Prime Minister’s Analysis

Things That Don’t Fit with the Prime Minister’s Analysis

Zurab Chiaberashvili
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The Rose Revolution created a chance to build Georgian statehood, but in so doing it also gave rise to a number of incorrect assumptions among a certain segment of society.

The most conspicuous example of such incorrect assumptions was the deep-rooted belief held among the United National Movement's (UNM) non-parliamentary opposition of the time that it would be sufficient for them to just take a certain amount of people to the streets (or gather them elsewhere, for example, in Dinamo stadium) and they too would easily be able to sweep to power.

Because of that impression, the country walked on a razor edge; whilst for making a single slip in dealing with the opposition, the UNM had to pay the price: those forces entertaining revanchist sentiments against the Rose Revolution succeeded in convincing a segment of society that the UNM government was "bloodthirsty."

With the immediate acknowledgment of their defeat in the parliamentary elections of 1 October 2012 and the peaceful transfer of power to the Georgian Dream coalition, the UNM laid the foundations for an absolutely new tradition in Georgia. In spite of this, those incorrect assumptions that emerged as a result of the Rose Revolution have not disappeared.

Reaction to the usurpation of power

The openly declared desire of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili to subjugate the courts and media is yet another consequence of such an erroneous assumption. One can clearly get the impression that Ivanishvili thinks that as Saakashvili succeeded in usurping everything, now is the time for him to do the same.

If this is not just our impression and Ivanishvili really thinks like this, then the prime minister's attitude is incorrect for two reasons. First, the opinion that the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili was an example of absolute power concentrated in the hands of one person alone is wrong. Yet this was exactly how he was portrayed by the revanchist forces.

Second, one must see a difference between the country that Saakashvili took charge of after the Rose Revolution and the country Ivanishvili inherited as a result of the parliamentary elections.

The most recent draft report of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security, "Georgia's Euro-Atlantic Integration: Internal and External Challenges," reads:

"By 2003, the culture of corruption had become so entrenched and business, organised crime and the state were so inter-linked that only audacious measures and firm political will could have broken the vicious circle and changed the direction in which the country was heading. This context is important to keep in mind in order to understand why drastic methods employed by the Rose government may have been a necessity, even if some of them did raise eyebrows in democratic societies.... While some observers argue that the Rose Revolution was mostly about modernisation of Georgia rather than democratisation, Georgia is clearly more democratic now than in 2003."

It is precisely because of such assessments of Georgia, which dominate in Europe and the United States, that the West does not give legitimization to what Prime Minister Ivanishvili is now doing. He is surprised by this. The West's criticisms of him for the Georgian Dream's seizure of self-government bodies countrywide (except for the Tbilisi mayor's office); for openly encouraging the use of violent methods and applying selective justice; for his constant efforts to subjugate the courts (and judging by the violations and shortcomings revealed in some high-profile political trials, he has even succeeding in doing so in a number of cases); for directly subordinating the Georgian Public Broadcaster and threatening the Rustavi 2 TV company – none of this fits with the prime minister's analysis of the situation.

The Existence of the United National Movement

Yet another incorrect assumption that influences the analysis of Prime Minister Ivanishvili and his political team is that the former ruling party, having been defeated in the elections, must disintegrate and fade away.

Given that after the Rose Revolution the former ruling force, the Citizens' Union, disappeared as a political party (and the same thing happened earlier, in the early 1990s when the then ruling coalition of the Round Table-Free Georgia virtually disappeared after the civil war), the revanchist forces hoped that after 1 October 2012 the UNM would follow this historical precedent and disappear from the political scene.

This did not happen. Furthermore, the fact that the UNM ran in the presidential elections on 27 October 2013, provided yet further proof that the UNM remains one of the largest and most serious political parties in Georgia. A party that remains capable, even under conditions of political persecution and repression, of performing a focal role as a constructive parliamentary opposition and, at the same time, developing internal party democracy.

Judging by public interest, the majority of society – irrespective of their political sympathies – want a balanced political system with the government manned by the winning party and a viable opposition providing society with additional information and alternative visions on important issues.

Today, for the first time ever, Georgia not only has a strong opposition, but has one that has experience of being in power. That is why the current opposition's criticisms are substantiated and its mode of action is constructive.

The stance of the UNM's leaders on the now infamous events of 17 May (when a frenzied mob led by the clergy violently attacked a small group defending LGBT rights) was this: the UNM will never make the prevention of violence and aggression – even with the proportionate use of force by the government – a topic for political demagogy.

The existence of such an opposition, along with independent courts and a pluralistic media, are, when properly embraced, the foundations that will move society to a new stage of development. However, the existence of the UNM does not fit into Prime Minister Ivanishvili's analysis for the period of Georgian Dream rule (which, in his opinion, must continue for 20 years).

