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What is the Otsneba Brand
11 October, 2014
I have a difficult time saying what the Georgian Dream Coalition (Otsneba in Georgian) stands for. What is its brand? Apple computers are thought to be clean, well designed, expensive, beautiful. BMW cars are high quality and macho. Successful products work on their brands as much as the things they actually sell. It is no different for political parties. Nothing will kill a party faster than if people don't know what it stands for. And the brand of a party
can only change as quickly or slowly as the opinion of the voters change. So what does the Georgian Dream stand for or believe in?

Since the late eighties, there is a tradition in Georgia of people creating parties and keeping them as their personal vehicle. The National Democratic Party has been lost since Gia Chanturia was killed. What is the Laborist party without Shalva Natelashvili? Citizens Union was made in Shevardnadze's mold, it was a balancing act between the young reformers (some would sarcastically say the young English speakers) in parliament and the corrupt old communists in the Executive. When the reformers left it, the corruption was exposed and it all evaporated. Twelve years ago when the opposition to Shevardnadze was in talks about merging, Misha told Zura Zhvania, you are welcome to join my party whenever you want. That party was his and it was the vehicle he used to end Shevardnadze political career.

UNMs brand somehow mirrors Misha's: young, fast, not interested in listening, interested in public opinion but not so interested in people. Ready to transform Georgia into a capitalist paradise whether the people wanted it or not or even understood what that meant. Pro-western in public comments and deeply anti-Russian. Even from the early days in power there was a sense, like them or not, that voters know who these people were. And by 2005 they had shown themselves to be good at ending administrative corruption.

To be fair the UNM is a party, and a party organized around Misha. How closely connected the party is to Misha and to its former leaders will be important in deciding its fate. But it is one single party. Otsneba is a coalition. It has some western educated people and groups within it. But it also has less western looking more nationalistic groups within it with a very different vision. It has people connected with it from older administrations and it has some new faces. Like the Citizens Union it is a very broad coalition so maybe it doesn't have to have one single brand. But then what holds it together? Why not just have its very different parts compete independently within Georgia's political sphere?

The UNM tries to paint Otsneba as incompetent. And yet the parliament is a much stronger institution than it was under the UNM who significantly weakened it. NATO is much happier with defense policy now than under the UNM. The judiciary is slowly becoming more independent. But there isn't a clear logic to which policies are pursued and which are ignored or botched. There isn't much of a logical framework that people can understand. Is it left or right? The UNM seems to think it has a monopoly on being pro-western. It doesn't. But is Otsneba pro west? Is their heart really in it? What do they really care about most of all? What would they like Georgia to look like in ten years?

Most of all it is the party that ended Misha's reign. That is still what most of its leaders get most excited about when they speak. And the UNM is still around. If you listen to some in Otsneba the most important thing Georgia needs to spend its time on it hunting down the last UNM supporters and silencing them. But most people don't agree. They have other priorities; the same priorities that people around the world have, jobs, education, safety, etc. And I am not sure there is agreement within Otsneba about those. Which do they think are important and why and how they will they pursue them? I wish I knew. It's time for us to get a better understanding about that.


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