In official or semi-official conversations, president Saakashvili’s supporters often remark that Saakashvili should somehow stay in power to finish the reforms he started, because otherwise the country’s direction will be reversed and it will head back into the past, writes Zaza Shatirishvili, philosopher and philologist.
To underline this view they use as historical analogies, the examples of Mexico and Japan, where a single party ruled the country for decades, in order to complete liberal reforms.
Some of the president’s supporters sometimes mention Pinochet as an example too; however they avoid saying it in public, for absolutely clear and understandable reasons.
By the way, the discussion about the collision between liberalism and democracy began back in the Shevardnadze period, when the political analyst Ghia Nodia adapted the famous thesis of Fareed Zakaria about ‘non-liberal democracies’ to Georgia under Shevardnadze and started speaking of the phenomenon called ‘erosion of democracy’.
Nodia’s arguments were the following: elections would be rigged during the Shevardnadze period because in free elections there was a serious danger that the non-liberal autocrat Aslan Abashidze [former leader of Adjara, an autonomous republic part of Georgia, ed.] would win, just like the non-liberal nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia won by democratic means in the early nineties. Democratic values are violated, because liberal values are more important, and this causes what is called an erosion of democracy; losing belief in liberal values. Nodia used exactly Japanese and Mexican history as examples of democracies that were being eroded. These arguments are presented in a book by Theodore Hanf and Ghia Nodia titled “Lurching to Democracy. From agnostic tolerance to pious Jacobinism: Societal change and peoples’ reactions”, Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlag, 2000.
This line of reasoning took a u-turn after the Rose Revolution: Mexico and Japan became positive examples in the rhetoric of the young reformers; and the confrontation between Shevardnadze and Abashidze in the new official discourse was replaced by the confrontation between a new liberal generation and soviet backward-looking old generation. Since 2008 this opposition of new and old, progress and regress, was even strengthened by a confrontation between ‘reformatory European Georgia and backward Asian Russia.’
At the same time, in Saakashvili’s supporters’ opinion, one of the biggest problems for Georgian liberalism is the Georgian Orthodox Church as a fundamental force related to the Russian Church. According to one Saakashvili supporter, if elections had been conducted democratically, people would choose the Patriarch as president. So the Saakashvili’s supporters’ arguments of Japan, Mexico and Chile are supplemented by the examples of Algeria and Turkey, where the military used to annul the election results, because otherwise the Islamists would have gained power.
In the wake of the Arab Spring and current events in Russia, all these arguments naturally became obsolete. But there is one other important point to make: In a Western point of view, Georgia is a successful reform country and a ‘beacon of democracy.’ It clearly stands out in the Caucasus-Central Asia region. If this is really true, then Saakashvili staying in government beyond his second term – in any form – it will be a sign that Georgia was never really different from the Caucasian and Middle Asian countries and that the Rose Revolution has failed.
If Georgia is really facing an historical choice and it wants to free itself from the Eurasian influence and become a full member of the Euro Atlantic area, then Georgia’s destiny is democracy. In this case, an opposition victory in the 2012 parliament elections would be set a precedent in the Caucasus and Central Asian area: that the government was changed not through coup or revolution, but as a result of peaceful elections. Of course, this would be a serious blow for Russia’s current (and possibly future) rulers. This would be Saakashvili’s victory not only over Putin’s Russia, but just a real victory. So Saakashvili’s victory is his defeat.
Zaza Shatirishvili (born 1966) is a philosopher and philologist; graduated from Tbilisi State University (TSU). He has worked at different universities and research institutes in Tbilisi. In 2008-2009 he was a visiting professor at University of Chicago. Since 2009 he has been professor at Free University. Shatirishvili is also author of three books and a number of articles on cultural theories and history, literature theory and history issues.