Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Georgia as a Laboratory for Democracy

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Georgia as a Laboratory for Democracy

Article excerpt

For a country of such modest size, Georgia has recently been at the center of considerable international attention. One major reason for this is the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, a project initiated in the 1990s during the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze. This pipeline is essentially complete and will soon transport a million barrels of oil per day to the West without going through Russia, Iran, or the Bosporus Straits. It is so important for the region that analysts assert that it "reconfigures the mental map with which political observers and decision-makers look at the world."1

Equally important for the future of Georgia, however, is the Rose Revolution of 2003 and the events that have unfolded in its wake. The revolution was an important step in creating one of the most important laboratories for democracy in the world today, and it provides a context in which political, cultural, and economic issues have played out over the past year and a half.

The effects of the BTC pipeline and Rose Revolution have been interpreted in different ways, and part of this article is devoted to presenting the different perspectives involved. In particular, American and Russian views often stand in sharp contrast to each other, providing a continuing source of friction between the two countries. The upshot for Georgia is that it will continue to receive considerable international attention for the foreseeable future.

As many events in the former Soviet Union have shown, predicting the future in a place such as Georgia is a high-risk venture; therefore, I shall not attempt to do so in this article. It is possible, however, to identify some core issues around which the future will be worked out. These issues will be my focus. The three issues I discuss are: (1) economic development, (2) territory, and (3) the development of a strong, well-functioning state. The first case concerns the economic viability of the country, the second involves the extent and organization of Georgia's territory, and the third deals with whether the country can develop the norms required of a modern state.

These three issues are interrelated, but they tend to show up in different discussions conducted by different policy and academic communities. One thing they have in common, however, is that they are playing out against the backdrop of the Rose Revolution, so I shall begin with a brief review of this event.

The Rose Revolution as Backdrop

The Rose Revolution was an extraordinary event that put Georgia on the international stage for several days in November 2003. It brought Mikheil Saakashvili, a young populist critic of Shevardnadze's corrupt government, to power and initiated the region's most important experiment in democracy. The ramifications of this revolution extend well beyond Georgia's borders. It has made democratic movements thinkable in places such as Ukraine, a country where Georgian flags sprouted in the rallies of the Orange Revolution last winter. It is also brought up in discussions about potential democratic transitions in other places, including Russia.

A few basic forces at work prior to the Rose Revolution provide insight into why it took place. The first was the civil society that was struggling to emerge at the time. Numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) had been active in Georgia for years, and they clearly had an impact on government and society by the time of the parliamentary elections of November 2, 2003. Some of these NGOs had actively defended the rights of religious and ethnic groups, which helped create a new kind of public discourse. Opinion differs as to just how important NGOs were in the revolution, but observers generally agree that they at least played a role in laying the groundwork for the event. This view is supported by the fact that after the Rose Revolution, leaders of countries such as Uzbekistan, Russia, and Kazakhstan, where such upheaval is viewed with trepidation, have restricted or simply closed down several NGOs. …

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