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Pendulum of Violence

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“Force does not constitute right...

obedience is due only to legitimate powers.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

 

The sky is blue, the grass is green and a society can only be regarded as the state when the exclusive source of the legitimization of violence within the given territory is the state. Clearly, the key instruments of legitimate violence are the army and the police. Private entities may also have the right to apply violence provided that the state legitimates them to do so.

The more modernized a society, the more effective the state’s monopoly on violence and, consequently, the more efficient the management of the state.

If we look at the history of independent Georgia from this standpoint, we can see that it has developed like a pendulum – swinging from one extreme to the other. In the earlier period immediately after independence, the state was either unable or did not want to exercise its monopoly on legitimate violence, thereby leaving the task of establishing “order” to the mercy of paramilitary groupings. In the latter period after the Rose Revolution, it did exercise monopoly, but did so excessively. Excessive use of force, among other factors, led to the former government, which comprised a team of successful reformers, conceding the elections to Bidzina Ivanishvili, Nukri Kantaria, Soso Jachvliani, Eka Beselia, Davit Saganelidze and other politicians of their ilk. Video footage of the torture of inmates was the final straw in the patience of those people who, up until that point, had tolerated the pressure tax authorities placed on businesses or the arbitrariness of elite groups in law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office – if only for the reason that no better alternative for the development of state then existed. These people went to the polls and cast their ballots against the United National Movement (UNM).

After the elections, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction – there is chaos in prisons, crime has increased, extremists bully religious minorities and massive strikes paralyze economic and social life: illegitimate violence has become a tool of political within self-governing bodies and the ruling Georgian Dream coalition. The new government condemns instances of violence, but refuses to shoulder any responsibility. Instead, it puts the blame on its political opponents or on provocateurs “planted” by them.

The clearest link in that chain has proved to be the events that unfolded around the President of Georgia’s annual address.

We all knew full well that Mikheil Saakashvili’s last address to parliament in his capacity as president would not pass without a show – to “regain lost dignity” a segment of Georgian Dream supporters planned to stage a “corridor of shame” and hurl eggs at political opponents passing through this gauntlet.

But the leader of the country did not make it into the legislature. The parliamentary majority, outstanding representatives of which had previously torn up their mandates after the 2008 parliamentary elections – opting for the street instead of representing their constituents in parliament, this time around decided to shun debates with Saakashvili. Citing disagreement over proposed constitutional amendments, the ruling majority put off the president’s annual address and, with it, any such debate for an indefinite period of time. This action by the majority reminded us once again of the low level of political culture and the lack of democratic traditions within the country.

Poised for debate, Mikheil Saakashvili did not allow the majority to dampen his spirit and thus changed the date, venue and audience of his speech – plans for 7 February were moved to 8 February, parliament was substituted by the parliamentary library, and members of parliament changed for representatives of the media and non-governmental organizations.

Consequently, the circus due to be staged in Kutaisi was relocated to outside the public library in Gudiashvili Street in Tbilisi. Nana Kakabadze, Melor Vachnadze, Jaba Jishkariani and up to 200 other people, many equipped with brooms, occupied the territory adjacent to the library and started their efforts to “regain lost dignity.” The police were there too, but, according to eyewitnesses, they were either unable or did not seek to maintain order. As a result, upon the appearance of the Mayor of Tbilisi and other UNM members, the area outside the public library came to look like a mise-en-scène of Rudyard Kipling’s famous Jungle Book.

Given the total inactivity of the police, people, who were rightly or wrongly furious at Saakashvili, acted belligerently and injured several MPs and other supporters of Saakashvili who were trying to enter the public library, a number of whom were seen bleeding.

After a three-hour delay the president still delivered his speech – the final venue being the presidential palace. It seems that electoral defeat was necessary for the president to begin introducing elements of dialogue into his speeches – something that seemed to be lacking over the past few years when speeches often lapsed into extremely boring monologues. Rather unexpectedly, Saakashvili finished the scandalous evening, which had been overshadowed with violence, with reconciliatory rhetoric.

The government found itself needing to adopt a defensive stance – Interior Minister Irakli Garibashvili turned to a graphic designer to help draw previously non-existent safety corridors at the public library the next day, whilst Georgian Dream MP Tina Khidasheli extended her thanks to Irakli Garibashvili for not raising a hand against the people – in other words, for not using legitimate power to prevent Ms. Khidasheli’s political supporters from applying illegitimate violence against her political opponents.

Ivanishvili reacted to the events in Gudiashvili Street the following day. The prime minister condemned the violence and demanded that the culprits be taken to task. However, further developments have only intensified the doubt that has emerged after the parliamentary elections that the state, instead of containing its monopoly on the use of force within legitimate borders, is merely losing hold on this monopoly.

As it turned out, there is a disobedient group in contemporary Georgia that the police are helpless to restrain and the government is reluctant to punish. Members of this group pay mere 100 GEL fines for hitting a police officer. It was also revealed that the UNM may come to need their own so-called “strike force” if it wants to continue its political activity and defend its members from bleeding in

front of the eyes of the idle police.

Those over the age of 30 will not need much explanation to understand what may happen when “public order” is entrusted to non-institutionalized mobs instead of the police or other legitimized entities – ordinary citizens suffer because the political clout of these violent groups grows at the detriment of the political importance of the people. In the 1990s, Eduard Shevardnadze came to power with the help of such groups, although he then managed to maintain his power by neutralizing these entities to some extent.

The state losing the monopoly on violence is much more dangerous than the violence used by the state itself – i.e. what the Georgian electorate shunned on the 1 October elections.

As a rule, state machinery, even if repressive, relies on a certain degree of logic – for example, it should be directed against political opponents and, save for exceptional cases, should have nothing to do with ordinary citizens.

A repressive apparatus, just like any other bureaucracy, has a chain of command - a system based on impersonal formalized rules of decision making, hierarchy, defined authorities and specialization. It strictly denies arbitrariness, but prevention of this in practice largely depends on the firmness of bureaucratic traditions and professionalism.

As a result of the policy of turning a deaf ear to alarming signals concerning the use of excessive force by state institutions, the UNM had no other option but to hand the state, which though defective was on the right track for development, over to its political opponents. The ruling force will share the same lot – and this fate will come about sooner – if it turns a blind eye to the signs of a weakening of state institutions and fails to take people like Khukhashvili, Vachnadze and other non-institutionalized “controllers”, who have capitalized on these processes, down a peg or two.

However, more important and more painful than the Georgian Dream’s defeat will be the price that the country plunged into chaos will have to pay for the mistakes of the ruling force.

 

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