“Alas!... What a chance we’ve lost” is the phrase that always comes to mind when thinking about decisive stages in the modern history of Georgia. Now, as we are at yet another decisive point in the development of our country, my wish is that I will have to repeat this phrase no longer.
Quite the opposite comment can be made about the Baltic States: “They did not let chance slip by,” or as many often say, they “slipped through”, which implies that they slipped out of Russia’s sphere of influence. In reality, however, they did not “slip through”, but rather used the chance offered by a momentous historical event in a rational and correct way. Instead of feuding with each other, they spent their energy on building their states and, eventually, secured their deserved places in the European family.
“We, Georgians, are very emotional,” is something else I have also heard repeatedly. In reality, the problem is not an excess of emotions, but rather in a lack of responsibility – a failure to realize that building a state is not a game and that all our actions, taken separately or jointly, have clear results and repercussions.
My memories of the years between 1989 and 1999 are still very fresh. They are of the sense of nearing independence and of happiness permeating through the country. The feeling of the sun shining brighter, of everyone loving each other, caring for each other… It seemed nothing could ever make us suffer... The entire world saw our fight for freedom and our victory in that fight. We were looking forward to making friends with the West. It was back then when the wish to join NATO was first articulated and the process of establishing relations with the West began… How come all that turned into blind hatred? How come striving to be closer to the West gave way to fears for survival? All this happened as quickly as a flash. What’s more, I am sure that many have forgotten who hated whom and for what reason. At least many former enemies later fought shoulder to shoulder for new victories. This is not the place to judge right from wrong, that is a matter for separate discussion. Here, I just wanted to evaluate results and, at the end of the day, the only thing left when thinking about this period of our history is that old refrain: “Alas!... What a chance we’ve lost.”
People also say, “no one is faultless, they learn from mistakes” – if not from their own, then from the mistakes of other’s. We went through war, chaos and famine. I remember how topical the word “stability” became – it was one of biggest achievements of Shevardnadze. In the late 1990s, we even started implementing some reforms. But yet again, something happened to impede our progress – we still proved to be lacking such necessary properties as political culture and education, and a sense of responsibility and rationality. We found ourselves bogged down in corruption, crime and drugs. True, we made some steps forward, but the fact is that we had developed into a classical post-Soviet state/society. Meanwhile, our Eastern European and Baltic friends were busy preparing to join NATO and the European Union. By this stage, some of them had already been admitted to those organizations. Others were well on their way, steadily building their democratic systems, changing governments through elections and debating about which economic system to build. Of course, the international situation was more conducive to the Euro-Atlantic integration of those countries back then. Russia was much weaker, while NATO and the EU more open to new members. However, the fact remains that those countries can proudly say that they used the chance presented to them, whereas we again were left repeating - “Alas!... What a chance we’ve lost.”
With the Rose Revolution came a new victory and a new chance. The entire world applauded us. We launched reforms and engaged in state building. Georgia’s membership to NATO became a topic of serious talks and decision taken at the 2008 Bucharest summit that Georgia will eventually join that Alliance. Everyone was happy yet again. We knew exactly what we wanted - democracy, NATO and the EU. With such a goal in hand we advanced, falling down as we made mistakes, we rose back to our feet again, but never to a fully upright position. We found it difficult to admit mistakes, and sometimes to even punish culprits… Democracy proved not to be so easy – either for the government or for society. This is not the place for me to start judging right from wrong. Very little time has passed since these events and analyzing this period of our history is best left to a separate topic of discussion. However, the fact remains that we found ourselves bogged down in hatred yet again. One even has the impression that some seem to have been left disappointed with the peaceful change in power following the elections – wondering where to vent all their negative energy after everything ended so easily. “We, Georgians, are very emotional.”
The world was happy about the democratically held elections on 1 October and the peaceful transition of power. Georgia has passed the test of democracy. With this new victory has come a new chance. But yet again, we have already managed to turn the praise from our western friends into reprimands, instructions and concerns. Instead of considering how we can best use the chance we have been given, we instead invent jokes about cohabitation. We cannot or do not want to understand that opposing political parties in democratic states must only fight each other according to the rules of the game, that the country must not fall victim to narrow party interests, that emotions must be set aside, that we must act responsibly and continue building the state.
The chance is within our reach. We now have an opportunity to move into the next stage of our development; to set a precedent which would spare the country from jolts and jerks resulting from a change in government. We have a chance to show that the victory of one political force does not mean total domination and the disappearance of the defeated party. To show that two political sides can debate, argue and balance each other in parliament, that normal democratic processes can be established. We have a chance to have peaceful democratic turnovers of power and to live in a state where no first-grade schoolchild will, in mimicry of their parents, shout out the name of every new political leader as if they were the new messiah. We have a chance to achieve a situation where the arrival of a new political force does not mean massive layoffs and where employment is based on merit, not on loyalty. We have a chance to finally join Euro-Atlantic structures, opening up new horizons for our development thus making our transformation irreversible.
There is still a chance. I have written this as I do not want to again have to say “Alas!... What a chance we’ve lost”, but instead “At last, we have used that chance after all!”