Vienna, January 18 – Even more bluntly than in the past, Yuliya Latynina says in “Novaya gazeta” today that “Georgia is not a democracy because if the opposition there were to come to come, a catastrophe would happen,” a view Georgian observers argue fails to address Mikhiel Saakashvili’s responsibility for Georgia’s and the opposition’s problems.
So sharp are Latynina’s words that Dmitry Muratov, the editor of “Novaya gazeta,” said he was publishing her article not because he agreed with it – he suggested that the problems in Georgia are more about values than personalities – but in order to provoke a discussion, something her argument is already doing (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2010/004/17.html).
With the exception of Irakly Alasania, Latynina says, “the Georgian opposition is insane.” According to her, its “strategy” is an exact company of “the behavior of Western communist parties in the 1930s: to do everything in order not to agree. And if people want not to agree, then they will always not agree.”
It is striking, she continues, that “the Georgian opposition demonstrates all those qualities which a totalitarian regime in power typically shows: pathological populism, infantilism, and corruption.” Moreover, Latynina writes, it “explains to the people what in Russia the powers tell them: the essence of their national character is laziness, bribes, and corruption.”
This means, the Moscow journalist says, that “Georgia is not a democracy because in a democracy when the opposition comes to power, nothing changes in the country. If the opposition in Georgia came to power, it would be a catastrophe” because the opposition could be expected to behave even worse than the current powers that be in Tbilisi.
Last week, in response to Latynina’s earlier presentation of these ideas on her “Access Code” program on Ekho Moskvy, four Georgian academics – Konstantin Dzhandieri, Tamaz Dzhologua, Nurkia Kantaria, and Temur Naneishvili – published what they called “An Answer to Ms. Yuliya Latynina (www.geoacadem.ge/n/index.php?categoryid=1&p2_articleid=57).
Their 2750-word statement constitutes one of the most thoughtful and extensive responses to those like Latynina who argue that the opposition rather than the incumbent regime is to blame for Georgia’s problems or other who see the qualities of either or both as precluding the possibility of the development of democracy there.
The four scholars say that they welcome the interest of a distinguished foreign journalist in their country, but at the same time, they “note with regret” that Latynina’s treatment of their country is only “the position of a journalist” rather than of a government or academic specialist and, what is still worse, is “superficial” and “extremely one-sided.”
Having noted the consequences of the loss of “a good third” of their country’s territory as a result of the August 2008 war, the four Georgian academics say that they want to address Latynina’s comments “about the level of democracy in Georgia” and especially about who is responsible for them.
They suggest that she would agree with them that “the first order indicator of success in the post-Soviet countries is the status of democratic institutions.” Indeed, the scholars say, “it is impossible to speak about the success of a country if there is no democracy in it or at least democracy in definite doses.”
And while they concede that there are many definitions of that political system, they argue that at a minimum it includes “the defense of fundamental human rights by the state, a balance between the branches of power, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, and independent mass media outlets.”
Any honest assessment of Georgia, they suggest, will show how far short that country falls, the result they argue not of the nature of the opposition but rather the actions of the incumbent administration of President Saakashvili, however much and however frequently he declares himself committed to democracy.
Those who consider Georgia carefully, the four say, cannot fail to recognize “the unlimited personal rule of Mikheil Saakashvili,” and only those who accept his statements and those of his aides can believe that limitations on democracy are justified by Georgia’s current poverty or geopolitical problems.
However that may be, they point out, it is Saakashvili and not the opposition which has manipulated elections in order to keep himself and his party in power, reduced the role of the parliament as a law-making branch of the state, re-introduced telephone justice in violation of the constitution, and re-imposed control over the media.
“Free media are a necessary component of democracy,” as a journalist like Latynina must know. But Georgia today “does not satisfy a single one of the recognized international norms of media freedom:” transparency, limited concentration, professional journalism, and protection of the right of journalists to report the facts.
“A journalist” like Latynina, they continue, “who fights for democracy in her own country should agree with us that in relation to the opposition which has quite naturally a different opinion , the powers that be ought to treat as loyal [rather than view as traitorous] just as this is in all democratic states.”
But as any number of experts have and can testify, “under the previous [Georgian] government, Saakashvili and his opposition colleagues were in a much freer and more comfortable situation” than the opposition is today. “If that had not been the case,” they point out, no one would be talking about Saakashvili now.
And that alone, if nothing else, they imply, should prompt people to focus on the way in which the powers that be in Tbilisi are responsible for the way in which the opposition behaves rather than to think that the opposition’s behavior, however many problems with it there may be, justifies support of Saakashvili’s authoritarianism.
Despite her praise direct and implicit of Saakashvili and his regime, they write, she ignores the conclusion of many experts that “Saakashvili is truly following the path marked out by Putin, in particular concerning the establishment of unlimited control over the media.” But despite Moscow’s behavior, they add, Russians “do not deserve a president like Saakashvili.”
“We believe,” the four conclude, that “the day is not far off when the Georgian and Russian peoples will find the correct paths for the democratic development of their countries, without the construction of Potemkin villages.” But that will require that each be honest about both the nature of the regime and the nature of the opposition in each.