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Georgia at the Historic Crossroads

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Friday, November 19
Commenting on the recent developments in Georgia, many people, both inside the country and in the West, come to the conclusion that Georgia is at a historic crossroads.

Georgia will either be able to continue the course it has declared on the country's Western orientation, or it will turn into the typical authoritarian regimes that abound in the post-Soviet space and revolve around Putin's Russian orbit.

Such a choice is inevitable if the government is not even democratic, but tries to look like democracy.

It is very difficult to imitate democracy in the presence of a strong opposition, an opposition that is not run by the government. Such a regime is sometimes called "competitive authoritarianism".

In such a situation, the country will not be able to stay in power for long - either a change of government through elections, or a political force in power will refuse to relinquish power and embark on increasing electoral manipulation and repression, culminating in a ‘solid’ authoritarian regime.

In 2012, a democratic change of government took place in Georgia. The "National Movement" in power at that time did not want to relinquish power and did not expect that it would have to do so. Administrative resources as well, but succumbed to unfavorable election results. Saakashvili did it because his focus was on the West.

The Georgian Dream, which arrived in 2012, and its leader personally pledged to create a democracy in Georgia that would amaze the West as well. Making such a promise was probably easy when they felt the support of the majority of the people, and the people hoped for a better life soon.

A better life, unfortunately, did not come. Support for the ruling party has also plummeted. In the 2020 parliamentary elections, the Georgian Dream was unanimously accused by the opposition of rigging the election and usurping power.

The European Union sought to defuse the political crisis, and at the request of Council of Europe President Charles Michel, a document was drafted to ‘democratically reconstruct’ Georgia's political system - first to establish an independent judiciary and electoral reform, which restored opposition trust.

But the inevitable result would be a transfer of power into the hands of the opposition coalition. 100 days after the signing, the Georgian Dream canceled the document.

The 2021 local government elections failed to ease the political crisis. The opposition continues to accuse the government of rigging the election. The election also drew criticism from Western observers. The self-government elections did not remove the demand for early parliamentary elections from the agenda.

The arrival of Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia added to the situation. Some, including in the West, thought that Saakashvili would come to Georgia to stage a revolution and disrupt the democratic process.

However, Mikheil Saakashvili entered the country before the self-government elections in such a way that the authorities could not hear about it for 4 days and were arrested only after Saakashvili himself published videos proving his presence in Georgia.

Since then, Saakashvili has been on a hunger strike, and his imprisonment has become a major headache for the Georgian Dream government. The government's attitude towards the arrested Saakashvili, his transfer to a prison hospital with physical and moral abuse, making derogatory comments about the former president and denying the fact of the hunger strike itself, not only infuriates Saakashvili's supporters.

The topic of the elections seems to have shifted backwards and the first task for the opposition was to demand that Saakashvili be taken to a civilian hospital. The United National Movement (UNM) has vowed not to hold rallies near the hospital where Saakashvili will be taken.

Saakashvili was not taken not only to the civil clinic, but also to the court, where Saakashvili was ready to arrive on the 41st day of the hunger strike. The reason for this was the government's fear that Saakashvili, who was brought to court, would be kidnapped by his supporters. The court hearing was postponed to November 24, when the starving Saakashvili may not be able to physically go to court.

Another thing became visible. The arrest of Saakashvili caused great excitement in the Russian government channels. Russian presenters and politicians compete with each other in mocking Saakashvili and Georgia. For the opposition, Saakashvili is a prisoner of Putin-Ivanishvili and a victim of personal revenge.

At the same time, it is reported that the creator of the "Georgian Dream", Bidzina Ivanishvili, who disappeared from public space, left Georgia and went to the United States. This information is not confirmed by the government. Instead, it strengthens the use of force in relations with the opposition. The actions of the Georgian police remind the opposition of the actions of Lukashenko and Putin's law enforcement agencies.

However, it is difficult to say whether they will be able to defet the ‘radical opposition’. The opposition continues to protest. The government must either make reasonable concessions, which primarily mean changing its attitude towards Saakashvili, or continue the chosen course, which is dangerous for the country.