Naturally, in the light of our helplessness,
rampant corruption and crime, the Georgian oasis of reforms and
modernization looks almost as paradise. However, I do not understand Ukrainians
complaining that we do not have our own Mikheil Saakashvili and failing to evaluate his presidency objectively.
Since I was involved in the Georgian political drama, I
cannot remain silent when I see how in Ukraine purposefully or
due to ignorance we keep a distorted
view of Georgia.
Let’s shed our illusions of and not tears for Saakashivili. This will give us better foundations for building our
own country and democracy.
My critical view
of Saakashvili does not aim to discourage our democrats and activists who need
examples to follow. I myself respect and admire him. And despite his mistakes he inspires young
Ukrainians who are hoping for positive changes in their own country.
the only person in the entire post-Soviet space who was not afraid to challenge
and clean the ossified post-Communist system, remove its cronies and build the
country of his dreams, even if many of his own fellow citizens discovered that
it was difficult to find their place in the newly transformed state.
Having had a
chance to communicate with Saakashvili and his team, I saw that his personality
is largely influenced by the Western or, more precisely, globalized, culture.
This neoliberal culture disdains classic do-nothing bureaucrats who only
control, divide among themselves and their allies and waste existing resources.
Corruption is not tolerated. Education and personal achievements are highly
In the Western culture, innovators who create things and come up with new ways of
solving technological obstacles enjoy greatest respect. People
with entrepreneurial spirit and independent thinking are
the vanguard of the tech-savvy, prosperous and democratic society.
Saakashvili’s hyperactivity translated into concrete reforms, including
building new infrastructures and institutions of Georgia that
service its citizens more fairly and effectively. The changes are the realization not only of hisown ambitions and vision, but
also of values of this Western culture.
Ifthe mayor of London or CEO of McKinsey
were told to run such a dilapidated state like Georgia, they would probably implement the same ideas and reforms as Saakashvili did.
When, during one of the trips to Washington D.C., the Georgian president and
his team met with Russian leaders, they said they did not
have much to talk about. They are not only people of different generations, but
also people of different cultures.
Gerogian yuppies, educated in the West, even in their manners
and style, sharply differ from traditional post-Soviet leaders.
At the same time, Saakashvili — as well as his government — are
representatives of the Caucasian and post-Soviet culture, no matter how hard
they try to internalize Western values. This culture has
some positive characteristics, like adventurousness, creativity, readiness
to take great risks. But it is also responsible for a tendency
to abuse power, deception, corruption,
manipulation and intolerance.
Having written a few articles and blogs that included some criticism of Georgian
democracy, I had to deal with attacks and accusations of
our Ukrainian fans of the Georgian miracle. Believe me, I
am paid neither by Russia nor billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the opposition leader who won the Oct. 1
parliamentary election. I love to get the facts straight. I am not against the
Georgian modelof reforms, but I am for an even better
model for Ukraine – a European model -which would take
into account mistakes Georgia and its leader made.
I will not go into details, given that it is not an
investigative journalism but an opinion piece. I will just
state that Georgia has many of the same problems that allpost-Soviet countries
It’s corruption at
the highest levels, illegal monitoring of communication channels, abuse of law enforcement agencies, a lack of
respect for human rights, a controlled media and a bunch of other, mostly
socio-economic problems. I rely on the information from common people, from
Georgian friends as well as Americans who live and work in Georgia – in
business, government, international organizations and media, as well as from my
The fact that Ivanishvili,
with his money but in the absence of any charisma, was able to defeat ruling
party – is not a Russian conspiracy. This is a logical outcome in the society
that remains largely poor, with high unemployment and where people still rely
on the state and family to support them.
Traveling across Georgian villages, I was struck by how much Georgians were weary
of their young leader.
Village and countryside clearly fell out of the orbit of Saakashvili’s
reformist agenda and the lives of people who rutinely came to expect a support
from the state, had not improved. Instead they feel a considerable
administrative burden and control, combined with attempts of intimidation by
local officals. They also complain that Saakashvili’s government spent more
time and money doing “fancy things”
– external PR, attracting foreign
visitors and investors, trying to impress with glass bridges and palaces, a daily
“reality show” about the president on state-controlled television – than
trying to solve the everyday problems of the needy population.
