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October 08, 2008

The Uncertainty of Georgian Democracy
Posted by The Editors

From NSN intern Eric Auner

The New York Times has just published an article on the state of Georgian democracy, and I thought that the topic was worth touching on again. The article focuses primarily on media suppression, and the picture that it paints is relatively grim. Some quotes:

“The cameras at Georgia’s main opposition broadcaster, Imedi, kept rolling Nov. 7, when masked riot police officers with machine guns burst into the studio. They smashed equipment, ordered employees and television guests to lie on the floor and confiscated their cellphones. A news anchor remained on-screen throughout, describing the mayhem. Then all went black.”

“A 2008 State Department report on Georgia’s democratic progress said that respect for freedom of speech, the press and assembly worsened during the 2007 crisis and that there continued to be reports of ‘law enforcement officers acting with impunity’ and ‘government pressure on the judiciary.’”

Hopefully this isn’t part of a swing from entirely blaming Russia to entirely blaming Georgia for the current situation, which would be unfortunate. Rather, the United States needs to look at its own influence in the region. Do we benefit the people of Georgia by holding up their “quasi-democracy” as a beacon of hope? Or do we rather impede progress? Indeed, even in the lead-up to the war, “the United States did not merely encourage Georgia’s young democracy, it helped militarize the weak Georgian state” and “embolden[ed] Georgia, if inadvertently, to enter a fight it could not win.”

The United States can play a positive role in the further democratization of “the most democratic of the former Soviet states in the region.” But this cannot be accomplished by handing Georgia a “blank check” and backing it regardless of the actions it takes, even when it acts “rashly.” We should hold the Georgian leadership to high, meaningful standards on political freedom and human rights and offer vocal criticism when they fail to meet those standards.

In light of all that, it is a bit disappointing that basically all McCain could say on the subject last night was that we need to “show our moral support for Georgia.” That’s all we need to do?


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You know, my wife and I were just discussing this over dinner, as we shouted to each other over the cacophonous din of the global economy and our nation's financial security tumbling down all around us. I said "Honey, you know that nothing is more central to our son's future security and well-being than the fate of democracy in Georgia? Not since the emergency involving our beloved American medical students in Granada during the Reagan years have I felt the same intimations of acute hazard as is posed by the problem of un-Jeffersonian Georgians running around Georgia, presuming to know more about their country than we do. When oh when will these benighted foreigners learn? Don't they know we are all bound together in the Circle of Life by the Great Democratic Spirit in the Sky, and that if even a tiny democratic sparrow falls in Tbilisi, the whole American republic is shaken when he lands? Fixing Georgia is our manifest destiny."

Seriously, do you guys ever wonder why you can hardly get anyone to comment on your posts? Even consider that you might be out of touch?

Dan, it is not that Georgian democracy is more important to the US than the financial crisis or the war in Iraq. But on a foreign policy blog with plenty of space for a variety of issues, surely we can spare a couple of paragraphs to discuss democracy in a country that many American politicians are holding up as a shining example? Also, Georgia's political system, and how we assess it, has implications for our Russia policy.

Also, I read over what I wrote, the phrases "circle of life" and "spirit in the sky" were nowhere to be found...


I didn't intend to single you out. I saw that the post was from "The Editors", and didn't note that it was really from you. You are a new contributor, and obviously shouldn't be held to account for the pattern of posts from your colleagues in the past. Welcome. But if you will look back over the past several months of posts, I think you will find that issues like democracy in Georgia, or Jordan, or Egypt actually tend to get much more attention around here than issues like the global financial crisis.

I have a long-running gripe here about the abundance of posts related to political systems and ideologies, and what appear to me to be grandiose and unrealistic schemes for the ideological and cultural makeover of other countries and regions of the world, with not enough attention paid to costs and benefits, and the practical nuts and bolts of security. I just wish there was somewhat less attention paid to the flow of the abstract qualities of "democracy" and "freedom", and the state of foreigners' souls, and somewhat more attention paid to the flows of money, weaponry, energy fuels and power, and the states of foreigners' bodies - particularly with regard to whether those bodies are alive or dead, well-fed or hungry, healthy or diseased.

Some see the course of events primarily in terms of ideological processes that they refer to with phrases such as "the march of freedom". I tend to see it more in terms of the constant struggle to resolve conflicts, and prevent highly competitive, selfish, fanatical and frequently brutal human beings form killing one another, impoverishing on another, and starving one another. The "progressive" element of my thinking centers on on the progress of peace and prosperity rather than the progress of democracy. I also fear that the folks most obsessed with effecting the philosophical or religious conversion of humanity to their preferred ideological system - whether that system is Christianity, Islam or Democratic Liberalism - are among those most responsible for the breakdowns in peace and prosperity.

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This is a very well written and moving piece. I'm not sure that our Minister of Education in the UK could have produced anything so well articulated. Thank you.

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