Georgian Dream

Ordinary Hakim-Pashism

Zurab Chiaberashvili
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"Fanaticism consists of
redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim."
George Santayana, The Life of Reason (1905)

It has been two and a half years since oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, a man who denied that politics relies on messiahs whilst simultaneously presenting himself as such a messiah, first entered politics and a year and a half since he came to power, and today even his keenest supporters admit (to themselves) that things have not gone the way they imagined they would in a Georgia "liberated from Misha."

Violence outside the National Parliamentary Library. Photo: REUTERS
Intellectual ideologists and supporters of the Georgian Dream are not very concerned by the fact that the electricity tariff did not decrease to 0.05 GEL, that the tariff on natural gas did not drop by 0.25 GEL, or that the price on petroleum did not see a decrease of even a single lari; nor with the fact that pensions have not increased to 220 GEL, that "liberated businesses" still fail to produce results, and even the foundations of the "100 factories" have not yet been lain – despite each of these being pre-election promises. They are rather more concerned about the strengthening of what is called the Asaval-Dasavali ideology, i.e. the views promulgated by xenophobic and chauvinist Georgian tabloid Asaval-Dasavali.

The Asaval-Dasavali ideology – which has already been branded as Hakim-Pashism – was not only tolerable, but even acceptable for them while the objective pursued was to "get rid of Misha," by hook or by crook, and to "reinstate justice", which they so desired (though, at the same time, they expected this to be completed within a certain period of time).

[Hakim-Pashism derives from the name Hakim Pasha. A person registered under this user name recently uploaded photos and videos on YouTube concerning the case of former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania's death. Over the past year and a half, the government has resorted, both overtly and covertly, to releasing photo or video materials via the Internet as a premise for initiating yet more punitive operations against its political opponents. This has occurred so many times that the opposition have nicknamed Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili Hakim Pasha.]

In the shrill cry of triumph caused by the defeat of the "nine-year regime," one could not clearly discern that behind Ivanishvili's purportedly aesthetic opposition towards the Bridge of Peace (a bow-shaped pedestrian bridge over the Mtkvari River in central Tbilisi) lay the ideological axis of Asaval-Dasavali's revanchism; whilst behind changing the function of the presidential palace, purportedly undertaken on the premise of its pompousness, lay the oligarch's characteristic desire to diminish state institutions.

But back then, at the dawn of Hakim-Pashism, many people did not perceive those facts as worrying, especially the persecution of political opponents. Politically motivated arrests and interrogations, encouraged by Bidzina Ivanishvili's clear quest to annihilate the United National Movement (UNM), were accompanied with the ironic warning, addressed to supporters of the "nine-year regime," that "this is just the beginning."

Gradually, however, the people uttering the phrase "this is just the beginning" and the target audience have switched places – it now serving as a warning about the perils of the current government's path.

The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. 17 May 2013. Photo: Dimitri Chikvaidze
Hakim-Pashism started irritating the intellectual ideologists and supporters of the Georgian Dream only after those "political prisoners" united under the flag of revanchism, the Georgian analogues of the Ukrainian Titushky and small radical groups of various types, were no longer content with physical retributions directed at the political opponents of the Georgian Dream – namely, members of the UNM – and so began to extend their violence, first to minorities and then to all supporters or advocates of liberalism.

The role of the government in encouraging Hakim-Pashism was clear cut from the outset. On 8 February 2013, when the parliamentary majority of the Georgian Dream coalition refused to listen to the annual address of President Saakashvili in Parliament in Kutaisi, the president decided to make his address to the diplomatic corps in the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia in Tbilisi.

At that event people released under the amnesty declared by the Georgian Dream coalition did not allow President Saakashvili and UNM MPs to enter the library building. Subsequently, Irakli Garibashvili, who back then was the interior minister, busied himself justifying the actions of the wrongdoers instead of prosecuting those offenders who had assaulted the MPs.

The wave of political opponents being prosecuted by any means and methods, as kicked off by Ivanishvili and Garibashvili, became so overwhelming that nothing else was taken into account. It was a result of this that the financial police, then headed by Otar Partskhaladze – a former convict who had served a prison sentence for robbery in Germany – illegally detained more than 20 employees of the Tbilisi Mayor's Office on the very same day that the NATO Secretary General was visiting Tbilisi.

Hakim-Pashism became clearly discernable when, in parallel with the wave of prosecuting political opponents by hook or by crook, another wave kicked off. In the spring and summer of 2013, Georgian society became witness to religious conflicts breaking out in various villages. Things went to such extremes that the financial police, still under the leadership of Partskhaladze, sawed off a minaret in the village of Chela, in the Adigeni district, on the premise of weighing (!) it.

