Coming Out of the Woods

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Once in a summer cottage near Tbilisi, parents scolded their four-year-old daughter. The rebuked girl felt very unhappy and quickly left the house. Everyone there assumed she was sitting quietly in her room and were completely unaware that she had gone.

Eventually, relatives started looking for the missing girl, first inside the house and then outside in the yard. Not finding her anywhere, they became increasingly panicked as day began to turn into night. After a long search, far from the house, in the direction of the woods, someone finally spotted a white patch. There, marching hurriedly towards the woods, was a tiny human being with a plastic bag in her hand. The plastic bag contained nappies, a spoon and a jar of jam…

Thinking, caring about the future and following a code of forethought are innate for people. How much that code endures time and environment is a separate issue. The more “coded” people are in the society, the more developed the society and the less the number of people who, for instance, think their identities are being “chipped” away by passport-embedded integrated circuits.

It is not entirely our fault, but people in the Georgian society are not particularly well coded and one of the main reasons for that is the legacy of that damned Soviet Union. While the entire civilized world was developing at warp speed, we as a society were fast asleep. When the rest of the world was busy planning, inventing, doing, creating, we were composing odes to the Communist Party and singing lyrical songs about our ancient homeland. That, unfortunately, is how we grew accustomed to idleness and, consequently, lost perspective.

An already trite example of that lack of perspective is that a well-off Swede will buy a small fuel-efficient car whereas a poor Georgian will buy a big gas-guzzling jeep. A Swede looks ahead in order to live a better life tomorrow whereas a Georgian looks around to make sure everyone sees what he has today. In Sweden, many look ahead and the sum of those many – the state – develops. Here, we look first at one another and then we all stare in the direction of a single man on whom we pin our hopes – and we wait. And for what? For the so-called “Good Life”?

Looking ahead is far more difficult than looking behind. Building a future requires forethought and the ability to transform ideas into initiatives. That means expending a whole lot of energy. Living in the past is so much easier – one only has to raise a glass to those “glorious” days gone by or to muse idly over them while reposed on a couch.

In the recent political past, we used to say: “That is a good man, intelligent, caring for the homeland; let’s elect him and, if he fails, throw him out.” That attitude did not work the way we understood it – holding an elected official accountable at the very first failure. We did not have time for that because we were too busy cursing the one thrown out and revering the new one. It is a pity that we do not fully understand even today that one, ten or even one thousand people cannot build our future for us. That is the personal business of each one of us.

We all agree that the latest election was a huge step forward from a democratic standpoint. It is also a fact that we were again guided by our emotions. Once again, we bickered with one another and forgot all about self-esteem. Again, what happened is what always happens – people did not select someone but replaced the government; they did not get what they wanted but let go of what they no longer wanted; they fought not for the victory of one side but for the defeat of the other side. We again reacted without even a second to think. We again protested, but this time with neither blood nor tea spilt.

If we look at the very modest evolution of Georgian politics, we will see that we have approached a very important historical point. We are now at the point where emotional election outcomes must become a thing of the past.

Further development of Georgian democracy will only be possible if, by the time of the next election, we are not glued to our TV sets fuming over some surreptitious recordings and we are instead calmly and carefully examining political manifestos, reading over each point, dispassionately analyzing whether or not those policies are feasible, listening attentively to candidates’ plans, recalling past activities of those candidates, making informed decisions and casting our votes in ballot boxes. That might seem easier than bickering, rallying and going on hunger strikes – though, no, that is far more difficult.

We must start preparing today for what will happen tomorrow, next week, next year. We are like that little girl prompted by instinct to run off into the woods, but who, given her age, failed to think about what would happen after her jam was all gone. Making democracy work is not child’s play. For the past twenty years, we have been maneuvering political statehood on a chessboard. We have made quite a few obvious moves and have already lost some important pieces. We may not yet be strategically positioned, but we still can win this game. For that to happen, though, the society has to start doing what it has not been doing for at least the past century – it has to start thinking for itself.

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