Politics

Liberal Reforms Must Go On

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The incumbent government of Georgia, which is of the populist leftist type, places its main emphasis on social liabilities. This is dangerous, not only because it significantly increases daily costs and decreases savings, but also because it leaves less space for long-term reforms. The potential consequences of such a situation are dire. The most dangerous outcome would be a heavier dependence of citizens on the state with less individual freedom and civil responsibility.

An important issue, which unfortunately has been left out of public discussion, is the realization that the peaceful transfer of power following the October 2012 Georgian parliamentary elections was a result of those liberal reforms that the former government carried out over the past nine years. Consequently, if we want to keep the tendency of peaceful changes of power, we must continue such transformations.

When talking about justice, emphasis must be placed on its establishment rather than on its reinstatement. To do otherwise creates great confusion, both inside and outside the country, as to precisely what the current government is striving to reinstate or restore – justice of the Soviet vintage, of the Tsarist period, or even that of a more distant era? We must agree that what Georgia needs is the continuation of reforms and the course of development, not restoration.

The current government inherited a country which, over the past nine years, had implemented bold reforms in the political, economic and social spheres. The widely acknowledged goal of these reforms was to transform Georgia into an independent modern state which enjoys domestic and foreign legitimization, has a functioning administrative apparatus, the capacity to survive, and can respond to challenges and threats.

As a result of these structural reforms, the Georgian state system is trusted by its citizens – a fact proven by numerous surveys. It is also respected in the international arena as a responsible player that conscientiously fulfills its international obligations – a fact acknowledged by Georgia’s high ratings in various surveys published by respected international organizations.

That trust and these high ratings are the result of fundamental (and sometimes very painful and unpopular) reforms which, even though ensuring a medium-standard provision of services to citizens, were primarily oriented on longer term development and the accumulation of material and financial resources.

We do not assert that the former government was straightforwardly right-wing or devoid of any populism. Deviations towards leftist populism became especially conspicuous after President Mikheil Saakashvili was re-elected for his second term, at which stage the state decided to endorse a social load the likes of which only rich states can afford. “Universal health care” and a “quality health service” became glaring examples of such socialist populism. If anything, the low qualifications of Georgian doctors and the poor material and technical possibilities of medical institutions rendered that project a utopian dream from the very onset.

On the other hand, the large-scale infrastructure projects launched by the previous government were conducive to long-term development, the mobility of society and the free choice of individuals. At the end of the day, these projects would increase the share of the urban population to produce a more diverse, liberal and highly efficient society.

One must also credit the former government for not intruding into the moral freedoms of the individual. Neither in rhetoric nor when implementing policies, did that government assume the role of moral preacher – thereby contributing to the establishment of a diverse and tolerant society. Conversely, having come to power with the slogan of “the reinstatement of justice,” the new government often assumes the role of a mentor dispensing moral dogmas and performing functions more characteristic of a religious organization.

While the previous government gave priority to the maintenance of civil order, the new government is preoccupied with the moral pureness of society. Ongoing debates about condoms and the closure of casinos, about good and evil and the release of provocative photos or video footage featuring the private lives of well-known people are clear examples of that moral asceticism.

The establishment of moral dogmas is not a direct function of the state in a free society; nor does such a society equate what is fair with what is legal. Modern democratic states influence the public’s moral code only indirectly. They do not intrude into the personal lives of their citizens, they promote pluralism and competition, and conduct transparent domestic and foreign policies.

If Georgian citizens want to rein in the current government’s populist and moralistic inclinations, they must force it to abandon its intrusion into their personal lives and to instead continue political and economic liberal reforms. The non-interference of other branches of power into the judiciary and the reformation of the self-government system should be the logical continuation of those transformations undertaken over the previous nine years.

The direct election of mayors and local administrators will be a significant step in raising the level of individual freedom and responsibility. The direct election of Tbilisi’s mayor in 2010 was assessed as a positive achievement both inside and outside the country. This rule must extend to all villages, settlements, cities and regions in the 2014 local elections.

In parallel with the devolution of political powers, which must primarily be expressed in the encouragement of horizontal relations among self-government units, it is necessary to ensure appropriate economic and financial autonomy for citizens so that they feel that they are not just parts of the state but that they themselves make up the state. Granting local governments the power to establish local police forces will contribute to enhancing the responsibility of self-government. The reform of self-government must immediately become an important topic of public discussion in order to make sure that citizens lead this initiative.

One of the more tangible results of the education reforms carried out between 2004 and 2008 was the increased autonomy of schools, which was dubbed the “new revolution of roses” by some foreign experts interested in Georgia’s affairs. Unfortunately, this trend has reversed in the past few years, moving towards the centralization of the education system. Reinstating self-governance in public schools must become a cornerstone of education reform.

As regards the reform of the defense sphere, I will talk about that extensively some other time, but for now I will only say that we should start thinking about the establishment of some form of officers’ clubs in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and other cities, where Georgian military officers will be able to conduct public events, including conferences and seminars, and also use for recreation.

Georgians have a long history of making reforms. In 1990 Georgia was the first country of the former Soviet Union to hold a multi-party election. Georgia was also the first to conduct a referendum on the issue of the country’s independence in 1991. Earlier, in 1918, Georgia was the first independent democratic republic in the Caucasus and started important reforms at that time. Nor should we forget the more distant periods of our history, such as the medieval period, when we implemented reforms unusual for our region.

The Rose Revolution was yet another expression of the reformatory spirit of the Georgian people. If the government that was in power between 2003 and 2012 was the product of the Rose Revolution, the government which was formed in October 2012, is a product of that government. Only the rejection of liberal reforms will make us think otherwise.

 

 

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