So How Much Punishment?
04 October, 2012


The two things that ended the National Movement's monopoly on state power started very early on: the punishment of those in Shevardnadze's government and the amendment of the constitution on 6 February 2004.


When the United National Movement came into power suddenly in late November 2003, the state had no money. Those from Shevardnadze's government who had had their hands in the till for many years, were trying to leave or get money out. At the advice of Leoluca Orlando, the

former mayor of Palermo (recently reelected by the way), the new government tried to get as much money from these individuals as possible in exchange for letting them out of jail. It worked and I have to admit I was somewhat sympathetic to it at the time. Everybody had watched these characters suck money out of the economy for years. Everybody knew that the courts could not provide a fair trial. The policy choices were limited. The system couldn't deal with them, so a system of sorts was created with the predominant and completely understandable goal of taking their money. Many of them made it out in time, mainly to Russia but some stayed, paid. I even see some of them on the street on occasion.


But the system had some flaws. The first problem was that it was not formulaic. There should have been a way in which individuals who had funds were formally charged in some type of special court and all of those individuals should have been charged, but with an end date. But some were never charged. For whatever reason there were those who didn't really go through that process. At the same time, it was not transparent. Nobody knew who had to pay how much or where that money went. I don't think that it was pocketed, but nobody really knows. Rather than ending at some point, that system simply changed into the current criminal justice system. Currently there is the so called zero tolerance attitude towards crime, which means when somebody is arrested, they know it will end in one of two ways, they will pay money and get a reduced sentence or they will go to trial, loose the trial and spend many years in jail. The ruling party replaced every single judge and I have never met anybody (who doesn't work for the government) that believes that Georigan judges are independent. And we all know what Georgian jails are like. The entire system gives complete control to prosecutors and there is no public reporting about the amounts or practically anything else. This system also lead to the rise of Kudi and Sodi the internal security branches of the Interior Ministry which have become a force beyond the law and can intimidate who they choose.


The second thing they did which ultimately ended badly was amending the constitution on 6 February 2004. This was done in order to set up a framework that would be convenient for Misha and Zura Zhvania to work. It was illegal and it was done in only three days before the new parliamentary elections had been held. The MPs were individually threatened into voting for it. I am proud to say I was the only international who spoke publicly on TV at the time against the amendments. It but it happened so quickly that there was not time for any opposition to organize against it but of course that was the point of moving so quickly, another bad habit the ruling party picked up. The leadership said at the time that it was in a hurry and didn't have time to mess around with details like the constitution; they had a state to build. But they continued to act that way, doing whatever they want, passing whatever law they wanted, with little or no discussion.


So many great things happened: the administrative reforms, the end of petty corruption, fixing roads, and in general creating a real state. But at the same time, a big part of it was based on punishment. On treating people as if they were a problem to be rolled over rather than a constituent group to be listened to. Georgian Dream should take note, because at least in parliament, we now have a similar situation. There are those who are calling for punishment. But remember that for the state to punish, they have to create a mechanism for that punishment to take place; some institutional framework to carry out the punishment. And that can take on a life of its own. So far this year of power sharing looks as if it may be a great thing for Georgia. But be careful about anger as a motivation, and spending too much time making lists of who to punish. We will reap later what we sew right now.