05 September, 2013
“Georgia is not Ukraine and it must be given the chance to prove it”. “The superficial similarities between the arrests of former Georgian and Ukrainian PM’s Vano Merabishvili and Yulia Tymoshenko should not be used to undermine attempts to support the rule of law in Georgia”, - argues Columbia University’s Lincoln Mitchell.
A few months ago Georgia’s new Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani delivered a speech at Columbia University where I teach. This was the first speech by a member of
the Georgian Government since the October 2012 election, which saw the defeat of Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) at the hands of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream.
As I chatted with Tsulukiani in my office before her speech, I was a little nervous. During recent years events about Georgia have often been tumultuous at Columbia, with disagreements between speakers, accusations of being a Russian spy hurled at any critic of the Georgian Government and Georgian students being harassed by representatives of their government all very common.
I also did not know what to expect from the event because Tsulukiani, as Justice Minister, had been the person most identified with the spate of arrests of high ranking members of the previous regime in the early months of the new government. These arrests had led to loud criticism from many in the US and Europe - a problem for the new government seeking to strengthen their international image.
However, Tsulukiani, a prominent human rights lawyer with over a decade of experience working at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) investigating the abuses of the Saakashvili regime, was a far cry from Georgia’s former Justice Minister - an enforcer of the previous government’s non-democratic rule who fled the country as soon as his party was defeated.
Guided by her experience at the ECHR, Tsulukiani explained that these arrests were not a political revenge, as critics of the new government maintained, but efforts by a new government to restore the rule of law to a country where the previous government had become increasingly corrupt and abusive towards its citizens.
My concerns were heightened when Tsulukiani and I walked into the room before her address with only a few faculty members and students in the crowd. The rest of the audiences were Georgians from around New York. After the talk, we opened the floor up to questions. The Georgians in the room were angry and wanted to ask Tsulukiani about the arrests. However, they were mostly angry because they felt the new government had not arrested enough people and was too concerned with judicial niceties.
Therein lays the conflict over rule of law in Georgia today. Leaders in the US and Europe, largely out of embarrassment for their solid support of Georgia’s previous regime long after the Georgian people, international human rights groups and Georgian NGOs became aware of the degree of criminality and brutality in parts of that government, have expressed disappointment to see their friends arrested.
The new Georgian government, for its part, has a large constituency who are angry at a defeated government whose leaders are believed to have engaged in high level corruption, abused state resources for political gain, violently broken up demonstrations and tortured prisoners.
For countries like Georgia which do not rank among the most important foreign policy questions facing the US or Europe, narrative and heuristics are particularly important in Washington DC and other western capitals. Policymakers, pundits and kibitzers see these countries through brief but straightforward stories and analogies rather than by seeking nuanced understandings.
The current frame for Georgia is that of a popular western leader being defeated by pro-Russian forces seeking to move the country away from democracy. This frame fits another former Soviet country, Ukraine, quite well, so the temptation to apply it to Georgia is understandable. However, to understand Georgia this way is not only reductive but wildly inaccurate and requires ignoring the empirical reality in favour of the propaganda of a failed and defeated regime.
Currently, the application of the Ukraine frame to Georgia is expressed most overtly by viewing the recent arrest of former Georgian PM Vano Merabishvili as the equivalent of the imprisonment of former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko. The superficiality of the comparisun is clear; both are former PM’s who shortly after a change in power found themselves in jail. These similarities should not obscure the differences. Just because Tymoshenko is imprisoned under largely trumped up charges, does not mean that all former prime ministers who have been arrested are in a similar plight.
Merabishvili is not well known in the west, which is probably one of the major reasons his arrest has raised so much concern. As interior minister from late 2004 to mid 2012, Merabishvili, more than any other individual, was associated with the authoritarian excesses of the previous Georgian government. Violently dispersing rallies, bugging opposition phone lines, using police for political purposes and even involvement in unresolved murders, such as the head of the united Georgian bank’s foreign department Sandra Virgilian in 2006 are all linked to Merabishvili’s interior ministry.
As prime minister, Merabishvili was involved in efforts to use government resources to illegally support his political party which was on its way to being defeated in the 2012 parliamentary elections.
None of these allegations mean Merabishvili is guilty; and the need for a fair and transparent trial remains. However, these allegations suggest that the reason he was arrested was not because Merabishvili was a political opponent but because he was extensively involved in wrongdoing and illegality.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is leading his country away from democracy and towards a closer relationship with Russia. His presidency has been marked by limiting freedoms of media and assembly, continued corruption and abuses of power. Yanukovych won the 2010 election because of the weakness of the previous regime and the economic downturn of 2008.
Despite the fact that they both defeated people who were, at one time, very popular in the west, Yanukovych and Ivanishvili have little in common. Ivanishvili defeated a regime that had already descended into corruption, incompetence, torture and violence. Governing after the defeat of a regime like that requires reinstating the rule of law, but also, one way or another, reconciling the past. In that context, arresting leaders of the previous government is very different.
Efforts to restore the rule of law are not likely to be successful if no wrongdoers are punished. However, the new government needs to find a way to punish those who commanded the illegal acts and set up the system of violence and corruption, while allowing the state to continue to function. In this regard, it is significant that to date, Ivanishvili’s government has succeeded in limiting arrests to only the senior most culpable figures.
