Magazine article The American Conservative

Bloom off the Rose: Georgian "Democracy" Owes More to Josef Stalin Than Thomas Jefferson

Magazine article The American Conservative

Bloom off the Rose: Georgian "Democracy" Owes More to Josef Stalin Than Thomas Jefferson

Article excerpt

IT WAS WHEN WE LIFTED UP the filthy bedcovers that we saw the full extent of the gangrene. Half the man's leg was eaten away, and he screamed in agony. The women around him wailed too. There was no heating except for a puny electric cooking ring, which glowed dimly in the half-light. There was also no hope: neither this man nor any of his fellow refugees who were housed (if that is the right word) in a derelict building somewhere in the Georgian countryside had seen a doctor for months. Their food deliveries were sporadic. He would die within a matter of weeks.

This was Georgia in 1999, the year the country joined the Council of Europe, the continent's main human-rights body. To become a member, countries have to demonstrate that they have democratic governments and the rule of law. Georgia has plenty of these things on paper, but the trappings of Western progress are almost entirely absent. Ordinary Georgians live without electricity or heating for most of the day, in conditions of unimaginable poverty. Yet the country counts as pro-Western because it has been the focus for Western expansionism ever since the end of the Soviet Union, supported to the hilt by Republicans and Democrats alike.

The wretches who were dying for lack of medical treatment were Georgians who had fled the separatist region of Abkhazia during the first war fought there in 1992. Because of its geopolitical importance as a Black Sea state on Russia's border and because it is a transit country for the pipeline bringing Caspian crude to the West, Georgia had by then received countless millions in aid for these refugees and for democracy-building and civil-society projects. But the aid had been stolen and the refugees were left to rot.

Welcome to the country that the West holds up as a beacon of freedom, especially after the recent conflict between the Russian and Georgian armies over the other separatist region of South Ossetia. After the First World War, the Russian empire having collapsed into civil war, the great British geopolitician and strategist Sir Halford Mackinder traveled to Georgia as British High Commissioner to Southern Russia on behalf of the foreign secretary, Lord Curzon. He forced the White Russian commander, General Denikin, to promise Georgia and its neighbors independence because the British wanted to control the Baku-Batumi railway bringing oil from the Caspian to the Black Sea. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the West reacted in exactly the same way toward the Caucasus, and for the same reasons: Mackinder's American disciples have been focused on Georgia for years as a strategic forward point against Russia and because it is the main transit country for the Western-built BakuTbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.

Yet Georgia is not only the country that gave the world Stalin and his most violent henchmen, notably Lavrenti Beria and Grigory Ordzhonokidze. It is a country whose current first lady proclaimed that her husband was a worthy inheritor of those brutes. In 2004, Sandra Roeloffs, the Dutch wife of pro-American president Mikheil Saakashvili, told a newspaper in her home country, "Georgia has produced strong leaders: Stalin, Beria, Gamsakhurdia [the post-Soviet leader], even Shevardnadze before he became addicted to power. They looked further than Georgia alone. My husband does the same. He fits in the tradition. This country needs a strong hand. It is extremely important that respect for authority returns. I think my husband is the right person to frighten people."

Georgia certainly has a reputation for brutality. Following Russia's descent into anarchy under Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s, Russian mafia godfathers typically used thugs from the Caucasus for their protection rackets and as business partners. "Georgian" and "Caucasian" now have the same resonance for people in Russia as "Sicilian" used to have for Europeans and Americans--the very epitome of violent clannishness and ruthless gangsterism. …

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