Why did all these
people vote for Ivanishvili?
The answer is simple. He is the richest Georgian in the world, worth more than
$5 billion. So there is a chance – the thinking goes- he will share his wealth
with the people and will build churches, playgrounds, libraries and hospitals
for them. He is unlikely to steal from people, since he is already that rich
and his populist promises are just too hard to resist.
motivation is that people want Saakashvili to realize that one cannot keep his
nation in such a tight grip. The way he tried to stifle political competition backfired.
After Ivanishvili was openly prosecuted by the authorities, he started being
viewed by people as a real and serious alternative to the current government.
If the government
is so much after him, he must be worth something after all! He gradually became
ever more serious challenger to the president. All in all, Invanishvili as a
politician was of Saakashvili own making.
Thirdly, some Georgians
find it extremely difficult to survive. For example, a family I met on my trip
to Georgia had no money for coal, and pick up wood in the forest to heat their
home. Under the government of Saakashvili, they were severely fined and had to stop going
to the forest. They complained about having to live in a cold house without any
money. This is a typical profile of opposition voters.
This group of people is very large in our own country. One may call them lazy
losers, or victims of communism, but eventually they are citizens with voting
rights that cannot be ignored.
Finally, I would mention that Ukraine is one of the countries exposed to a
planned advertising information campaign
led by the Georgian authorities. This is a legitimate public diplomacy of a country
that cares about its image in the world. Ukrainian journalists, analysts, activists,
politicians – leaders of public opinion- at the expense of the Georgian
government and related structures –have been invited to tour “places of fame”
of the Georgian reforms.
It’s noble that Georgians share their experiences with us and want us to suceed.
However, it’s bemusing to me when Ukrainians, who were showed a shiny packaging,
eat the candy even without unwrapping it. Yes, some reforms, e.g. civil registry
or road police reform, may qualify as “small miracles,” but do not
believe in the big miracle. It did not happen. Georgia is no Singapore yet, but
To say the truth
one person – no matter how noble, charismatic and wise he is – cannot move the
country into brighter and better future without the cooperation of and
contribution, if not sacrifice, and patience of the public.
Irreversible results of reforms are achieved through the movement from below,
when society is ready to embark on a new path of development, as it happenedin Central
Europe after the collapse of communism.
So instead of bemoaning Saakashvili, let’s take steps to change the thinking
and awaken our people. Our society has plenty of leaders we need. These leaders
may be bringing change not in a lightning pace as in Georgia, but through consensus
building across main segments of the society one can finally reform our
country, which 20 years after the collapse of the empire remains Soviet in its
mentality, behavior and actions – or more precisely a lack of thereof.
What we should
learn from the Georgians, it is their ability to inject curiosity about their country.
When I compare the promotional tour of our officials, such as September
ministerial delegation to Washington D.C., and Georgia’s “road shows,”
it is heaven and earth. This is despite the fact that objectively Ukraine is a
wealthier country with the better economy.
authorities are much more educated, speak English and are comfortable on the
international scene they understand how to campaign and which data to demonstrate
to inspire confidence in international business and respect for their country
among foreign leaders.
At the same time,
the spin-doctoring can easily get out of hand. A friend of mine from
Transparency International has recently told me a story about the Georgian
reformers who used TI rankings in a promotional booklet about Georgia. The
material was, in fact, distorting information – exaggerating progress made by
Georgia. But Georgian authorities flatly refused to correct the data as demanded
by TI. This caused a rift between Georgia and TI.
Sadly enough, the Ukrainian
officials are not even interested in those ratings to start with. As the Deputy
Minister of Finance at a conference in Kiev claimed, Transparency International
simply uses a wrong methodology, implying that the Ukrainian government knows
better – through their own ‘safer’ methodology – that the level of corruption
is in fact lower. In short, we, Ukrainians, have a long way to go.
Olena Tregub is a freelance journalist in Washington D.C .and
a CEO of Global