Monday, 15 October 2007

Reflections on Contemporary Georgia – Vision from Czech Republic

Reflections on Contemporary Georgia – Vision from Czech Republic (This article is simultaneously published for the newspaper The Georgian Times on 15 October 2007)

By Bakar Berekashvili

„There is no guarantee that the civil society is always benign. But we must take the risk. The civil society corresponds to the historical possibilities of man and history as a drama of good and evil. This is the dignity of man: the choice of good and evil.“

Merab Mamardashvili

Brief Discourse on Georgia’s Desire to become European Democratic Country

Georgia’s political and social aspirations are an open secret. These aspirations are based on country’s strong desire to build democracy and civil society in Georgia, to integrate into the European space of democratic and civic values and thus to confirm again for modern world that Georgia is a democratic European state. But definitely the task is not so simple, it is very challenging and still full with various obstacles. Georgia still has to pass a long way of democratization in order to achieve its democratic goals and finally to be formed not transitional democracy but real democracy in our own country.

In Czech Republic, where I live now, it took approximately 10 years to become democratic country. Since 1989 when communism died in this country, Czech Republic started rapid consolidation of democratic values that was doubtlessly led by Václav Havel. Currently, Czech Republic returned to its hostorical roots and enjoys to be democratic European country. However, here I mean no way that there are no problems in Czech Republic and that here we have absolute democracy. In fact, there is no absolute democracy in our universe.

It took 10 years for Czech Republic to achieve its goals and to become European democracy. And despite perfect progress which it experienced by the end of 1990s, it was possible for Czech Republic to join EU only in 2004, while it joined NATO in 1999. So, even for Czech Republic which is located in the central area of Europe and whoese political and social values always were truly European, it was still hard work to rehabiliate and to become real European democratic society.

So, now we can imagine how difficult it is for Georgia to pass sensitive way of democratization which should lead us to be formed as European democratic country. Despite some progress which Georgia achieved since Rose Revolution of November 2003 that can be seen in police and military reforms, Georgia still faces serious difficulties in building a democratic and civil society. It is still very difficult for some to say whether Georgia has opportunity to become European country and these problems and obstacles are not only related with political authority.

Weak civil society, conformist young generation, ineffective and powerless opposition, lack of critical judgjment within society – these are main problems and obstacles for building of real democracy in Georgia. This is not what Georgia gained after the Rose Revolution, but this is simply soviet legacy of Georgia, this is a sorrowful destiny of Georgia that even Rose Revolution could not change. It is hard to agree with the Georgian opposition groups who claim that Saakashvili’s administration established dictatorship after the Rose Revolution. I would say that so-called idea of „strong hand“ is a very successful model of geverning Georgian country and Saakashvili just follows this model. The only power that can stop implementation of the idea of „strong hand“ is only society or people. And the idea of „strong hand“ is not linked with the philosophy of dictatorship, it is just another phenomenon which is characterizing for former soviet countries, including Georgia.

Czech Intellectuals on Georgia’s Democratization

Despite serious defficulties and problems which Georgia faces now, here in Central Europe Georgia is still very promising country and model of democratic transformation after the Rose Revolution. Saakashvili is a popular person both in Brussels and other cities of Europe. Rose Revolution of November 2003 made good impressions for European intellectuals to think and speak abouth bright future of democracy in Georgia, some of them think that it will take long time for Georgia but still they beleive that Georgia selected good path for democratization. Petr Kratochvil, Deputy Director of the Prague Institute of International Relations said following: „There is no doubt that democracy in Georgia has improved after the Rose Revolution. However, comparing with the west, Georgian democracy is still under the way of development and not such strong as it is in west. Czech Republic also experienced demoractic reforms and it took couple of years, however we still achieved to become democratic in short period. Regarding Georgia, I think it will take much long time“. However, Petr Kratochvil also noted that there are some important steps that Georgian government should take in order to achieve its democratic goals: „Well, point is that if you want to have a real democracy this is important not only to adopt democratic laws and access democratic principles, but also to implement them. Georgia should be stronger for implementation of adopted laws and democratic principles as well. I think that the most important for Georgia is to strengthen institutional buildnig, to carry out strong anticorruption measures, to support building of autonomious capicity and etc. Also, poverty reduction should be important subject for Georgia.“

This is not only Czech think-tanks who think that democracy in Georgia improved and who believe in perfect democratic future of Georgia, but the Czech officials think also similarly. This is what Tomas Szunyog, Director of South-East and Eastern European Department at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: „We hope that Georgia can become fully democratic country and not transitional one. We have full confidence with your government and this is very clear that you made very good progress in terms of democratic development after the Rose Revolution. I would like also to note that there is a stable political landscape in Georgia, economic policy is developing and social standards of living are higher“.

Above mentioned speech given by Mr. Szunyog is a very clear example of political symphaties provided by some influental Czech politicians and decision makers towards Georgia. And this is not only Czech Republic in Central Europe who has such political symphaties towards Saakashvili’s government, you can see such support in other countries as well.

