The recent nine-hour-long interrogation of Kakha Bendukidze concerning the privatization of the Agricultural University alongside a new surge in the campaign against that university, which began exactly one year ago with the first wave seeing it get stripped of its authorization (before this was subsequently reinstated following protests from wider society), begs the question: What are the benefits we get from the Georgian Dream coalition?
According to the most radical of the electorate, the Georgian Dream has failed to "restore justice" (according to the distorted understanding of "justice" that these people have). In the view of a more impartial segment of citizens, the main concern of the Georgian Dream since coming to power has been the persecution of political opponents and the real or imagined enemies of former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. In order not to be accused of bias, let's follow the opinions of the Georgian Dream itself.
Most logical would be to cite the arguments of the Georgian Dream's leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, but picking out passages from his speeches that would provide grounds for serious discussion is a difficult task. Moreover, one would have to be a bitter cynic to engage in an analysis based on Ivanishvili's quotes. The most appropriate choice in this regard is thus to refer to the statements of the next person in the real chain of government hierarchy, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
In one of the interviews given following his visit to the United States in February, Irakli Garibashvili said the following:
"Let's together review what we have achieved to date, the results that we have produced. First, we are the government that has freed the courts; we do not interfere with court trials. No one knows court decisions in advance – it is unknown to all of us what a court decision will be – and this is something that everyone sees. Media outlets work freely; there is no broadcaster that society would question as being a means of government propaganda. Private property and business are protected. We protect the right to privacy. I can boldly say that today people are no longer afraid of their government."
Garibashvili's assertion that the government does not eavesdrop on us and does not try to control the courts, media or business, is a lie. The efforts of the Georgian Dream in each of these directions have been proven by facts. If the results of these efforts are not yet uniform, it is only because the Georgian Dream has thus far failed to totally consolidate power.
Thus, according to the Prime Minister, the main achievement of the government is that, instead of doing something, it has not been doing anything – its achievement is its inactivity.
After reading the above statement, two questions emerge: (i) Is this really the case, i.e. how much inactivity can be observed in those areas mentioned by the prime minster? (ii) Where such inactivity is apparent, to what extent does that actually represent an achievement?
Let us discuss this step by step:
The Courts. The Georgian Dream cannot control the entire judiciary. This is not because it has not attempted to achieve this end, but because it has failed to do so as yet. Although the Georgian Dream cannot control the entire judiciary, it systematically exerts pressure on specific judges in regards to every politically high-profile case and thus achieves the results it desires.
The Media. Even though Bidzina Ivanishvili closed down Channel 9, which belonged to his family, recent developments with the Georgian Public Broadcaster, where the election of a new board of trustees fell through, alongside the suspiciously loyal attitude of several private channels towards the government, renders the arguments about a free media unconvincing. This has been compounded by a recent scandal that has far reaching ramifications (presumably with the involvement of Bidzina Ivanishivli's son Bera, who owns the GDS TV channel, and the former chief prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze), in which the revenue service launched an inspection of the TVMR GE company, the only television viewership measurement company in Georgia, demanding that the latter disclose confidential information about the addresses of those households where TVMR GE has its so-called people meters, the devices through which the company collects data on the viewing behavior of audiences.
"People are no longer afraid." This is a clearly subjective, non-measurable criterion. Who was afraid earlier and on what grounds? How can we conclude whether those people are no longer afraid? Non-governmental organizations assert that the government is eavesdropping and spying on far more people now than before. No less important is that under the Georgian Dream's rule the "accidental" release of old or new footage by "anonymous" sources or mythical hackers has become a regular exercise and is called upon whenever needed.
"Private property and business are protected." Here too we are dealing with a subjective assessment that is not supported by facts that can be double-checked and measured. Moreover, if this is true, then why is Ivanishvili's beloved cousin meddling in business redistributing business shares, as the ex-prime minister himself declared?
Thus, Garibashvili's assertion that the government does not eavesdrop on us and does not try to control the courts, media or business, is a lie. The efforts of the Georgian Dream in each of these directions have been proven by facts. If the results of these efforts are not yet uniform, it is only because the Georgian Dream has thus far failed to totally consolidate power.
What, then, are the benefits we get from the Georgia Dream apart from it "enriching" the Georgian language with new words (citing specific examples of Ivanishvili's unique dialect will be quite boring), changing the meaning of existing words ("human rights defender" now means "human rights violator", "political prisoner" now means "criminal", et cetera), and depriving some other words of their meaning (for example, "justice" and "dignity")? Or is there a benefit in calling ignorance "pluralism," and allegations "sincerity," whilst striving towards autocracy for the development of "democracy"? Or are there benefits in arresting the architects of modern Georgia and releasing all those who fought against Georgian statehood?
As regards those areas in which the inactivity of the government is apparent: the Georgian Dream reinstated governance by committees and commissions, i.e. a situation typical of the late-Soviet era of "developed stagnation," where nothing is done, but no one is held responsible either. One of the most flagrant examples of the Georgian Dream's rule is the government's decree of 18 April 2013 that established "The Government Commission to Study Problems Having Emerged with Regard to the Implementation of Infrastructure Projects."
This commission comprises: the Minister for Regional Development and Infrastructure; the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources; the Minister of Sustainable Economic Development; the Minister of Agriculture; the Finance Minister; the Interior Minister; the Minister of Environmental Protection; the Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs; the Minister of Culture and Monument Protection; the Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs; the First Deputy Interior Minister; the First Deputy Finance Minister; the Chairman of the Agency for State Property Management; two deputies to the Minister for Regional Development and Infrastructure; the First Deputy Justice Minister; the Deputy Head of the Investigative Service of the Finance Ministry; the Deputy Head of the Revenue Service of the Finance Ministry; the Tax Ombudsman; the Chairman of the Competition and State Procurement Agency; and the Head of the Economic Service of the Ministry for Regional Development and Infrastructure. Representatives of the Sector Economy and Economic Policy Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee of parliament were also asked to get involved in the activities of the commission.
According to the decree, the commission is authorized, within one year(!) of its inception, to consider and submit to the government proposals on the objective and subjective(!) causes of problems having emerged with regard to the implementation of infrastructural projects. The Georgian government has thus created a commission, essentially comprising the entire government, which is entitled (but not obliged) to study objective and subjective problems having arisen in relation to infrastructure projects. One would not be surprised to see after one year the commission submitting, to its own members (this time acting in the capacity of members of the government), a proposal stating something like this: "Comrades, all the problems proved to be subjective! We must change something. We propose the establishment of a new commission to study what must be changed."
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Having been interrogated, Kakha Bendukidze went straight to the Rustavi 2 TV channel to take part in a live program. In parallel, the Imedi TV company was airing a previously recorded and edited interview with Bidzina Ivanishvili. Perhaps nothing reflects the contrast between the former and current Georgia as vividly as these two TV broadcasts did. One can already say for sure that there is only one answer to the question as to what benefits we get from the Georgian Dream: Nothing!