society

From Potato Soup to Elite Potato Seeds

Zaza Bibilashvili
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Or Collaborationism as a State Policy 

In 1940, after the Second Armistice at Compiègne, at which Adolf Hitler, driven by revenge, made France sign an armistice in the very same railway carriage that the Germans had signed the 1918 armistice, ending the First World War in a humiliating defeat for Germany, France was split into several parts. Alsace and Lorraine were taken over by the Third Reich. The north and west of France was occupied by the German Army (though formally remaining under French civil jurisdiction). The south of France (the so-called zone libre) was left under French administration until late 1942.

The unoccupied parts of the country were governed by the reactionary, collaborationist government of Philippe Pétain. The government was based in the provincial town of Vichy, only known to the outer world before the war for a local variety of chilled potato soup called “vichyssoise.” Despite its collaborationism and authoritarianism, the Vichy government initially enjoyed the support of a significant segment of the French population. Let me list several of the reasons underlying that support:

(1) Germany proved to be so superior to France in terms of its military strength that continuing resistance was considered utter stupidity. Sorting out relations with Germany was deemed a wise move;

(2) After the 1940 defeat, a threat to the territorial integrity of France emerged, which, in many people’s opinion, could only be averted by gaining the favor of the occupier;

(3) The supposed allies of France undertook certain actions (for example, the British sinking the French fleet in Algeria) that made the French think that “at least Germans are better;”

(4) The Vichy government, which believed that the democratic system of its predecessor, the Third Republic, was undermining true French values (including Catholicism), was able to capitalize on the fears of the conservative segment of the French population.

Owing to Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian Dream does not experience any shortage of incompetent and collaborationist cadres. But the question as to how the activity or inactivity of the government can be explained – whether by its incompetence or its collaborationism – is of secondary importance for ordinary citizens.

Formally, the Vichy government was legal. The USA, Canada and many other countries acknowledged it as the official French government until 1942. Domestic public opinion turned against the Vichy government only after the inevitability of Germany’s defeat became clear. At the end of the day, the Vichy regime fell apart in the summer of 1944 alongside the force that made it possible (and necessary). After the liberation of France, some of the former leaders of the Vichy government fled the country, whilst another segment was put to trial and sentenced to death. Despite its formal legitimacy, the collaborationist Vichy government is, given its content and actions, no longer perceived as having been a legitimate French government by almost anyone today.

Judging by the past year and a half, Georgia is now in a condition that resembles France in the Second World War: Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region are occupied by Russia, whereas the rest of Georgia is run by a government with a loyal attitude towards Russia. Since coming to power, this government has done everything it could to please Russia. In particular, the Georgian Dream government:

1. Has actually supported the Russian version of the start of Russia-Georgia war of August 2008 (“Nothing was happening there, only one wall of a house was destroyed when Saakashvili started shelling,” said former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili shortly after coming to power).

2. Has “changed the rhetoric” – it stopped calling an enemy the enemy and tries to persuade us that this will change the nature of the enemy. It hardly mentions the occupation and spares no effort to remove the issue of Georgia from the international agenda (which means saying no to international support and leaving the country to the good will of the enemy).

3. Reinstated an imperial cliché about “ethnic conflicts” in Georgia, thereby endangering the territorial integrity of Georgia. By doing so, the Georgian Dream government potentially neutralized those huge efforts and sacrifices that the country earlier made to show the world that the problem is not “ethnic conflict,” but Russia’s imperial politics.

4. Actually acknowledged the existence of spheres of influence. This was the precise stance expressed by Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili at the recent Munich Security Conference, where he stated that Russia and the European Union must negotiate on the issue of Ukraine. By saying that, the Georgian government in fact gave its “blessing” to Russia to negotiate the future of Georgia with the EU.

5. Released Russian spies, granting them the status of political prisoners, and legitimized the dark, anti-Western forces that were left outside the Georgian Dream. The Georgian Dream government has not only given a free hand to these forces, but also, according to some theories, finances and coordinates them. Ideas that were earlier regarded as marginal are now gradually becoming mainstream. People with a high probability of being directly connected to Russia’s security services publish propagandist books about Putin (and official representatives of the government attend presentations of such volumes); conduct anti-Western meetings and conferences (during which the police defend the renegades and arrest those who protest against them); and are openly engaged in preaching the Eurasian idea through media outlets loyal to the government.

6. Fulfilled Russia’s demands without getting anything in exchange, namely: (1) unconditionally released Russian spies from prison; (2) actually ceased the activities of Georgian counterintelligence (which was effective before); (3) renamed the State Ministry for Reintegration into the State Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality; (4) entrusted key issues to people “acceptable” for Russia and, most likely, controlled by Russia; (5) took attempts to amend the Law of Georgia on Occupation in a way damaging to Georgia (which failed because of filibustering from the parliamentary opposition); (6) allowed Ryan Grist, a British diplomat who is suspected of having ties with the Russian security services, to return to Georgia in a high position bearing high risk.