What are the reasons of European support for current political authortity in Georgia? Another Czech intellectual, Marek Vozka who is very familiar with Georgia and currently works for influental Czech foundation „People in Need“ said: „I would say that before the collapse of Soviet Union and during the collapse of it, every member countries of USSR stayed on same political line. After collpse of USSR, some countries still remained on same old line, including Russia. But as for Georgia, it is very visible especially after the Rose Revolution that situation changed significantly. Saakashvili’s government is much more effective and the reforms which your government carried out are democratic“

Georgia’s Membership to EU and NATO – A Pessimistic Landscape

However, despite of positive point of views expressed by leading Czech experts on current political processes in Georgia, they have still sceptical view on the question of Georgia’s possible membership for EU and NATO. This is well-known that Georgia strives to join EU and NATO and declared that this is strong political will of contemporary Georgia to became full member of European family. Here, in Czech Republic, almost majority of Czech experts and academicians beleive that Georgia has less chances to join EU. „As regarding EU, here subject is much more pessimistic. And again problem comes from EU, and problem is that EU has adopted and introduced to Georgia ENP as a substitute of Georgia’s membership to EU, like it did for Ukraine and Moldova as well. I think that that question of Georgia’s membership to EU is a subject of political decision.“, said Petr Kratochvil.

So, it seems that we should not be happy to enjoy with having ENP in Georgia, however many Georgian NGOs and government itself try to make sure people that ENP is a step for EU membership. But the truth is that ENP is a substitute for Georgia to EU membership, the Georgian NGOs tend to misrepresent it, probably, due to so-called „Political Correctness“. As for NATO, here Petr Kratochvil is still sceptial, however, he noted that chances for NATO are bigger for Georgia: „Well, I understand why Georgia has such a strong desire to join NATO, but this topic for me more or less is sceptical and this not due to Georgia but due to NATO approach. Well, point is that NATO itself is very sceptical about Georgia’s membership, and this is not so much linked with the factor of Russia as many interprets it, but this is due to frozen conficts which exist in Georgia. However, if you compare with chances for EU membership, it is very clear that chances for NATO are bigger.“ he said.

Representative of Czech government also thinks that Georgia’s possible membership to EU is a very complex question, however Czech government fully supports to Georgia’s aim and aspiration to join EU but at the same time they say that this would be very long and difficult way for Georgia. This is what Tomas Szunyog said: „This is very complex question. Currently, EU is mostly focused of having negotiotions with applicant countries which are Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey. Also mention should be made that another issue is whether Georgia is ready to join EU. I think that Georgia still has many tasks to implement in this regard and it needs to pass long way“. Regarding NATO, here Mr. Szunyog strongly beleives that Georgia is a serious partner of NATO, however, here also he beleivs that this would be long way for Georgia „Georgia is a serious partner of NATO. We would also strongly support Georgia’s inclusion to MAP. This is right that you carried out positive defense reforms but joining of NATO is more demanding then only military reforms. I would say that this will be a step-by-step process for Georgia“ said Thomas Szunyog.

It is very clear that Georgian population is not aware of what NATO is. Curiously, most of the people beleive in popular political speech in Georgia that NATO is a pro-humanist, democratic union, while in fact NATO frequently broke down the basic principles of democratic values and the case Balkan region is a very clear example of it.

Why Georgia is Important for European Demoracies?

At first glance probably this question seems to be both difficult and simple. Petr Kratochvíl answered this question perfectly: „Georgia is a very important country for Europe, because we share same common values. Georgia shares European and generally western values and I would say that Georgia is a part of European community in many aspects“.
This is more then truth. But at the same time we still have to take many steps to be perfect member of European family and this is not only linked with building strong political and economic system, but this is importantly related with strengthening formation of strong free civil society in Georgia and to the promotion of basic civic and democraties values. Georgia should form effective society with creative and critical judgjment and to defeat conformism as a legacy of soviet social lifestyle.

Bakar Berekashvili is intern at the Institute for European Policy in Prague

Monday, 1 October 2007

The Georgian Times interviewed Bakar Berekashvili

Why do we need this lustration law?
By Nino Edilashvili, Georgian Times
23 March 2007

