply the principles of revolutionary expedience in solving the problems. In many cases these actions become incompatible with the supremacy of law.
In the case of Adjara, the revolutionary style worked [in overthrowing Aslan Abashidze], but later, continued use of this style [by the new leadership in Adjara] created serious problems in terms of governance and administration.
The activities which were conducted informally, behind the closed doors, which neglected the law and prompted the misuse of power by officials ended in a serious failure, for example, in breakaway South Ossetia. We can openly say that the government’s campaign [in August] failed in South Ossetia.
Q.: In February, just one month after Mikheil Saakashvili took over as the President, Georgia’s new authorities amended the constitution. How do the new constitutional norms work?
A.: I can say that the principle of a division of powers does not work today in Georgia. The Parliament fails to make decisions independently, without instructions from the executive authorities, despite its key function to act as a check on this [executive] body. The same can be said regarding the judicial system.
According to the constitutional model as well as in practice, the power is not distributed in Georgia. It is concentrated in the hands of the President and his inner circle, and the decisions made there are subsequently adopted by the Parliament or in the courts.
This is not a democracy. What we have now is overwhelming democratic rhethoric, promises and aims, while the methods are undemocratic.
It would have been better if this this "protracted" revolutionended with the peaceful transition of power in Adjara Autonomous Republic, but I hope it will end with planned financial and tax amnesty, which is proposed by the authorities.
The new government also faces a problem of fusing ruling political party with the state authorities. This is not just the problem of the present government. [It] started from the communist party, and then [continued] with the brief rule of ex-President Gamsakhurdia's Round Table coalition and latter in Shevardnadze’s Citizens Union. The situation is the same now with Saakashvili’s ruling National Movement-Democrats party. So far, not a single political leader, including President Saakashvili, has attempted to transform his political party into a democratic institution, which should act as an internal check [on policy].
Absence of political pluralism is a serious problem as well. This is also a revolutionary syndrome, when someone expresses different opinion he or she gets on the authorities’ nerves, at best, or is considered an enemy, at worst.
The style and method used by the authorities against political opponents hampers the development of constructive opposition in the country. By 'constructive', I mean a force which will provide for policy opposition, and not by manipulating the poverty of the population.
Of course I do not say that the authorities should 'create' the opposition themselves. The government must set the rules of the game which would help to develop constructive political opposition in the country.
Q.: Does the current state of affairs in the Georgian media foster a checks and balances system, especially in the conditions where, as you say, there is no real division of power in the country?
A.: An attempt to establish control of the media is a part of the problem regarding political pluralism. Freedom of speech means that the authorities should react to the critical views. During Shevardnadze’s presidency, there was freedom to talk; however no reaction followed at all.
The present authorities react extremely aggressively to the freedom of speech. For example, when the society asked questions regarding South Ossetia, instead of giving convincing answers, the authorities chose to instead insult their opponents. The authorities should react to criticism with arguments, instead of irritation.
A system which has such reactions to criticism prefers to cut private deals the owners of media companies, instead of silencing particularl journalists [as the previous authorities tried to do]. Many owners of the media companies in Georgia have other, more profitable businesses and in many cases they abandon impartiality [of their media outlets], in order to secure their other, more important, interests. Hence, the population suffers the most under such conditions by not receiving critical view.
Q: What are the developments regarding corruption?
The new government suffers from the trend of financing public servants by the funds which are generated through unclear process. This always causes further decay of the bureaucracy.
When the money is extorted from the businessmen to finance "great" deeds, and there are several such examples, this flow of money through informal channels generates many potentially corrupt interactions.
Q: What about the Human Rights concerns?
Division of the society into [the categories of] “us” and “them” is a serious problems of the current authorities. “Them,” or those who do not support the authorities unconditionally, are treated like second-rate people. The authorities do not care about violating their rights. This problem has become especially acute within this past year.
Q: How do you evaluate high profile arrests after the revolution on corruption charges?
One of the reasons for the revolution and one of its aims was to eradicate impunity [of the government officials]. The showcase arrests were thought to demonstrate how fearless and principled the new government was. But when the planting of arms and narcotics, violation of the procedural norms [of investigation] became commonplace this all became unacceptable.
I can say with full responsibility that the money generated from these arrests [in form of back payment on allegedly missappropriated funds] until June 2004, when the [new] provisions on plea bargaining entered into force was just a case of state racketeering.
The issue of pre-trial detention also became a great problem. The government transformed this detention into a form of punishment, which is [an example] of the political repression and subjective application of punishment. Any person is innocent until proven guilty by the court. At the same time, most of these high profile cases is not even fully investigated, thus the court has not said any of [the detainees] was guilty.
But despite all of these negative trends, the authorities still have a chance to change these processes for better and restore their image, both inside and outside of the country.