Economic stagnation

When, in his pre-election campaign, Ivanishvili used the slogan of the "reinstatement of justice" and described any action of state bodies as being "unfair," the leader of the Georgian Dream coalition was acting according to the incorrect assumption, as widely promoted by the revanchist forces, that business was repressed under Saakashvili's government.

The current prime minister could not even imagine what tendencies he was stirring up in society with the slogan of the "reinstatement of justice." He could not have envisaged that these tendencies would turn into stumbling blocks for his running of the country in a quiet atmosphere while still maintaining the speed of economic growth observed during the previous nine years.

The first alarm bells for business sounded when a wave of artificially triggered strikes by bus drivers protesting against the Tbilisi mayor's office extended to other enterprises. This was followed by a string of other alarming moves for business: amendments to the Labor Code and other regulations imposed on business; increasing aggression against foreign investors – something which was first incited in the run up to the 2012 parliamentary elections; a desire to resolve the issue of defaulted mortgages and thereby shake the banking sector – the most stable sector in Georgia; the rise in crime; and, more importantly, the sense of political instability.

All of these actions, each of which seriously impeded our development, were done under the slogan of the "reinstatement of justice."

The billionaire prime minister was at first surprised about the inactivity of business. He seems to have sincerely believed that investors would be as enthusiastic about the unprecedented transfer of power on 1 October 2012 as were those Georgian Dream voters who before the election were given blank sheets of paper and asked to disclose their dreams to the "generous billionaire" in the expectation of them coming true. Business was not only concerned about the facts listed above, but also about how the Georgian economy would manage to bear the increased social burden that the government of the Georgian Dream coalition placed on it.

The current situation of Georgia is a clear example of how social populism inevitably leads any government to an unsustainable increase of budget expenditures – one that cannot be met by the budget revenues collected through effective tax rates. The government thus comes to face the need to raise tax rates, i.e. to increase the tax burden of businesses. As a result, businesses become more inactive and the number of available jobs decreases instead of increasing.

Interestingly, Georgian society, with a per capita income still well short of the desired level, was not content with the rate of economic growth existing during the UNM's rule and the small improvements of welfare brought about by that growth. One can easily imagine the frustration of a Georgian Dream voter whose family member loses their job and, with it, their average monthly income of 500-600 GEL and whom the government attempts to pacify by increasing the pension of another family member by 25 GEL.

No matter how much this does not fit into the prime minister's analysis, unfortunately a society of any country, including that of Georgia, will rapidly and very painfully feel the results of economic stagnation.

"Misunderstanding"

Today, against the backdrop of barbed wire fences having been installed along the occupational line, the most flagrantly incorrect assumption determining Prime Minister Ivanishvili's politics over the past year was that the key factor in Russia's attitude towards Georgia is Putin's personal hatred of Saakashvili. Once Saakashvili disappears from the scene (even better, if he appears before a court), everything will be put to right with Russia.

Unfortunately, the Georgian Dream coalition does not take into account that Russia waged war against Georgia not only at times when the country was led by those leaders clearly unacceptable for it – such as Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Mikheil Saakashvili – but also during the rule of Eduard Shevardnadze who pursued a reconciliatory policy with Boris Yeltsin, a man who himself was much less aggressive than Vladimir Putin.

The role of personalities is important, though not in the case of Russia – a country with a centuries-old political ambition to have the Black Sea region as its southern window to Europe.

In one of his articles, political commentator Zurab Eliava wrote: "The normalization of relations with Russia will not happen even if Georgia concedes it national interests! By the way, I deem incorrect the popular opinion of today that the normalization of relations with Russia is possible only by ignoring the national interests of Georgia."

In this setting, any role that Ivanishvili's personality and incorrect assumptions performed was strictly negative. By describing the installation of barbed wire fences by the Russian military as a mere "misunderstanding," he significantly undermined the expected result of the efforts of Georgian diplomacy. This result must be the mobilization of the international community to contain yet another adventure of Russia.

"Sergo"

And finally, the one thing that does not fit into the prime minister's analysis the most is "Sergo" (a.k.a. the political analyst Sergi Kapanadze). Ivanishvili is "on friendly terms" with other experts; he argues with them, expresses his dissatisfaction about their comments, and even chides them, but he can still understand them to a certain extent.
The only one he cannot understand is "Sergo." Not because "Sergo" interprets the official data published by the National Statistics Service of Georgia in a different manner - in Ivanishvili's view, the wrong way. The reason of his failure to understand him lies elsewhere: how can it be possible that "Sergo" is not interested in receiving either money or an elevated position from him?

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