Is Georgia the New Authoritarianism?

by Joshua Foust on 12/20/2007 · 3 comments

The International Crisis Group certainly thinks the Rose Revolution has disintegrated:

Conscious of the damage done to his standing in the West, Saakashvili called a presidential election months before it was due. Seeking to suggest business as usual, he declared that Georgia “passed a very difficult test” and managed to “avert massive bloodshed and civil confrontation”, while warning that its foes – read Russia – would try to undermine the election. The government’s actions, however, remain troublingly authoritarian: the private Imedi TV was allowed to re-open only the day media campaigning officially started and was not on the air for several more days due to equipment damage; November protesters were arrested or fined; opposition activists continue to be targeted, state resources are being used for Saakashvili’s campaign, and the line between the governing party and the state is blurred.

It is a relentlessly negative piece, de-emphasizing or outright ignoring the very real economic and governance strides Saakashvili has made, including his successful campaign to curb corruption. While it makes for a nice contrast to Ann Penketh’s shameless boot-licking, and is much better researched, the ICG report still lacks nuance. As such, their recommendations lack even the usual tepid knock of “more talks” that are typical to these things.

Of course, Saakashvili resigned the Presidency—a move Steve LeVine thinks distinguishes him from the other post-Soviet holdovers in the region. It is unclear yet what will ultimately result from that decision. With the recent news that Badri Patarkatsishvili will not return to participate in the election, will it be easier, or harder for the results to be fraudulent? But the election is upon us: then, we will have a much clearer idea of exactly which direction Georgia is heading—toward a retrenchment of crony capitalism, or, thanks to the so-called “forgotten plebiscites” about things like NATO membership, toward a more liberal future.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Nick December 21, 2007 at 11:15 am

Well, it’s not called International Crisis Group for nothing. It seems that ‘Realism’ (in the IR accepted definition) underpins the ICG. Hence the relentlessly gloomy outlook on international affairs that permeates most of tHeir reports.

On the otherhand, their reports are superbly researched and a valuable resource for peoples such as ourselves interested in the Post-Soviet space. If I was really narked, I’d set up an alternative organisation called, I dunno, International Post-Structuralist Group. But I’m not, so I won’t. Merry Xmas.

Joshua Foust December 21, 2007 at 11:19 am

Is it really sad that I’d want to join that group?

Steve LeVine December 21, 2007 at 4:30 pm

I also think that ICG is first rate. But I wouldn’t call this report realist. More like utopian. Realism is that Saakashvili did the unthinkable in that region — resigned to run for office. That precedent is central, and not to be underestimated. A realist point of view is an understanding of power, and whatever advantages Saakashvili retains, he took a risk no other FSU leader has.

Steve LeVine

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