7. Largely built its moral authority upon the narrative of people who actively fought against the Georgian state (organizers of a military mutiny; people exposed torturing inmates, but released from any punishment by the Georgian Dream; the founders of Georgian-language editions run by the Russian security services, et cetera). In parallel, it persecutes those who defeated the Russian espionage network in Georgia and, to this end, resorts to such gross lawlessness as intercepting a witness who intended to reveal the truth at a press conference, abducting the former prime minister from his prison cell to get a coerced testimony from him, concealing crimes, et cetera.

8. Made the tragicomic and the absurd into an organic part of its narrative, as if the acknowledgments that Georgia had received in previous years were all the result of lies and that the country, instead of undergoing a phenomenal transformation in a record short period, was instead “being destroyed during those nine years.” When the spread of this marginal opinion brought about the expected results of a non-fulfilled budget and halved economic growth, the Georgian Dream government put all the blame on cohabitation and the former president’s “black PR.” However, the fact that the Georgian economy not only succeeded in existing without the Russian market, but also developed at high speed, indicated the very healthiness and strength of the economy in previous years. Fetishizing the Russian market, a key aim of the Georgian Dream, is a step towards the weakening of the country.

9. Decided outright to participate in Putin’s Olympic Games in Sochi, in which Georgia had no chance of winning any medal and, by means of that, to express its protest or position. The government tried to convince us that in the event of provocations, Georgia would revise its decision on its participation. For its part, Russia did everything to politicize the Olympics and to legitimize its occupation: (1) it selected a military pilot who had bombed Georgia in August 2008 as a torch bearer; (2) it moved the occupation line deeper into Georgian-controlled territory by 11 kilometers; (3) at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games it displayed a map of Georgia without Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region; (4) at the same ceremony, it placed the proxy “leaders” of the Georgian occupied territories in the government box along with official guests; (5) on the webpage of a participant of the Olympics (from the occupied Gali region), it referred to Abkhazia as being part of Russia. What more could Russia have done to get a reaction from the Georgian government? However, instead of doing anything to defend the interests of the country, the Georgian Dream government was busy finding excuses for Russia’s actions and calling on us to not take the actions seriously.

Georgia is now in a condition that resembles France in the Second World War: Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region are occupied by Russia, whereas the rest of Georgia is run by a government with a loyal attitude towards Russia.

What else could the Georgian government have done to please Russia? Perhaps nothing more during that period. It could not have openly rejected the Western vector, at least at that stage, as that would have undermined its legitimacy (despite the declared anti-Western attitudes of a significant segment of the Georgian Dream’s leaders, the Georgian Dream still remains hostage to that pro-Western discourse the previous government bequeathed to it). All other mechanisms envisaging creating a fertile ground for the Eurasian choice have already been put in action.

Considering all of the above, a question arises: what is the point of the existence of the Georgian Dream? What is their raison d'être? It is not “justice” (examples of selective justice or injustice have notably increased), nor it is “dignity” (Georgia has never, throughout all of its long and difficult history, taken such an undignified step as participating in the Sochi Olympics) or economics (as time passes, in parallel with the painful process of the Georgian Dream leaders gaining knowledge and experience, the difference between them and their predecessors on this issue decreases). There is only one key issue left that makes the existence of the Georgian Dream possible – the Russian factor. Without Russia, without the awe and fear behind it, the Georgian Dream would have been unable to exist – just like the Vichy regime would not have existed without the Third Reich.

Owing to Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian Dream does not experience any shortage of incompetent and collaborationist cadres. But the question as to how the activity or inactivity of the government can be explained – whether by its incompetence or its collaborationism – is of secondary importance for ordinary citizens. The answer to this question is more topical for the leaders of the Georgian Dream (incompetence is a mitigating circumstance, whereas collaborationism is an aggravating circumstance). What’s important for ordinary citizens is what we will get as a result of the government’s above listed activities and inaction.

If the reference point is Georgia’s interests, the answer to that question is simple – we will get nothing of value. But, if we assume that Georgia is run by a government of the Vichy regime type – one obsessed with the desire for revenge and cherishing retrograde values, one that deems the opening of a joint Georgian-American university of technology as unsuitable while continuing to talk about prioritizing agriculture and producing elite potato seeds – then everything is clear. Formally, the regime still maintains legitimacy, but each step taken against Georgian statehood – be it expressed by activity or inactivity – will gradually erode that legitimacy.

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