Yet another cause of concern for a segment of society was a statement made by the director of the first department for CIS of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Mikhail Yevdokimov, that Georgia’s return to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was being discussed with the Georgian government. The Russian Foreign Ministry later made a statement that Yevdokimov’s words had been misinterpreted.
If the country’s foreign policy course makes it into the Constitution, Georgia would not be the first country to have defined this in its supreme law. Many countries’ constitutions regulate the conditions for decisions on joining or becoming members of international organizations or alliances. For instance, in its 1992 Constitution, Lithuania put in a provision (Article 150) prohibiting the country’s membership of any body created within the post-Soviet space, for example, the CIS. By so doing, Lithuania managed to stand up to Russia’s efforts to extend its influence over the country. Taking the same approach, the Baltic States avoided being trapped in Russia’s geopolitical game. Having clearly identified the direction of their foreign policies, these countries succeeded in joining the European Union and containing Russia’s ambitions.
Restrictions on joining alliances are imposed in the constitutions of many countries. For example, the Treaty for the Re-establishment of an Independent and Democratic Austria, signed in 1955 after the de-occupation of the country, prohibits Austria from entering into a political or any other union with Germany. Based on the historical experience of the Anschluss, Vienna, working together with the anti-Hitler coalition, tried to establish safeguards against any revival of the idea of pan-Germanism that would upset the geopolitical balance in future.
Prompted by the desire to avoid Yugoslav nationalism and to maintain their national identity, Croatia’s constitution (Article 142) fixed that the country will never join an alliance or association that aims at reinstating the commonwealth of the Southern Slavic or Balkan states. Guided by caution towards its neighbors, Finland set forth restrictions in its supreme law on its membership with international organizations.
Other European states have also established complicated procedures for joining or leaving alliances. In order to prevent various political parties from damaging countries’ long-term interests for short-term goals, constitutions often require the conduct of referendums to decide upon the issue of joining international or regional organizations. For example, according to the Constitution of Slovakia, the country’s accession to any transnational union is decided through a general referendum. The same procedure is outlined in Macedonia’s Constitution (Article 120) concerning joining or leaving any commonwealth. The expansion of the scope of the European Union in Great Britain depends on the results of a referendum. Norwegians also decide their stance on EU membership via referendum, and have twice voted against the motion. Embedding such mechanisms in a constitution makes it difficult for a ruling force to falsely justify their actions in the name of people and complicates the chance of dramatic changes in policy direction when there is a change in power.
The ruling Georgian Dream coalition is against introducing such an amendment into the Constitution of Georgia. They view it as flogging a dead horse, claiming that they do not intend to say no to Euro-Atlantic integration. However, various statements made by the leaders of the different political parties united in the motley Georgian Dream coalition raise doubts. First Vice-Speaker of Parliament Manana Kobakhidze earlier said that European values are incompatible with Georgia because of Georgian religious morals. The current Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Diaspora and Caucasus Issues Gubaz Sanikidze declared in 2007 that Georgia’s desire to join NATO is tantamount to treachery. Moreover, the negative attitude towards NATO integration of the leader of the Industrialists party, MP Gogi Topadze, as well as his party colleague and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Sector Economy Zurab Tkemaladze, is well known. Topadze said just recently that he has ruled out Georgia’s return into the CIS, but views membership of the Eurasian Union to be “more acceptable” for the country. The Chairman of the Parliamentary Interim Commission for the Restoration of Territorial Integrity, Giorgi Volski, contended that “the Constitution cannot be discriminatory towards those people who consider integration into NATO to be wrong.” It should be noted here that the coalition includes two pro-western parties – the Republican Party and the Free Democrats. The Republican Party’s leader and the Speaker of Parliament, Davit Usupashvili, declared that anyone who “thinks and dreams about the return to the CIS” will have to so do without him. But given that the influence of the leader of the Free Democrats, Irakli Alasania, has been weakened in the coalition, as signified by his recent dismissal from the post of deputy prime minister, it is difficult to predict how long the pro-western orientation will be supported in the coalition.
