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The One-Party State in Georgia

Thomas de Waal describes Georgia ahead of Saakashvili’s meeting with Obama next week:

Saakashvili’s Georgia could be described as a mix of non-Russia and anti-Russia. “Non-Russia” refers to the country’s public service reforms, its recent law on the tolerance of religious minorities and its persistent tradition of pluralism. “Anti-Russia” means behavior that, in its extreme defiance of Vladimir Putin and his rule, frequently ends up mirroring them [bold mine-DL]. Such behavior includes inflammatory rhetoric toward Russia (Saakashvili last year described Georgia as “civilization” and Russia as “barbarism”) and a worrying concentration of power in a few hands.

Present-day Georgia, as with Russia, is basically a one-party state in which a small group of elites control the executive, parliament, all regional authorities and the three national television channels. The judiciary is less than free. The dark side of Georgia’s campaign against corruption and criminality is that it has empowered a large and unaccountable police force. The country’s prisons are bursting with many inmates who should not be there; in 2011, Georgia ranked fourth in the world in the number of prisoners per capita.

While some Americans are becoming more aware of this, many of the country’s American supporters keep trying to perpetuate the myth of Georgia as an example of successful democratization. They feel compelled to do this because the current U.S.-Georgian relationship is justified mostly on ideological grounds. It has had to be that way when the U.S. has no great interest in cultivating a poor client state in the Caucasus.

The opposition politician Irakli Alasania has elaborated elsewhere on the extent of one-party rule:

Just as we face threats from beyond our borders, though, there is another challenge from within that is stifling our natural love of freedom today. That threat is the unyielding monopoly on power that Saakashvili and his political party exercise in all aspects of Georgian public life. More than 80 percent of the current parliament is controlled by his party. All television stations with national reach broadcast a pro-governmental message. The top-down order Saakashvili has created often shows itself in ugly ways. Earlier this month, 15 youngsters were beaten at a public concert for saying the name of an alternative political leader. In its annual report this year, Human Rights Watch included Georgia among the 90 countries in the world requiring special scrutiny and called out the current government for its lack of accountability on multiple fronts.

Should Saakashvili move to the newly-empowered post of prime minister after his presidential term ends, as some fear that he will, that should put an end to whatever remains of the illusion in the West that he has much interest in political liberalization. De Waal explains the attitude of Georgia’s elite towards democracy:

Georgia’s elite are modernizers, not democrats. They occasionally say that they cannot afford to allow more democracy in their country because that would “stop reforms,” opposition politicians would gain power and Georgia would slide backward.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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