US and European calls for a fair trial for Merabishvili and others are important but statements of concern over the arrest are misplaced. To miss this point because of the superficial similarities between the Merabishvili and Tymoshenko cases to seriously misunderstand the current political situation and undermines attempts to support the rule of law in Georgia.
Georgia is not Ukraine, and it must be given the chance to prove it, as those former officials charged will be given the chance to prove their innocence.
Other Stories
International observers about the presidential election in Georgia
The presidential election took place on the 28th of October in Georgia.
First Ladies of Independent Georgia
The presidential election took place on the 28th of October in Georgia. It was the last election in which the president will be selected by popular vote.
Funny incidents on Election Day in Georgia
The presidential election took place on the 28th of October in Georgia.
Deadline for the second round of presidential elections in Georgia is December 2
Presidential elections were held on the 28th of October in Georgia. None of the candidates managed to get majority of votes, so the second round of elections is to be appointed.
The USA National Security Advisor John Bolton is in Georgia
National Security Advisor of the United States John Bolton visited Georgia today.
People are detained at the Cannabis Festival
Today, Georgian political movement Girchi holds an event in the Dedaena Park called the Cannabis Festival.
Top safest countries and Georgia is among them - new survey says
Georgia is among the safest countries in the world. This fact is substantiated by various surveys and researches.
Who is interested in the cultivation of cannabis in Georgia?
Several weeks ago the government announced about its initiative to legalize the cultivation of medical marijuana in Georgia.
Fight in Gori – head of administration uses a bin full of manure
There was an incident yesterday in Gori municipality, Georgia at the entrance of the municipality building.
2 Georgian detainees freed from the Tskhinvali prison
Georgian detainees Maia Otinashvili and Akaki Dotiashvili are freed from the Tskhinvali prison. They had been accused of illegally crossing a so-called the borderline into the occupied Tskhinvali region.
Georgia might provide Far East countries with armored vehicles
LEPL State Military Scientific-Technical Center "Delta" might provide several Far East countries with armored vehicles, - “Delta” has informed InterPressNews about it.
Who can be the next first lady of Georgia?
On the 28th of October, presidential elections will be held in Georgia. The last elections in October 2013 resulted in a victory for Giorgi Margvelashvili, a candidate of the Georgian Dream (the ruling party).
Another Georgian kidnapped at the occupational line, stays detained
Maia Otinashvili (a mother of three children) was detained in her own garden on the 19th of September. Eyewitnesses claim that she was kidnapped by armed people with masks.
Fight broke out in the Georgian TV show
Fight in the Georgian Show Archevani (a choice) broke out between the guests yesterday.
7 amendments that come in force today in Georgia
On the 1st of October, 7 new amendments come in force in Georgia.
Speaker of the parliament plays Knockin' on Heaven's Door
What do the politicians do when they have free time? It is an interesting issue in every country.
What are the new New Year decorations for Tbilisi
New Year decorations and its price in Tbilisi is always a matter of discussion in the capital.
Mamuka Bakhtadze gives a speech at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly
Mamuka Bakhtadze, the prime minister of Georgia is attending the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly from the 24th of September.
Georgia will ban use, import and production of plastic bags
The Georgian government has decided to tighten rules regulating use of plastic bags in Georgia.
The parliament returns to Tbilisi
The Parliament of Georgia will continue working in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia from January 2019. Currently, the building is located in Kutaisi (west Georgia).
Mamuka Bakhtadze is visiting the USA within the working visit
The Georgian PM Mamuka Bakhtadze Brought a wreath to the tomb of the Georgian military serviceman John Malkhaz Shalikashvili.
Use of plastic bags to be reduced from the 1st of October
Within the framework of the Green Economics and Environmental Protection Policy the Georgian government has approved new regulations
Four Russian Journalists have not been allowed to enter Georgia
Three members of the Russian delegation were not allowed to enter Georgia as this would have violated the Law on the Occupied Territories of Georgia.
Tbilisi sign may appear on the Funicular hill
Hollywood has become a source of inspiration for many people worldwide. A similar idea from a Tbilisi citizen sounds very clever and attractive.
Russia was at an undeclared war with Georgia for years - Matthew Bryza
I think anybody who has observed how Russia has been conducting its war in Ukraine should realize that Russia was at war with Georgia, an undeclared war for years,
Exchange Rates
GEL Exchange Rate
Other Stories
On 26 May, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, joined celebrations in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi
Violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by Assad regime has been strictly criticized
Exactly one year ago, Georgia was granted visa-free travel with the European Union.
Georgia’s ex-president president Mikheil Saakashvili's supporters managed to free detained Mikheil Saakashvili in the center of Kiev.
The US Ambassador to Georgia Ian Kelly congratulates Georgia on Independence Day.
The regulations on the introduction of visa-free travel for citizens of Georgia have been officially signed in Brussels.
The entire Georgia is involved in Secret Santa game, which means that people are sending gifts to each other secretly
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia is taking part in NATO Ministerial underway in Brussels, Belgium.
A special squad has been mobilized at the 48th polling station in Marneuli, Kvemo Kartli region.
Two politicians in Georgia have come to blows during a live TV debate ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections, Euronews reports.
GEL Exchange
November 2018
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30