The Way Forward: Georgia's Democratic Vision for the Future
Saakashvili, Mikheil, Harvard International Review
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia inherited a wide array of challenges inherent to the post-Soviet political, economic, and geopolitical landscape: entrenched corruption, unaccountable political elites, external manipulation, a lack of energy security, ethnic discord, and a government unable to pursue comprehensive reforms. The country also inherited something new for fledgling post-Soviet states: choices. Independence brought new opportunities for economic and political revitalization and also demanded that leaders form a comprehensive vision for the national future--a duty that had not rested in Tbilisi's hands for seven decades.
Georgia both benefited and suffered from the collapse of the Soviet Union. It benefited because freedom and independence are inherently preferable to tyranny and central control. It suffered because, in the first decade after independence, Georgian leaders were unable to chart a strategic course for achieving national goals. In the ensuing political and economic vacuum, state weakness was easily exploited by foreign manipulation, domestic vigilantism, and criminal plundering.
Although chaotic and unforeseen, the collapse of the Soviet Union is generally viewed as relatively bloodless. Yet Georgia experienced a disproportionate share of violence in the massacre of pro-independence protesters during the tail end of the Gorbachev years and in the separatist conflict and civil war that ravaged the country through the early 1990s. The war in Abkhazia alone killed thousands, displaced one quarter-million Georgians from their homes, and swiftly deteriorated the quality of life for the diverse peoples of Abkhazia. The price paid for Tbilisi's failure to demonstrate a better path was immense. These various challenges contributed to Georgia's post-Soviet choice being sidelined, as the country limped along with little hope of reviving from a decade of stagnation.
A Georgian Vision
The Rose Revolution of November 2003 marked a turning point in Georgia's modern history. It showed that the Georgian people did not lose the ability to choose for themselves the path for their future. Georgians exhibited unity and discipline, armed only with the belief that through fairness, equality, and determination, their country could regain its prosperity and dignity. As the protests grew and the awareness of the magnitude of the movement spread, it became clear that the people of Georgia were not merely protesting electoral fraud; we were coming together to right the mistakes of the past and transform society.
Two years after the Rose Revolution, Georgia is a transformed country, part of an emerging Black Sea region characterized by the advancement of democracy and robust economic growth. The return of the rule of law, human rights, transparency, and the delivery of basic public services signifies that Georgia can respond to the challenges posed by democratic governance. Finally, Georgians are making positive choices that are moving the country out of the shadow of its past. Georgia has provided the region and the world with a profoundly hopeful story--a story of nationwide participation, resurgence, and the irresistible power of democracy. Not least of all, we have proven to ourselves that we have the power to transform our society, which means there is no excuse for the failure to do so. Today, Georgia is no longer merely "post-Soviet" but is realizing its role as a Black Sea nation with a European future.
The Fight Against Corruption
Before the Rose Revolution, the authorities passively accepted corruption as an inherent part of Georgia's economic and political system. We have rejected this outright. While a lack of accountability once allowed corruption to flourish at all levels of government, Georgia is no longer a corrupt state. Though corruption has not been totally eradicated, our anti-corruption strategy, rooted in the disciplined application of the rule of law, has changed the rules of the game to provide a fundamental accountability that brings corruption to light and makes it unsustainable. …