“I am never afraid,” he laughs, when asked whether criminal prosecutions in his nation of 4.5 million people, which he has turned into a friend of the West and a flagship of good governance, economic progress and judicial fairness in the region. However, Saakashvili has lost favor with his own people. Voters this fall elected Saakashvili’s billionaire rival Bidzina Ivanishvili’s party to parliament, and the new prime minister has formed a new government.
As a result, 12 senior Interior Ministry officials were arrested on suspicion of illegal surveillance to record conversations with the aim of discrediting Ivanishvili. The arrests and prosecutions, however, have raised international concerns in Europe and Ukraine about whether Ukraine-style selective prosecutions motivated by political revenge are starting in Georgia as well. The West has chilled its relations with Ukraine since President Viktor Yanukovych took power in 2010, quickly followed by what many regard as show trials that have imprisoned Yanukovych’s rivals, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko. Western criticism is even more heightened because Tymoshenko and Lutsenko were convicted of a vague Soviet-era type of criminal charge known as “abuse of office.”
But Saakashvili, a frequent visitor to Kyiv, believes these recent events in Georgia represent temporary setbacks. “Our government has created very high standards, so any government that follows will be held against that standard, and will have to take it into consideration,” he says. “This is why any backtracking will not be taken for granted. In the short-term there is sure to be turbulence, but in the mid- and long-term i am very optimistic,” Saakashvili said.