Guido Westerwelle, a German Foreign Minister, a distinguished and energetic German politician, will soon be visiting Georgia. A visit by the German Foreign Minister in any corner of Europe these days is a significant event, writes former Georgian foreign minister, Tedo Japaridze, who works with the Georgian Dream movement of businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Much like a generation ago, Europe reaches a point of transition, in the midst of a profound crisis, which, apart from its obvious financial and political dimensions, is also a crisis of identity. People around ask again the proverbial question “what is Europe?” By virtue of history, geography, economic size and population, it is clear that Germany is a country of unmatched gravity for the future of Europe and will have a lot to say on this issue. And for generations now, Europe has held its breath when Berlin spoke on this issue.
“What is Europe?” should be a question that also concerns Georgia and Georgians. Addressing this question is part of our task, that is, to understand who we are and where we want to go. From our dramatic, turbulent, and tumultous quest to “return to Europe” since the early 1990s, which implied tremendous capacity and democracy building efforts, we have now shifted our attention to the objective of restoring our sovereignty. But, these objectives are intertwined; they require from us to evoke Shakespearean wisdom, admit that “the world’s a stage,” find our role and act upon it.
Once again, as it was in the early 1990s, for Georgia the sensitive dilemma of survival is to become not only a secure state but to be a secure democracy: where rule of law rather than individual rulers govern. But, to consolidate our country’s position on both of these fronts, we must first define and act upon our role. We must come to a consensus not only on the question of where we stand in this “globalized” world but – first and foremost – what kind of a country we are: a “Beacon of Democracy”, as defined by some or, a “hybrid”, “façade democracy”, as described by others; a country with weak political institutions and civil society or “a strong system” of one man rule? And as we know, in a globalized world, this choice is not only about our perceptions but also about reality. We can run, but we can’t hide.
The fact is that no country can understand Georgia better than Germany in Europe. Why? Germany is no stranger to the status of occupation and curtailed sovereignty; in fact, by a strange coincidence that has become an emotional trigger, a Georgian presided over both the dismemberment and the reunification of Germany. Josef Stalin dissected Germany after the Second World War and Eduard Shevardnadze, along with his European and American counterparts unified it.
Nor are Germans strangers to the challenges of transition, be it economic or political. In fact, Germany has had an unmatched role in the reintegration of former Communist Europe, as a driving force in the policy of enlargement, through foreign direct investment, the commitment of considerable resources, know-how and energy for the promotion of democratic consolidation. Very few Western Europeans feel as much at home as Germans do in post-Soviet or, more generally, post-communist Europe.
And there is no doubt that Germany understands the significance of Georgia as the bridge between Central Asia and the Black Sea/Caspian Basin and Europe and the strategic fact that in this regard Georgia in many ways interweaves Europe’s security equations. So Georgia is and will remain a key partner for the struggle against terrorism, nuclear proliferation and jihadism; Georgia is a key hub for the flow of vital supplies of fossil fuels and other “public goods” to Europe, especially natural gas, which is increasingly important since Berlin made the decision to phase off nuclear energy production. But, unfortunately, Georgia is still a place on the map where a lot of things can go wrong in a very serious way. And it is in Germany’s interest, along the other EU member states, to consolidate stability and prosperity in a region and a country where it has heavily invested a lot of economic and political capital. In sum, Germany can be our ally, if we have the wisdom to cultivate our relationship with Berlin.
It is clear that Georgia’s admittance to the project of European Integration – NATO, EU, or indeed both – will largely depend on the consent, if not support, of Berlin. And it is also clear that Berlin can be of great service to Tbilisi, given its geopolitical gravity in Eurasia, in our long road towards the restoration of territorial integrity and security. But, in order to receive help we must clarify our intentions. If we ask, Germany, our most significant European ally to risk financial stability, security and prospects for growth to feed our tendency for political bravado and amateurism, it is very likely we may receive sympathy, perhaps even empathy, but nothing concrete by way of support. If we ask our allies to deliver on things they can, including mediation, investment, diplomatic support and confidence-building measures, then we may actually discover that Germany is an ally of unparalleled gravity. The world is not divided amongst Georgia’s friends and foes; we live in a more complex world, where alliances are build on mutual interest rather than vague convictions of “right” and “wrong;” whoever is not with us, is not necessarily against us. That’s my first point of concern.
