Democracy is about transparency, and it is essential every now and then to call a spade a spade and say in public what is being discussed in private. That is especially the case when national interests are at stake. When three Georgian Dream MPs (Honourable Khundadze, Subari, Kavelashvili), turned recently and instantly into independent legislators, bonded by a locally familiar philosopher Shatirishvili, opened a public dialogue with the Ambassador of the United States, unveiling their lack of political professionalism, I expected the government to step in to correct the record. Any delay in that response requires everyone who cares, including me, to take a stand. Just to remind those who may read my opinion: for more than thirty years I, in my different capacities and along with other colleagues, for more than 30 years was participating in the construction of Georgian-US relations from scratch, laying brick by brick, to build a solid friendly partnership.
Calling a spade a spade
In a democracy, the government governs, and the opposition, hopefully, constructive and respectful, holds the ruling partyto account. It is not expected that a government also is its own opposition. In my view, the recent “defection” of three MPs from the Georgian Dream party – so that, as they clarify, they can criticize Europe and the United States without being a liability to the government – begs the question of whether the ruling party is subcontracting its political messaging to “independent” MPs. Joining this trio with his own conspiratorial observations and conclusion, targeting specifically Ambassador Degnan and the entire US Government, philosopher Shatirishvili further exacerbated the situation. I would invite everyone to be sympathetic rather than furious with this all-too-common ailment of the political mind, this disastrous know-it-all confidence that makes the king confident in the beauty of his invisible garments. That entire parochial and farcical political masquerade looks pretty cheap to politics and underestimates the public’s intelligence and poses considerable political risks.
The three aforementioned MPs cannot be, as admitted by themselves, “fully aligned” with GD and, simultaneously, independent. It is either one or the other. In a democracy, opposition MPs certainly criticize their government, constructively or not; what MPs of normal democracies don’t do is open a discussion in public with any foreign representative, as these diplomats represent their own state and people and, consequently, they are accountable, only to them. Foreign policy is not a freelance vocation for self-styled independent thinkers. Moreover, I feel that these specific MPs and the philosopher do not have the experience, legitimacy, or authority to engage in similar discussions. I do not doubt their patriotic sentiments but, frankly, they are out of their depth. They are a liability to Georgian foreign policy and the ruling party is responsible for disowning the message these “independent minds” articulate. Alternatively, we may come to believe that the government tacitly agrees with their statements.
In the light of dire developments in the wider Black Sea region, Georgia could shine as an island of stability and the rule of law. Our country has a special relationship with Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, and we should be emerging as facilitators of regional stability. Georgia plays a role in facilitating the energy supply of South-eastern Europe, which would otherwise be 100% dependent on Russian energy. We can play a role in Eurasian connectivity, which is increasingly important as the Russian railways and seaports are under sanctions. But, if you want to play a constructive role, then you walk the walk. You don’t go out writing public letters to Ambassadors. That is just preposterous. Of course, farcical is the only thing we can expect from the Three Amigos and especially Dr Doom who feels he can make the giant leap from reflecting on the human condition to unveiling the hidden truths of geopolitics and the global economic cabal.
To address the only matter of substance in the narrative of this newly emerged “constructive opposition”, I think they are wrong in saying that this is not the time for Georgia to seek EU candidacy status. We should rejoice that the EU is willing to retain an anchor on Georgia and do everything we can to seize the moment. Those who feel that Georgia’s “inevitable destiny” is to become a member of the EU and NATO simply do not have a clue. There is nothing inevitable for reasons I do not care to discuss in public. If now is the opportunity, now is the time.
From a regulatory perspective, we lead the pack; we have made the reforms Moldova and Ukraine will deliver years from now. Only an amateur would ask “what have we gone to gain” from expediting our EU candidacy status. The Baltic States joined the EU and NATO when Russia was too weak to have an opinion. Had they waited for a “better moment,” they would be part of Russia. Time is not always on our side. In any event, whether this is a good time is not our call. People elect governments for this kind of decision, hand-in-hand with the opposition to hold both to account. However, at all times, it should be obvious who speaks for the government and who for the opposition. We need this clarity sooner rather than later.
I would urge Ambassador Degnan to ignore open letters and statements by Three Amigos and Dr. Doom and instead seek reassurances from the government. Georgia has a serious and capable diplomatic service who would not dare to compare Western and Russian injustice because that is unprofessional besides being “naïve” (that is the kinder word I can think of). Put otherwise, these people have done nothing to bolster our credentials in the West and some of us have earned the right to defend Georgian credibility.
I would think that is the job of the government. I regret that the government of Georgia does not renounce and disown similar nonsense more expeditiously. We should recall that our capable diplomats, Prime Ministers, and Presidents have tried to keep Georgia on Washington’s radar for decades. We have enjoyed the generosity of the American taxpayer to the tune of $6 bn without an apparent return on their investment, other than the assurance of a loyal and democratic ally in the region. Three loose cannons and Dr. Doom should not be able to undermine the work we have been doing for decades.
Seriously speaking, the Georgian people should know this: the American Embassy is not a factor in domestic Georgian politics. Washington has been giving Georgia options rather than instructions. Instructions, if any, used to come from Moscow during the Soviet regime. American concerns for disinformation do not extend to Georgia alone but also in the Baltics, Germany, and Central-Eastern Europe. I am glad we are in this good company, and Washington cares enough to invest in countering this threat in Georgia too. We should stop chasing ghosts.
The Strategic Issue at hand
Foreign policy is something you do not something you say. Georgia is facing a real danger of waking up to a world of competitive regionalization, in which Tbilisi will be faced with mutually exclusive choices. We have invested in global trade, connectivity, and transnational cooperation. We are a small country that needs to avoid bilateral confrontation. We live and breathe multilateralism. Russia does not do multilateralism. We are not provoking Russia, we are just standing our ground, and to do so we need our friends. To think that Washington and Moscow are fighting for the hearts and minds of Georgia is self-indulgent. We are responsible for our foreign policy. For those who know little if anything about foreign policy, it is crucial to understand that we must continuously move just to stand still in this world. For those who do not have a clue, I hope they can grasp a simpler truth: we do not choose between East and West; we choose to have a choice.
I do not believe that only professionals should have an opinion on foreign policy. That would be undemocratic! From Switzerland to Washington, every political system has unreliable elements articulating its own conspiracy theories. What concerns me is that those who have a responsibility to govern need to ensure that Georgia has one official position that inspires confidence and credibility. I respect and appreciate the professionalism of our diplomatic service and foreign policy leadership. I have less respect for fringe voices, which, in my view, do a disservice to Georgia. I hope we give our partners no cause to take them seriously.
Tedo Japaridze is a former ambassador to the US and ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia.