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External orientation of Georgian society

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, May 12
Georgia’s external orientation has always been an issue in its politics and people's private discussions. It has become an even more vital concern since the Russian invasion of 2008. Some opposition politicians are now making frequent visits to Moscow, something absolutely unimaginable before 08/08/08. Before the invasion all Georgia's politicians unanimously declaimed their Western orientation and only a handful of “dissidents” dreamed about aligning with Moscow. Today visiting Russia has become a sort of challenge, and many opposition figures who just a couple of years ago were radically against Russia have now become devoted friends of The Kremlin.

Some analysts attribute this development to the Georgian people's frustration with the false expectations Western orientation engendered. Very naively some people thought that the West should have taken more radical steps against Russia before the war during the war and after it. The opposition are seeking to capitalise on this public disappointment, even though talking to Russia is still not seen favourably by most Georgians, according to recent polls.

There are many questions about which orientation is preferable for the Georgian people and how committed they are to pursuing any of the available options. The recent NDI poll was an attempt to find at least an approximate answer to these questions. It confirmed that the Georgian public still support the country’s Western orientation and NATO integration. 26% fully support NATO integration and 36% generally support it, and that means 62% of those questioned support the NATO aspirations of the country. 9% are completely against Georgia joining NATO and 7% generally against this, therefore only 16% oppose NATO integration while 10% do not care at all and 9% do not know. So we can assume that most Georgians are still in favour of NATO integration, however support for it has decreased a bit, and as some analysts suggest that this tendency might continue.

In terms of when NATO integration will occur the poll showed that 2% are sure that Georgia will become a NATO member next year, 12% think that it will happen in 2012-13, 18% think that it will happen after 2013, 11% are sure that Georgia will never become a NATO member and 63% do not know when Georgia will become NATO member. This tends to imply that what the Georgian people feel that what they might want has limited relevance. Concerning attitudes towards Russia the poll gives contradictory messages, with many respondents not liking either opposition politicians visiting Moscow or the Georgian Government's attitude to Russia. Only 7% of those asked support current official policy towards Russia, for 25% it is somewhat acceptable, for 28% it is somewhat unacceptable and for 24% absolutely unacceptable. No reasons why people find it acceptable or otherwise were revealed however. It seems therefore that most of the population would prefer relations with Russia to be regulated somehow, but not in the ways currently being tried. Indeed, 61% of respondents to the poll support the reopening of the Zemo Larsi checkpoint and 82% support the restoration of air flights between two countries, which seems to confirm this assumption by suggesting that Georgians do not object to some form of contact between the two countries and their people.

We can therefore suggest most Georgians hope that relations with Russia will be regulated and this will eventually resolve Georgia’s territorial problems. However this is likely to prove a forlorn hope. Russia itself has created the problems in Georgia and ‘resolved’ them in its favour, so we should ask why it would be willing to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity when the present scenario suits it fine. Georgia has lost 1/5 of its territory, its public are split and pro-Russian sentiments are growing. This is about all that Russia could want which is diplomatically feasible at the present time.

So what should we recommend to those interested? Probably deeper Western involvement in Georgia’s political and economic systems. Western countries are rightly proud of their sophisticated democracies and economies but have consistently tolerated a system in Georgia which does not meet the same standards. If the West really believes that its own values are better than Russia's it should put its money where its mouth is.