To once again prove its commitment toward the European course the parliamentary majority presented the United National Movement (UNM) and its parliamentary factions with a 14-point inter-factional agreement. As presented in its initial form, this agreement is rather ambiguous and raises various questions. It says nothing about such central issues as forbidding Georgia to accede to the CIS or any similar post-Soviet unions or associations. The content of several points is also unclear. For example, it is hard to figure out the meaning of point seven, which states that Georgia’s policy should not be directed towards performing a role of a strategic player in the process of ongoing confrontations on a global or regional scale. Georgia has never been a strategic player in confrontations on either a global or regional scale.The ninth point of the agreement is significant. It has become the subject of broad discussion and is the main target of the political opposition’s criticism. It reads that “it is not in the interests of Georgia to be among the list of controversial factors between the West and Russia.” The survival of a smaller state bordered by aggressive and powerful neighbors has historically depended on the ability of that state to use the balance of power between great powers for its own interests. If this balance of power gets upset and those controversies disappear, the smaller state may be left alone to face a larger neighbor harboring expansionist aims, which might well end in catastrophe for the smaller state.
Yet more ambiguity comes from point number ten that states relationships with the people of the North Caucasus should not be used for deepening the confrontation with Russia. This has been perceived by a segment of society as changing the country’s policy towards the North Caucasus into one supporting the regional interests of Russia.
The inter-factional agreement was later compounded by a four-point plan for cooperation submitted by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. One of the points of this plan envisages the possibility of drafting an amendment to the preamble of the Constitution “that may reflect the historic decision of the Georgian people in relation to Europe.” It is interesting what prompted the prime minister to take a step back and partly agree to an initiative put forward by the opposition. One the one hand, this might have been prompted by a desire to smooth over his government’s failure to prevent the clash between protesters and UNM representatives outside the public library on 8 February, something which turned the prime minister and his government into objects of criticism. Compromising on a disputed matter and demonstrating the readiness of the government to open a dialogue with the political opposition is also a means of saving face in the eyes of the international community and diplomatic corps. On the other hand, it could also be an attempt to dodge criticism for a planned amendment to the Law on Occupied Territories. Moreover, the Georgian president’s statement that, in the event of negotiations, he will agree to a compromise on curbing his constitutional powers, made it easier for Ivanishvili to take a reciprocal step.
The prime minister’s initiative suggests fixing Georgia’s adherence to its European course in the preamble to the constitution, whereas the UNM’s proposal envisages enshrining greater guarantees than European integration alone. The UNM proposes that the government should specify Georgia’s aspiration towards the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as well include guarantees which would make it difficult for any future government to change that course. The civil sector was also involved in considering the amendment. Up to 20 non-governmental organizations, including the Georgian Association for Reforms (GRASS), welcomed the inter-factional agreement initiative of the parliamentary majority. According to their statement, “Georgia should never become a member of the CIS, the Eurasian Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization or any other security, political, economic or military organization having emerged in the post-Soviet space, which is dominated by Russia.” Another non-governmental organization, the Liberty Institute, also proposed some rather more complicated revisions, including a clause prohibiting Russian military forces from entering or crossing the territory of Georgia as well as from bringing weaponry into, or shipping it via, Georgia.
The initial reaction of the ruling coalition to the initiative of the political opposition was negative and many statements were made against it. For a segment of the majority explicitly prohibiting potential foreign policy directions appears to be unacceptable. For example, Georgian Dream MP Nukri Kantaria claimed that some people “may not be in favor of the pro-Western course, instead favoring a pro-Russian course.” Another Georgian Dream MP and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Zurab Abashidze, contended that even though the Georgian Dream coalition supports Georgia’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, this does not mean that any force wanting to join the CIS must be punished for that desire or that this must be prohibited.
Another segment of the majority believes that this amendment to the constitution will further deteriorate relations with Russia and complicate future negotiations with this country. It should be said, however, that this amendment will have the opposite effect; it will signal that the Euro-Atlantic course is not a bargaining point and that Georgia does not intend to deviate from its chosen course towards the EU or NATO. When in negotiations with Russia, this will prompt the sides to only raise those topics which can indeed be negotiated and agreed upon.
In the 2008 referendum, 77 percent of Georgia’s population voted for integration into NATO. This conflicts with Russia’s desire to bring Georgia back into those associations of the post-Soviet space. Moscow still hopes to subject Georgia to its sphere of influence, speaks about the Eurasian Union and strives to strengthen its power in the region. That’s why Russian President Vladimir Putin may try to change Georgia’s foreign policy vector. The defeat of the clearly pro-Western UNM in the elections has raised hopes in Moscow. The Kremlin may take the readiness of the Georgian government to restart its relationship with its northern neighbor as a sign of weakness and will exploit this attitude for its own geopolitical aims. Embedding the pro-Western course in the Constitution or declaring it in another legal form is an opportunity for Georgia to strengthen its position and define those topics which will be non-negotiable with Russia.