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Georgia’s reputation, and all its politicians, take a knocking

By M. Alkhazashvili
Wednesday, June 25
Much fuss has been kicked up this week by the testimony of a top US official, who spoke relatively frankly about the South Caucasus and Georgia.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried, briefing the House foreign affairs committee last week on American policy in the South Caucasus, had more than a few critical remarks about the state of Georgian democracy. The strongest knock was for the opposition: “Georgian democracy continues to lack a necessary element—a credible and viable opposition—and the United National Movement and the United Opposition share the blame for this shortcoming,” he said.

The United Opposition bloc has been battered and abandoned in the last few months; being rejected entirely by US officials will deflate them even further. At best, it will convince them that, yes, they must constitute themselves as more credible alternative the next time they compete against the government.

At worst, it will encourage them to feed what political analyst Gia Khukhashvili says is an “increase of certain anti-American sentiments” in Georgia.

But if that anti-American sentiment is rooted in the perception of everlasting devotion of the Bush administration to Saakashvili’s government, it is both transient (that particular American leaves office shortly) and misinformed.

For Fried also cast a critical eye at the government's role in the tumultuous eight months Georgia just barely rode out.

“Georgia’s challenge at home is to build strong democratic institutions and processes to match its commitment to economic and commercial reform,” he said. “Notwithstanding progress on democratization since the Rose Revolution, Georgia has work to do, and the events this past fall marked a setback for democracy in Georgia.”

The presidential elections, he noted, were “flawed, and thus did not fully restore Georgia’s democratic reputation.” The parliamentary elections had problems too, he said, but were an improvement.

But fewer fake entries on voter rolls and more observers at the next election won’t a democracy make.

“Without a viable opposition, an empowered, independent parliament and strong, credible judiciary, and a reform process that respects dissenting voices, democracy will not be consolidated,” Fried cautioned.

That isn’t news for the Georgian government, but it will have to pay attention when American officials give frank public assessments of Georgia’s precarious tip-toe towards stable democracy, or risk losing international support against Russia along with a bountiful stream of foreign investments.

The government and the opposition were both criticized and given ammo in nearly equal measure; one hopes they take the critique to heart and set aside the ammunition for now.