Pirates and Platforms
07 March, 2013
For the last few decades the traditional right left spectrum has less and less meaning in world politics. And yet the worlds newest political movement has not yet made it to Georgia.

Traditionally, there were parties on the left which favored workers and the unions who represented them and there were parties on the right which favored business and capital. But that distinction is less relevant in an era of smaller businesses and services. First of all, few in established
democracies argue for a bigger state as a solution to problems. At the same time the more rightest parties are becoming increasingly anti-free market in their habit of trying to subsidize big business. In independent Georgia the right left spectrum has never been clear. The Soviet Union was a seventy year experiment in state control and hypocrisy, and despite the fact that it created equality, few will argue that it provides a model of any sort. Under Shevardnadze, the state itself was so weak that the spectrum had more to do with loyalty to Shevardnadze versus those who weren’t than it did right v left. The most recent former government spoke of itself as pro-market and it was for small bussinesses. But in the higher reaches of the economy when the numbers got bigger, the state was always close at hand. The views of the new government are not clear, the old labor code was pro employer and the new draft is allegedly pro-employee but in reality it is more anti-small business than it is pro-employee.

Currently, what the two main political groups in the country stand for is not yet clear. They both say about the other that it controls or controlled the media, that it abuses or abused human rights, that it merges or merged the party with the state, and persecutes or persecuted its opponents. But the actual policies they stand for is not yet clear. Certainly the former government spoke more grandly of relations with the west but if they actually furthered relations more with the west than the new regime will is not yet clear. The former government was open, for investment, tourists, capital, and immigrants as well as to groups less traditionally enfranchised in Georgia, for example religious and sexual minorities. Some members of the new government have made statements indicating a nationalist and backward looking retreat on openness but again it is not clear if this is just talk or if this is a real part of the platform that will become actual policy soon.

As the new government more clearly comprehends that it actually won the election and gets more comfortable in its ability to set the national course, some of these things may become more apparent and it is possible in a few years that Georgia’s voters may have a clear choice between different ideas that political groups stand for. But until that happens it is worth looking at the thee main post cold war changes in political ideology in the word but particularly in Europe. The first was the rise of the green parties in the nineties. They now have a firm hold in most European parliaments. Their goal is simple, they are concerned above all with human caused climate change and with other environmental problems. In this they take a stand agents the close relationship between big business and government. In Georgia, the former government had a terrible environmental record, government officials would often even question wether human activity is changing the climate. Some comments by members of the new government give cause for hope but it is not clear yet if this will mean anything in terms of real action. And also not clear if the Green party itself will ever move beyond personalities to be a real political force in Georgia.

The second major change came about more slowly and less obviously but it has had to do with a concern about equality. For about forty years in many wealthy countries, particularly the United States, populations have been becoming less equal. The rich control more and more of the economy and the poor less and less. This now has great influence in discussions around how to solve the Euro crisis and several parties are changing their rhetoric and platforms because of this, but it has not led to any new parties. Georgia also became less equal in the last nine years but there was unprecedented economic growth, and some people believe that the growth is more important than economic equality. This is the topic of the international best seller, Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt recently translated into Georgian by Radarami. The views of the new government on this matter are not yet clear.

The most recent mew political movement in the west is the Pirate Party. It started in Sweden in 2007 when large recording companies were encouraging the US government but also European Union to prosecute people using file share programs, particularly one of the largest called Pirate Bay. For many years large companies that own copyrights have used their lobbying ability with parliaments and the US congress to their advantage against consumers and citizens’ natural inclination to share. The Internet has not been good for business for them and they are fighting it every step of the way. The Pirate Party stepped in to represent citizens and to fight against big business and government trying to control the internet. They also fought against secret government surveillance of people on line. The party is mainly supported by highly educated young people and is already represented in some national parliaments, several regional parliaments, and even the European Parliament itself. Georgia’s former government had a terrible record on illicit government surveillance. And yet although the new government has complained about it bitterly and started prosecutions, they have not even started to dismantled the infrastructure or clarify citizens’ rights and so continue to have the same ability to secretly observe citizens as the old team.

The Internet and the large scale access to information and the shared data analysis it allows is one of the biggest changes in human society in many generations. Other than people acting like demagogues on Facebook and other not so exciting opportunities, it is not clear yet how it will fundamentally change politics in Georgia or in the world, particularly wether the internet will be used by big business and big government to consolidate their advantages or will be used by citizens to make the world more democratic. But change will happen. And it is worthy of note that Georgia is now the only democracy in Europe that has no Pirate Party.