Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Hegemony of the European Project in Georgia: From Foreign Policy Initiative to the Logic of State Building and Development

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Hegemony of the European Project in Georgia: From Foreign Policy Initiative to the Logic of State Building and Development

Article excerpt

Since the Rose Revolution in 2003, President Saakashvili and the United National Movement (UNM) government have been in the spotlight of the research community. The main subject of scrutiny has been the UNM-driven reforms, initiatives, and activities in the period between 2004 and 2012. Most academic analyses begin by praising President Saakashvili for a peaceful revolution and certain achievements in the realm of state-building. Gradually, however, this admiration dissipates, replaced by criticism for cracking down on democratic institutions. Near its apex, the story of Saakashvili's presidency comes to be complemented with praise for the peaceful transfer of power to his opponent, which set a positive precedent in Georgian history. Saakashvili's presidential legacy is much contested: at the national level, there is strong opposition to the way in which he subjected Georgians to a "revolutionary" social project they were not prepared for, while internationally he is evaluated against the benchmarks of liberal democracy. The results of such analysis are mixed but sometimes more negative than positive. This leads to the puzzle of how did President Saakashvili, in spite of continuous criticism for being less than democratic, score progress in taking Georgia further toward European integration? In contrast to most of the existing literature, this article claims that by foreclosing political channels for legitimate and illegitimate dissent, President Saakashvili ensured the hegemony of the European project as the sole roadmap for Georgia's national development, thus entrenching Europe in the country once and for all.

This article seeks to solve the puzzle by analyzing the processes and elements of hegemonization of the European project. The UNM government was repeatedly criticized for weakening opponents' access to channels of participation, particularly in liberal democratic institutions. As such, the primary goal is to analyze internal political contestation, specifically: 1. Opponents' demands, in order to assess whether they could have been included in a hegemonic project; 2. Their involvement with the UNM government as the legitimate executers of "power acts"; and 3. The UNM government's reactions to opponents' demands while implementing its project of state-building and democratic development. Moreover, the research scrutinizes institutional and democratic reforms driven by the UNM that were designed to prevent opponents' participation.

Before turning to these questions, the article will analyze the European project. Different research publications refer to the UNM-driven hegemonic project differently: some call it a modernization project, while others describe it as a revolutionary project. Thus, this article will explain why the project was European, who its architects were, and how it was sustained. In its conclusion, the article will summarize why the UNM had to close political channels to ensure continued implementation of the European project, even though such behavior was tainting the project itself. All in all, the article seeks to complement the vast literature on the reforms of the UNM government through the novel lens of the European project.

The Concept of Hegemony

The year 2004 marks the beginning of the "hegemony" of the European project in Georgia in the sense put forward by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. (1) Almost immediately after coming to power, President Saakashvili institutionalized the European project as the primary means of returning Georgia to the context from which it had, he said, been dislocated over the course of history: Europe. This pushed EU integration up the political agenda, upgrading it from a foreign policy initiative to a component of the logic of state-building and development. The project, also known as the Euro-Atlantic integration policy, was presented as liberal-democratic, as it zeroed in on the institutionalization of standards, principles, norms, and values of liberal democracy initiated and elaborated by the EU as well as NATO in close cooperation with the Georgian government. …

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