“This is the Government in a Hurry” – Vladimir Socor
Human rights advocates used terms “disproportionate” and “excessive” to describe the force used by the Georgian riot police to break up the anti-government demonstration on May 26 and are calling for an investigation and subsequent charges. Amid the questions of whether this will harm Georgia’s democratic credentials, Georgia Today is publishing an interview with Vladimir Socor, a political analyst of East European affairs for the Jamestown Foundation and its Eurasia Daily Monitor, which was recorded on the evening of May 25 when the tension in Tbilisi was still in the air.
“I saw some of the protesters today and I was shocked. They were carrying sticks. What is this? This is totally unlawful,” said Socor, who was visiting Tbilisi in the frame of European Week, a series of events featuring political debates, photo exhibitions and sightseeing trips, with the goal to help develop closer ties between Europe and Georgia. Georgia Today asked the analyst to share how he sees the recent and past developments in Georgia.
Q: Why is it important for you to be here at European Week in Tbilisi?
A: It’s very important, first of all, because I love Georgia and I always love coming to Tbilisi for such events. Secondly, it’s important because I can meet new people and thirdly, I have a certain message to communicate to Georgians, to Europeans and to Americans.
I am an American citizen. I feel European because I was born in Romania and lived in Germany. But I immigrated a long time ago to the United States and became an American citizen. So [my message is that] European integration for Georgia is an existential issue. Or I would say Euro-Atlantic integration because we must never regard America and Europe as two different things. They are very closely linked and Georgia pursues integration on both levels.
Q: Well, for Georgia it’s highly significant to be part of the Euro-Atlantic community but how significant is it for Europe to have Georgia as its member?
A: It’s more important than many Europeans realize today. One reason is the question of energy security - Georgia is indispensable for Europe’s energy security. Georgia is also indispensable for NATO because Georgia functions like a two-way transit corridor: East-West for Caspian energy supplies to Europe and West-East for the projection of peace and security from NATO and Europe into Central Asia and the greater Middle East.
Georgia is a European country spiritually, geographically and by most of its traditions too. Georgia’s location is such that it also connects Europe to the East, Central Asia and the greater Middle East. In the history of alliances- and I refer here to NATO and the European Union in the classical sense - one of the added values that candidate countries had to offer was geographic location, strategic advantages and the fact that their governments and populations shared the values of that particular alliance. Georgia has all of these. It is just a question of communicating these messages effectively to Europe. In addition to this message, Georgia’s domestic performance is crucial too, and in this regard, both are proceeding very rapidly. Some would like to see it proceed even more rapidly, but that would be unrealistic.
Q: Do you see any threat to the integration process?
A: There have been setbacks – the Russian invasion in 2008 and the economic crisis which broke almost at the same time. But the crisis is almost behind us and the Russian invasion did not succeed. So the prospects in my opinion are very good but more work and more efficient work remains necessary.
Q: How close or far are those prospects?
A: You cannot place a number on these things. This idea that you can set the transformation goal and then place a number of years on is an idea which comes from the Soviet times. I have lived through those times and know what it is. We do not think in that way any more. We have to perform. That’s all. Performance is everything.
Q: And is the performance good?
A: In my opinion it is astonishingly good. I’ve been coming to Georgia for many years between 2003 and 2007. It has changed almost beyond recognition. The progress is tremendous and relies on the young generation. Many of the old generation people have been disappointed because they think that modernization is leaving them behind and that’s why when I look at the streets most of the demonstrators are not young people. Everywhere if this type of demonstration develops in the streets, it’s young people. Here in Tbilisi it’s mostly people from the old generation and I have to say that I understand the reasons: they feel that the times are passing them by. They cannot adapt to the changes, unlike the young people. So this is a problem that should be considered but Georgia is moving ahead. Some people say the government of Mikheil Saakashvili is not ready. What do they mean by that? They mean that the authorities of Georgia are accelerating the transformation.
Q: Can you specify?
A: Well, in the economy for example we see computerization, Internet penetration, development of urban infrastructure, foreign investment, integration into the global economy, a crackdown on corruption, a crackdown on informal economic arrangements that are anything but the market and distort the market…The only problem is that the government has not much time. Which brings us back to your question – how long will it take? So this is the government in a hurry. I’d like very much to see the government in a hurry, a government which knows where it’s going and it’s going at the maximum possible speed. But some people – people [protesting] in the streets, I mean the radical opposition leaders say this is not a serious government because it is accelerating the speed of transformation, something they believe is not in the interests of the Georgian people.
Q: What is your judgment of Georgia’s opposition forces and leaders in general? Who are the figures you rely on to get an alternative opinion?
A: I do not want to evaluate one personality or another- one group or another. I see your opposition is consisting of two very different camps. One of them, I would call it the constitutional opposition. It’s mainly sitting in the parliament – I mean the Christian-Democratic Movement, its leader Giorgi Targamadze and a few other small, very small groups, as well as the alliance headed by Irakli Alasania. I describe this group as the constitutional opposition because they accept the existing constitution; work with the system; they are people who want to compete in elections within the constitutional timetable; in the future elections they [also] want to compete, increase their representation in the parliament, possibly remain the opposition and possibly form a coalition after the elections with the National Movement depending on the outcome of the elections. Christian-Democrats and Alasania’s group share the government’s western integration [aspirations], which is fundamental.
The other group? I describe it as a militant opposition, as irrational opposition. It has no proposals on how they are going to proceed if some kind of putsch happens. The only thing they know is that they want to overthrow the government and have new elections. They say nothing about what will happen after this. They themselves are fighting among themselves more than they are fighting against the government.
Of course it’s not easy to generalize and put everyone in one formula, but many among this group have shown themselves prepared to switch to Russian orientation from Western orientation. As Russian commentator (Yulia Latynina) recently said about people like Nino Burjanadze (former speaker of the parliament and leader of the recent anti-government rallies) or Zurab Nogaideli (former PM of Georgia, presently an opposition-minded figure) – it was not that they first went to Russia and then as a result became discredited. No! The other way round! They became discredited and then in desperation they went toward Russia. I think that’s a very good description.
So Burjanadze and Nogaideli - and they are not the only ones - would switch to the Russian orientation very easily. And my concern, my fear actually is that one of these irrational characters stage some kind of provocation in the street, somebody would die in unexplained circumstances – maybe a politician from the irrational opposition, maybe an ordinary citizen. Somebody will die. Nobody will know how but he/she will be announced the martyr. There will be social disturbances. Then the Russians will come to offer internal assistance or something like this. And there will be an intervention… Russian style. I think this is a possible scenario... I saw some of the protesters today and I was shocked: they were carrying sticks. What is this? This is totally unlawful. It’s a threat to public order; It’s a threat to the police; it’s a threat to the citizens who do not agree with them.
Q: What’s your advice to the Georgian people?
A: I cannot offer advice. I have no authority to offer advice to Georgian people. I have a lot of Georgian friends and I can just talk to them alone.
Q: So, talking to your Georgian friends, what’s your advice to them?
A: Keep going in this way because this is the right way.
By Maia Edilashvili