On the second point of apprehension are Georgia’s relations with Russia particularly. It is clear that open confrontation of the type my generation experienced during the Cold War is not a plausible eventuality for the near future. In making this assertion, energy-security is again an obvious point of departure. Russia is in fact the biggest energy partner for Europe, and is likely to remain so for the near future. Of course there is a flip side to this coin, as Russia and Europe are bound together in an oligopoly versus oligopsony relation. Therefore, although there is room for manoeuvre, there is no room for confrontation. However, there are other factors to consider. Militarily and geopolitically, Russia remains a global power. From the Arctic Circle to the Indian Subcontinent, Russia must be engaged, if not as an ally, then surely as player in the quest for securing peace and stability. Again, there is room for manoeuvre, but little room for confrontation.
Georgia is thus located in a frontier zone, sharing the historic destiny of frontier areas. This has been confirmed time and again: in Bucharest, where NATO refused to open the MAP process for Georgia and, during the tragic days of 2008, when 20% of our territory was occupied. I will not delve into a blame-game here. But, the fact remains that although Georgia has been a loyal and constructive partner via, for instance, our military commitment in Afghanistan, we cannot expect that our allies will risk being drawn into a war they have avoided for decades. Call it “catch 22” — sympathy, perhaps even empathy for Georgia, does not mean our allies are prepared for an open confrontation.
Thus, Realpolitik dictates that Georgia needs to help itself before it receives help from its allies. In an ideal world, Georgia would not make the headlines, other than for the odd major Foreign Direct Investment. After all, our country has deregulated its labor market and is very close to being a “tax-haven;” we were even ranked first in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index. But, FDI is not forthcoming. Of course a lot is left to be desired in terms of human resource development or capital market regulation, especially in view of our recent experiments with banking legislation, which are globally unique; we must also match the feeling of zero-tolerance for petty corruption with high-level transparency. But, concentrating on the big picture, the bottom line is this:
– As long as we are not perceived as a secure destination, FDI flows of the magnitude needed to address our chronic and socially devastating unemployment rate are not going to happen.
– As long as we are geared towards the production of low added value products and services, the cream of the crop of our youth will continue to seek a future elsewhere.
– As long as our leadership lacks a foresight vision of where we want to be in five or twenty years from now, apart from wanting to remain in power for this long, or even longer, we will remain on the informal index of places “where a lot of things can go seriously wrong.”
“Wrong” here does not denote merely fear of confrontation with Russia but also fear of a potentially imploding political system, which fails to represent and, therefore, to contain social and political cleavages within the realms of systemic confrontation. This, I am told, is the number one priority of every political system. Not ours. In order to convince the world, we should have a functioning democratic system, we need to transcend the perception, as admitted above, of being a country with weak institutions and a strong system, where one or some exercises power but there is no rule of law; where “nomenklatura” has been replaced by a “demokratura”. We need normative foundations rather than a legal façade for personal authority.
You see, security is not only the art of not having war, it is also the art of becoming attractive, creating an environment conducive to investment, keep talent at home and contracts guaranteed. Security in this sense is the foundation of the proverbial right to pursue happiness.
In response to this need come Bidzina Ivanishvili and the political coalition of “Georgian Dream”. Clearly, in the immediate aftermath of the Rose Revolution, which all of us supported, there was a feeling of a “leap forward”. But, over the last few years, the aspired modernization degenerated into a “Potemkin’s village show” with an impact factor close to zero. In this respect, our friends must address this question: “where is their money being spent, earmarked for institutional development, civic empowerment and democratic consolidation?” For if we trust the Freedom House indicators, Venice Commission statements, OSCE or NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly Reports, tax payers in far and distant places are taken for a ride.