The knowledge of who the spy was is power. Who knows this, he naturally can rule him. - Georgian philosopher A. Bakradze
Why do we need this law? To be tolerant with those who collaborated with the former regime, or to condemn them for their past sins against us? This was a key question raised at the meeting on lustration on March 9.
The Tbilisi-based Goethe Institute, together with funding from the Heinrich Boell Foundation, arranged a meeting with Dr. Joachim Gauck, Federal Commissioner for the Files of State Security of the former the Eastern-Germany’s ,,shtazis'' (State defense service) archives. The main aim of the meeting was to share Eastern Germany’s experience with a lustration law with the Georgian audience.
MP Nika Rurua, Giga Zedania, Associate-professor at Ilia Chavchavadze State University, and Ivliane Khaindrava, an opposition-minded MP, participated in the discussions.
Lustration- which derives from the Latin Lustrum and describes a ceremony of purification of the Roman people after every five-year census - in the current world implies exposing those who collaborated with the former communist regime. This topic is very sensitive in post-Communist countries. The meeting hall was overcrowded and, despite repeated requests of moderator Lasha Bakradze to finish the discussion, the meeting exceeded the scheduled time by several hours.
According to Joachim Gauck, who is a legendary person in Germany, society’s attitude towards a lustration law is a kind of benchmark of tolerance for its own enemy. He said that the Eastern-European countries regulated this issue in such a way that it did not provoke any kind of discord among European society. Dr. Gauck advises Georgian society to choose the same path and promises to give consultations in how to achieve that.
In the communist era the best way to climb up the carrier ladder was to apply for membership in the ruling communist party. Georgia, with 70 years of communist history, was on one of the first places with a number of communist party members. According to popular statistics, every 10th Georgian was a member of the communist party. Many of them cooperated with the regime as agents, and the communist regime could control the situation with a dense network of spies. There were very few dissidents who were against the regime and were announced the people’s enemy for several years. After the collapse of this regime the former dissidents who wanted to know the truth and be rehabilitated started active work to adopt a lustration law. But their attempts ended unsuccessfully.
An opposition-sponsored draft law on lustration which was submitted to Parliament in 2006 November is the third attempt to initiate a law on lustration since Georgia gained independence.
The draft law, which was proposed by the Democratic Front parliamentary faction, says that those who worked in ex-Soviet special services, held high positions in the Soviet Communist Party, or served as KGB agents will be banned from holding key positions in the government. But it is a kind of tolerant, because this draft law will not have to publicize the full record.
Georgia's current government demonstrated its approach to lustration law when the new government formed (2004) under the leadership of late PM Zurab Zhvania signed the “10 Steps to Independence". The authorities pledged to pass a law on lustration, but no document has been proposed so far by the government. This subject is still a very unpopular topic for the ruling party and media alike. It is very difficult to recall any kind of initiative related to lustration that the government has proposed since then. It seems that lustration law is a very sensitive topic among the members of the government. That’s why the parliament majority don’t have a unified position, and that was the main reason why this draft law was rejected in February.
Giga Bokeria, MP from the ruling National Movement party, said in an interview with Civil Georgia in mid-November that “debates within the ruling majority are not yet over.” But he added he would support an “even tougher” law on lustration.
Nika Rurua, an active figure of National Movement party and the deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Defense and Security, tried to justify the parliamentary majority's careful approach to this issue at the 9 March meeting. He said: “Lustration as a process is not technically ready. 84% of the documentation is destroyed, or the main list of agents is currently in Moscow and unavailable to the Georgian side.” Rurua claimed that the very few documents in the hands of Ministry of Internal Affairs will not shed light to the issue.
The government-affiliated Liberty Institute NGO recently proposed a new and tougher vision on lustration which is kind of alternative to the parliamentary opposition's blueprint.
According to this proposal, lustration should target not only former KGB employees and Communist party functionaries, but also those who have been cooperating with Russian state structures since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The meeting on March 9 raised a key question on lustration: why do we need this law? To be tolerant with whose who collaborated with the former regime or condemn them for their past sins against us?
According to former political dissident Levan Berdzenishvili, it is important and absolutely necessary to expose the identity of the person who squealed on him to KGB, and who banned his colleagues from the university to attend his court trial.
Journalist Davit Paichadze, the Deputy Dean of Social and Political sciences of Tbilisi State University: “It would be better if Georgian society learns who, for example, Vazha Lortkipanidze [former state minister], Temur Shashiashvili [Shevardnadzes former governor], Zaza Shengelia[former director of TV broadcasting] are.”
Representatives of the young generation are opposed to the radicalism of the lustration law supporter. Bakar Berekashvili, a young independent researcher on Eastern Europe issues, told GT that the former dissidents who want to adopt the lustration law do not the follow dissident values, since tolerance was the most important idea for the communist era dissidents. “For them [the former dissidents] the main problem was the system, not individuals. They didn’t fight to bring those who squealed on them to justice."
According to the young researcher, in Georgia, which is building its democratic institutions, Georgian intellectuals should talk about how to help improve the democratization process and protect human rights rather than to adopt a lustration law. The adoption of the lustration law will only clarify who squealed on whom, but brings nothing to Georgian democracy itself.
"In my opinion, the State should begin digging into history, what happened 25-30-40 years ago, when it has finished its most important function – shaping a true democratic country." He added.
According to 35th US President John F. Kennedy, public peace does not require that that every one like his neighbor. It requires only that they live with each other with tolerance. So this lustration law will be one more test for Georgian society to verify how tolerant it is and whether it is ready or not to look back firmly at its past, neighbors.