Georgia President Talks About Post-Soviet Democracy
Feburary 2, 2012 – The president of Georgia told a university audience today that his country has taken steps in the past 20 years to install a democratic, corrupt-free society and catch up with Western ideals despite conflict with neighboring Russia.
“In the past [world leaders] thought corruption was cultural but they underestimated us,” said Mikheil Saakashvili, who won a presidential election in January 2004 after Georgia’s Rose Revolution questioned parliamentary elections the year before. “They thought it was very easy to manipulate our people into all kind of electoral promises … every election they underestimated [the Georgian people].”
The Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies (CERES), the BMW Center for German and European Studies and the School of Foreign Service (SFS) co-sponsored the “Why Georgia’s Transformation Matters in the Post-Soviet Space” address in Gaston Hall.
Saakashvili said he thinks that the former Soviet republic could still have normal relations with Russia despite the 2008 conflict, when Russian and Georgian troops engaged each other near the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
“We are compatible with each of our neighbors – otherwise my small nation wouldn’t have survived in that environment,” he said. “If you listen to what [they’re saying in Russia], every major leader in Moscow right now says they want Georgia-type reform.”
Saakashvili, who attended Columbia University and George Washington University in the 1990s, visited Washington this week, meeting with President Obama and other U.S. leaders.
Full of Ideals
He said Obama publicly thanked him for the democratic reforms in Georgia.
The process to democratize Georgia after the Rose Revolution was a daunting one, especially for the relatively young new leaders, he explained.
“They were full of ideals, the wanted to change something,” Saakashvili said. “They knew the challenge was so huge, they didn’t know where to start.”
The reforms made in Georgia, he noted, included firing the police force and recruiting new officers, shrinking government agencies and bureaucracy by 90 percent to increase efficiency and reforming public sectors in energy production, education and health care.
“The World Bank just issued a report praising Georgia as a model for successfully dealing with corruption,” said Angela Stent, director of CERES at Georgetown. “President Saakashvili eloquently presented Georgia's reform program and its accomplishments in introducing better governance to Georgia.”
Committed to Democracy
A 2012 World Bank report states that Georgia reduced crime by more than 50 percent and armed robberies by 80 percent between 2006 and 2010.
Jeffrey Anderson, Graf Goltz Professor and director of the BMW Center, said Saakashvili is aware of the criticisms facing Georgia and needs to navigate through complications both at home and abroad to sustain the country’s current success.
“He certainly came across as someone committed to democracy, someone committed to process, someone committed to institutionalizing politics, so it doesn’t rely on one person or one party,” Anderson said.