Democracy factor between Georgia and Russia
GÜNER ÖZKANAt the beginning they were all democrats. The states that emerged from the Soviet ashes embraced liberal democracy, assuming that it would replace their old Soviet thinking with something better and expected cures for their entrenched social, economic, security and identity problems. Although they showed some success in the initial stage, their practice of democracy went largely from bad to worse and failed to develop in their 20 years of independence. It was just the color revolutions between 2003 and 2005 which created a second chance for the development of democracy in post-Soviet states, but only Georgia maintained that spirit and had it flourish with the latest parliamentary elections on October 1. However, though Georgia now looks successful, it has to overcome a great challenge posed by its big northern neighbor Russia, because the latter’s understanding of democracy is incompatible with that of the former.
Clashing views on democracy
Russia worked hard to degrade the Rose Revolution of 2003 in Georgia, but its attempts remained unsuccessful because Georgia has always had more options in terms of meeting the economic and security needs of the country than Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Another important factor is that any small country like Georgia that is politically fragmented and ethnically diverse needs democracy, not because it is the most ideal method of governance, but because it is the only effective tool for the stability and survival of the country. On the other hand, a great power like Russia, despite having similar political divisions, economic weakness and ethnic splits, acts differently and moves toward authoritarianism for the sake of security and stability. Russia’s political experience since 2000 when Vladimir Putin came to power appears to have proven this.
Therefore, Georgia and Russia had different views about the questions of why and what kind of democracy they should adopt for their countries. Basically, Russia under Putin developed “sovereign democracy,” implying that it has its own unique understanding of it. That is, the “sovereign democracy” of Putin has stressed that Russia actually had a democratic regime which was stressed to be accepted as it was. With this urge, Russia has refused any external critiques directed toward its understanding of democracy and practice as a violation of its internal affairs. It is because of this that since 2006 Russia has actively suppressed domestic demands for more democracy, turned a blind eye to human rights violations in the country and closed down a number of civil society organizations and nongovernmental organizations accused of having financial and other support from outside (mainly Western organizations) to weaken Russia from within.
Simply, Russia is not very interested in having a real democracy in its country and in the areas (post-Soviet geography) it sees as its sphere of influence. Of course, Georgian Dream has just come to power and will fully hold it after October 2013 when the new constitution comes into effect. The coming one-year period will be the real test of whether Georgian Dream is going to deliver its promises of more democracy, prosperity and stable external relations, especially with Russia.
So long as Georgia under Georgian Dream maintains a successful practice of democracy, this will allow Tbilisi to enter into further democratic, political and military integration with Western countries, and can make Georgia a model for opposition forces in the other post-Soviet states, especially in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Yet, even if the Ivanishvili administration wanted to build stable and peaceful relations with Russia, its likely ramifications will probably remain a disturbing factor for Moscow.
If Russia’s alarm over color revolutions and its suspicions of the Arab Spring are accepted as facts, it is less likely that Moscow will warmly welcome the successful practice of democracy by Georgia. It is because such a welcome by Russia and its deep and positive engagement with the new Georgian administration would after all further boost the development of democracy in Georgia. Whether or not this observation will be proven is soon to be tested by the kind of responses that Russia will give to Georgian Dream’s search for a new opening with Moscow, first in diplomatic and then economic and geopolitical relations.