How to Turn The Page
04 July, 2013

The two main political forces in Georgia are talking across each other and it is beginning to cause problems. From 2004 until 2012 some very good things happened and some very bad things happened. Georgian Dream won the elections because of those bad things, but the former government doesn't want to discuss them. It doesn't want to apologize and it will for the most part not admit they happened. In fact they complain that Georigan Dream people don't spend enough

time talking about the good things they did.

This puts the Georgian Dream in a complex position. What Georgia needs is to put these things behind it and move forward with the economy and many other things that need to be addressed. But a necessary precondition to that is former officials recognizing what most people in Georgia recognize, that they did some unethical things and some of those unethical things were against the law, some civil and some criminal. Some in the current ruling team would like to move on from these, others are enjoying their revenge.

The former ruling team and their allies' message is that all these arrests are politically motivated. Well…sort of, but it depends on how you look at it, this is not a simple question. If individual officials who oversaw illegal activity and are still in Georgia will not admit it, then the only real choice is the courts. If those officials admitted what they have done and say they are sorry, they may still have to go to court, but in some ways it would become less political because everybody would be on the same page. Now, because those former officials are admitting no wrong-doing and are not telling us the truth on their own, the current government is using every other method including the courts to get that truth out. And if the individuals who compose the former ruling team refuse to admit any wrong doing, then it would be understandable for the current ruling team to have concerns about their fitness to rule.

It is particularly annoying that the former officials imply that they should be immune from prosecution simply because they are now the opposition. They certainly didn't give their opposition that luxury. The situation is not helped by the fact that, as has always been the case in Georgia, the prosecutors office and financial police investigators are their own independent power and can be political when they want to be. Under the former ruling team, the prosecutors had almost unlimited power, and what they did was bring people in, guilty or not, and force confessions. But within the system they created for all its problems and unfairness, it was an efficient and quietly run structure, which was why it was so little commented on internationally. And one of the problems now is that some in the international community who didn't complain much about the problems of the former ruling team, are a little embarrassed about it now and are concealing their embarrassment by attacking those currently in charge.

But in the last few years, even mid level prosecutors had become a force of their own. Currently the prosecutors office itself decides what and who it will prosecute, and we now see the financial police have the same power, no matter how incompetently they exercise it. The government is reluctant to get involved because supposedly who is prosecuted is not political, supposedly it is purely technical although of course it is political. But this is still not an easy situation to solve. Should the leadership let the prosecutors and financial inspectors botch the job on their own and hope eventually some trials will start even though they seem to have even bigger problems bringing cases to trial than they do in questioning and arresting people in a normal way? Or should the political leadership start to control this more? This has its own disadvantages, particularly if the political leadership wants to continue pretending this is a purely technical matter.

This brings up the question of who is overseeing this process. In the old system the President made the decisions, and those decisions were rarely based on any written or detailed analysis and where often simply a whim and a whim he wanted implemented quickly. The Prime Minister would then coordinate the implementation of those decisions, made sure that the other ministries were talking to each other and that decisions and their consequences would be looked at from different angles and dealt with as professionally as possible. So how does that work now? The power is held by the Prime Minister and he makes the decisions. But whose job is it to make sure things work smoothly and that the different ministries and groups talk to each other and take each other's responsibilities into account? It could be the Finance Minister since he oversees funds but it isn't. It could be a Vice Prime Ministers but those are currently political figures rather being chosen to be effective managers. And in the case of the prosecutors and financial inspectors, the Justice Ministry now has no official role of overseeing these prosecutions. But by looking at the Georgian media, prosecutions and investigations is 80% of the activity of the current government, so it is a pretty big oversight responsibility that nobody seems to have.

Apologies are rare in Georgia. People learn from a very early age to defend their own and their friends position, whether it is right or wrong, until the very end. And accepting apologies is not viewed as a social obligation. Who ever thinks he deserves an apology needs to signal to whoever has done something wrong know that the apology will be accepted and will have some meaning of value. The only thing more difficult than a sincere heartfelt public apology is to have it thrown back in your face as insufficient or irrelevant. If that is going to happen, why make an apology in the first place? Better to just keep living in denial and fighting each allegation via ad hominem attacks and based on procedural detail. A real apology means being ready, willing and enthusiastic about the details of the truth coming out and not hiding from it. Saying "mistakes were made" or "we apologize for those wrong things now let's quickly move on" are not real apologies. Fear of recognition is usually what prevents real apologies. A real apology requires a detailed look at what happened. And of course forced apologies aren't apologies at all.

Attitudes to apologies will define the polities of Georgia for the near future. Some in the old government will realize that to reenter politics they will have to be honest about things that happened. Some will not and will try to fight to the end and will move off into political irrelevance. Within the ruling team there will be those who will accept apologies along with quick judicial processes as a part of a settlement in order to move on and get to work on the economy and other issues. And there will be those in the ruling team who enjoy the vengeance or will justify their vengeance by deciding that they their vengeance is somehow in the national interest. This group will prolong their enjoyment of this vengeance as long as they can, no matter what anybody says. With the National Movement, it was the vengeance against Shevardnadze's officials that planted the seeds of their own collapse. And it may end up being the same with the current ruling coalition.