The Asaval-Dasavali ideology became not only irritating, but unbearable for the intellectual ideologists and supporters of the Georgian Dream coalition (who view the return of the UNM to power as their personal defeat) after those open and active supporters of that ideology – the government and the majority of Georgian Dream MPs – impeded several important processes and issues. For illustration, let me name just few of these: the long, several-round process of electing members to the board of trustees of the Georgian Public Broadcaster; the postponement, for an additional two years, of the enactment of a new rule concerning interrogation, which envisages the questioning of witnesses only in court; and thwarting the appointment of writer Zurab Karumidze as Georgia's ambassador to the UK.

In parallel, international pressure on Bidzina Ivanishvili's government has increased. The Chief Prosecutor's Office summoning former President Saakashvili to be questioned about 10 criminal investigations at once, did not leave even a trace of doubt among the international community that the Georgian government is persecuting its political opponents. This move was followed by a clear response from the US Department of State.

Dismantling of the minaret in the village of Chela. Photo: Alexander Iskandarov
It is important to explain here why the "reinstatement of justice" declared by the Georgian government is regarded as a classic example of political persecution and selective justice:

- The top authorities – Bidzina Ivanishvili and Irakli Garibashvili – announced a list of those persons who must be accused. These persons, all political opponents of the government, were not named after investigations had established a possible crime; but this process actually occurred in reverse order: the target person was first announced and only after that did the fabrication of a criminal case start;

- Statements of Ivanishvili and Garibashvili about the arrest of a specific politician are immediately followed by the prosecution instituting criminal proceedings against him/her;

- Criminal proceedings against a person are terminated if the person changes his/her party affiliation (for example, criminal proceedings were terminated against those Tbilisi city council members who defected the UNM to join the Georgian Dream coalition);

- The Chief Prosecutor's Office of Georgia applies a different standard towards criminal proceedings against representatives of the current government. For example, the prosecution terminated criminal proceedings against the current head of the Sagarejo local administration, who is a protégée of majority MP Tina Khidasheli, at the initial stages of investigation on the grounds that the crime had been established and the embezzlers of budget monies had been revealed, or, in other words, the public interest had been satisfied.

If, regardless of this situation, the European Union is still willing to sign the Association Agreement with Georgia, this will not mean that it commends what is currently happening in Georgia.

Brussels merely believes that the non-signing of the Association Agreement will encourage radical-extremist groups who will deem impeding the process of Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration as a victory and will thus continue their fight against liberal values with redoubled zeal.

Brussels also understands that impeding the process of European integration for Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova is exactly what Russia has been trying to achieve by resorting to the use of military force (against Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014), economic sanctions (which it used against all three countries), or by encouraging radical-extremist groups who openly oppose the democratic system of governance and liberal values.

Hakim-Pashism is dangerous not only because it targets specific persons, political parties or minorities in Georgia. It is dangerous because it threatens the existence of Georgia as an independent, sovereign, democratic, liberal country. Russia is an example of a country loaded with ethnic and religious conflict in which the voices of political opponents are not heard. Russia thus wants to create a cordon sanitaire made up of other such countries along its borders. That is why the rhetoric used by Kremlin-inspired groups of radical-extremists is analogous in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine.

Since they are absolutely unaware of the basic principles necessary for democracy, Bidzina Ivanishvili, and the blind weapon for Hakim-Pashism that is Irakli Garibashvili, presumably do not even realize the threat they pose to the country because of their own aims. Furthermore, since they do not understand the language of diplomacy, they do not take heed of the criticism coming from Georgia's strategic partners.

In a statement made in regard to former President Saakashvili being summoned for questioning in 10 separate criminal investigations at once, the United States noted that, during a February meeting in Washington, Prime Minister Garibashvili had been asked to focus on the development of the country instead of pursuing political retaliation.
However, the intellectual ideologists and supporters of Georgian Dream, those who deemed the steps Bidzina Ivanishvili and Irakli Garibashvili took towards the annihilation of the UNM as necessary, but temporary (!) measures, well understand the significance of international criticism and are aware of its possible consequences.