And Georgian citizens must address this question: “what are we learning from our European and specifically German allies?” Every success story in global economic development, be it Korea or Singapore or even Germany, started by importing questions rather than readily packed answers. If we are to remain globally relevant, we need to start thinking local, thinking small business, know-how rather than quick fixes. Bottom line: paying attention to grass roots is the next leap-forward we must make, if we indeed are serious about growth.
To make this qualitative leap, we need to understand that things must change and that status quo does not equal stability. This assertion has a domestic and foreign policy implications. Domestically, we need a dynamic balance rather than authoritative stability, a democracy where elections can be lost and the transfer of power is not regarded as “regime-change” or a “revolution”. True, if this were to happen, Georgian politics would be much less predictable but, arguably, much more stable.
Internationally, it is important that diplomacy serves the objective of conflict resolution, not merely feeding our need for nationalist bravado. I do not propose an “open vector” diplomacy dogma, of the kind experienced in other parts of this region; I propose engagement, of the type that does not involve tanks, preferably with the help of our allies, who would probably be more eager to focus their energies on a solid diplomatic initiative rather than figuring out ways to avoid an open confrontation without losing face.
We are clearly a country of the West, and a European country but we won’t find our position amongst Europeans if do not change our habits, the ways we do business, our mindsets. That usually takes long and it will take long enough for Georgia as well. But we must not expect that our allies will descend upon Georgia, like a Deus ex Machina. NATO membership, when it comes, will solidify our security; it is not an “exit strategy” from our current occupation. EU membership, when it comes, will solidify our economic and social cohesion; but socioeconomic structures are not customarily designed in Brussels. In sum, we need to work and quit praying.
Georgia’s closest allies are today entangled in unprecedented crisis. They do not want to deal with regime change anywhere. However, if the Arab Spring taught us anything, it is, as we mentioned above, that in the long run the status quo does not equal stability. Therefore, perhaps regrettably for our allies, now is the time to consider the benefits of political change in Georgia. For at this moment the Coalition of “Georgian Dream ” is a promise of evolution in what began many years ago; this is an evolutionary and reform-minded movement whose ranks are filled by people who want to ensure that resources and energy spent by our allies in this region will bring high returns in the years to come. We are talking about power-transfer rather than regime change.
Therefore, to answer the question I posed above, namely “what we, Georgians are and what kind of country we would like to build and what’s our understanding of security,” I would say this: to be an ally that is not merely predictable but also reliable, is the key to building long-lasting relationships, be it with market forces, with states and, not least, your own citizens. This is the position we need to be in a year from now, for the sake of our citizens and for the sake of our allies. For it is better to reform one’s way to change, rather than let destiny take its course. Change, like death, is certain; how this change comes about is in our hands. And yours, dear friends of Georgia! As I said above, we have gone far and accomplished a lot since those turbulent 1990s, but we have made a lot of mistakes (some of them just unavoidable) on that bumpy road of building the sovereign and secure democratic state we so much desire. We still have much to learn. There’s still a long way to go and still much work to cut for us. Bismarck admitted once sarcastically that “only idiots learn from their mistakes; true wisdom is in learning from other’s mistakes”. And now we need to ask ourselves: are we wise or idiots? Can we learn from and work with Berlin or other European and Euro-Atlantic allies, or are we determined to sink into irrelevance? Will it be better for Georgia to “do a Putin” or to “do a Ludwig Erhard,” the father of Germany’s “economic miracle” and make Georgia a prosperous, stable and secure democratic state; do we remain “a grave concern” for our citizens and our allies, or do we become a reliable as well as predictable actor in the region? These questions we must address first, before posing them to our allies.