Pressure on local self-government bodies. Zugdidi.
The existing situation, however, indicates the following:

- A characteristic feature of Hakim-Pashism is blind hatred, which dulls any other human feelings, especially the love of freedom. Since the UNM first expressed its solidarity with the participants of the Maidan in Kiev and those who were fighting against the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych, the Georgian government and the majority of the Georgian Dream coalition remained indifferent, in both political and human terms, towards the sacrifices the Ukrainian people were making for their freedom;

- Hakim-Pashism recognizes blind force, not values. For Irakli Garibashvili, speaking (from memorized texts) in the forums of the Western world is important because this is positively perceived by Georgian society (in other words, it is electorally advantageous), and not because he understands those values upon which the security and welfare of the Western world rests. For Bidzina Ivanishvili, the West is the force to take heed of, because, despite its tactical superiority in Ukraine, Russia has (fortunately) thus far failed to gain the upper hand in the region;

- Consequently, Hakim-Pashism displays a servile kind of fear towards external enemies and is aggressive towards internal opponents. Hakim-Pashism uses tactics characteristic of fascism against domestic opponents – including groups of offenders with functions analogous to the Sturmabteilung, Squadristi and Titushky – primarily because it sees these as a means of defense.

- Hakim-Pashism does not refer to the rule of law, but propagates a form of lynch mob justice. Sometimes this is done through making "softer" statements like "physical assault, especially of an MP, is unacceptable, but we must also understand the ire of people" and sometimes through open warnings – "if the prosecution does not arrest someone, people will retaliate against him/her."

- Hakim-Pashism relies on universal anti-Western, anti-democratic, anti-liberal clichés: the Putinist rhetoric used in Ukraine, Moldova or in Russia itself is in total harmony with the statements of Georgian Dream representatives, especially those made about minorities;

- Hakim-Pashism constantly resorts to blackmail: releasing videos featuring the private life of journalists who do not toe the line; threatening political opponents with repressions unless they keep silent; giving rise to suspicions among society that the European future of the country may be in jeopardy. This leads to the self-censorship of society. In order not to give radical forces any premise to misinterpret one's action or statements for their own interests and thus to avert a threat to the Association Agreement with the European Union, people refuse to exercise their right to freedom of expression (for example, the LGBT rights defending organization Identoba has refused to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on 17 May 2014).

Minorities feel increasingly unprotected;

- Consequently, the system of Hakim-Pashism is dominated by reasoning of the "not everything has been lost yet" type and by actions that can be described as "grasping at straws." Instead of demanding concrete positive steps from the government, a segment of society is content with liberal statements made by separate members of the parliamentary majority (Tamar Kordzaia, Nino Goguadze, Eliso Chapidze), pacifying themselves that not everything has yet been lost. Even more, such reasoning lowers the standard for evaluating government performance: it makes certain government actions tolerable – such actions which, had they been undertaken by the UNM – and not in an analogous form, but even at one-tenth of the scale – would have caused uproar among society;

- Hakim-Pashism lowers not only evaluation standards, but also (temporarily) diminishes the demands of society. A Hakim-Pashist phrase – "at least it got rid of Misha" – is a commonly heard refrain in conversations that start with the complaint and lament that "Bidzina failed to do anything." What is dangerous for Hakim-Pashism is that society's demand for "bread" has merely been postponed – and presumably not for long;

The trial of Vano Merabishvili. Photo: AFP
- Hakim-Pashism creates the feeling that people "breathe freely." It tries to convince you that the repressive machine is not directed against you, but only targets UNM members; oppresses only those businessmen with close ties to the UNM; and fires only those employees appointed by the UNM. Nor does it eavesdrop on everyone (as was the case during the "nine-year regime"), only phone tapping UNM members. Attempts to influence courts (in order to bring UNM members to justice) and to alter the media are also justified with the lofty aim of allowing people to "breathe more freely;"

- The rhetoric of Hakim-Pashism is cynical: the "bloody nine years" is the only counterargument to criticisms from political opponents, whilst "where were you during those nine years?" is the only response to any liberal criticism from society. The result of applying this rhetoric to society is simple: people automatically start trying to prove how zealously they fought against the "bloody regime" over nine years and sincerely admit that "still, this lot are better than they were." Hakim-Pashists are happy hearing that;

- The actions of Hakim-Pashism are cynical too: it easily gets rid of those whom it considers to be of no value for achieving its goals. Bidzina Ivanishvili scolded and severed ties with experts, journalists and even President Margvelashvili. The stronger Hakim-Pashism becomes in the vertical power structure, the less it acknowledges any horizontal relations;

- Hakim-Pashism enhances the trend of total centralization and concentration of power: because of the unrealized desire of the president to veto a draft law, it has effectively declared a cold war on the already weak president and has initiated legislative changes to further curb the president's powers. Legislative changes are being also drafted to remove certain functions from local self-governments, for example, moving emergency and fire services to the central government.

And finally, like any similar form of governance, Hakim-Pashism also requires its own cult, which in this case does not need to be sought at all: Ivanishvili observes the restless movements of the shark in his aquarium in Tbilisi's Sololaki district while obedient zebras and peaceful penguins remain as reminders of the Chorvilian form of socialism. Hakim-Pashism is a time of dangerous predators.

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