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Georgia's Democratic Decline

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, June 7, 2023
The international authoritative organization Freedom House has published the 2023 democracy assessment report. Georgia's democracy has taken a turn for the worse, with the lowest democracy score in the last 10 years. Georgia still remains in the category of hybrid regimes. Representatives of the government and the opposition give an opposite assessment to the report published by Freedom House. The government denies democratic backsliding, and the opposition criticizes the Georgian Dream for the backsliding of democracy.

According to the last report of Freedom House, Georgia has set another anti-record in the reversal of democracy. The democracy rate in Georgia decreased to 33.93%. In 2022, the democracy score dropped from 3.07 to 3.04. Georgia still remains in the category of hybrid regimes, but our country is already standing next to autocratic regimes. The reasons are explained one by one in the report. In 2022, Georgia took a step towards EU status, although structural problems remain in judicial independence, media freedom and multi-party governance. This prevents democratic development in the country and the processes of integration into the European Union.

According to the report of the world's authoritative organization, the reduction of the democracy index in Georgia was caused primarily by the restriction of media freedom. The rating of independent media decreased from 3.50 to 3.25 points, which is mainly caused by harassment of journalists and violence against them. According to the report, the arrest and trial of Nika Gvaramia, the general director of the Main Channel, had a particular impact on the situation of critical media. The organization notes that this is perceived as another attempt to suppress voices critical of the government.

Georgian Dream does not believe Freedom House's evaluations and claims the opposite. "Talking about the decline of democracy is speculation" - this is the answer of the chairman of Georgian Dream. According to him, the situation is the opposite. Georgia has no backwardness in terms of democracy. The leader of the official team claims that the media environment has only improved during their 10-year rule. "Media pluralism is one of the main achievements of our government. In our time, a pluralistic media environment was formed, which has been preserved to this day," this is Kobakhidze's point of view.

Other representatives of the Georgian Dream say the same. For example, according to the Vice-Speaker of the Parliament, Giorgi Volski, the Freedom House report is 'biased and politically engaged'. According to him, media outlets were limited during Saakashvili's rule, and today "in terms of the number of television companies, Georgia ranks second or third in the world."

This is not the first time that the government has made such an assessment of the Freedom House report, and the new report also talks about it. It is emphasized that in 2022, acceptance of criticism by the Georgian Dream decreased, including from strategic partners. The report includes the ruling party's accusations against the West regarding "drawing Georgia into the war".It is said that the Georgian Dream designation of the opposition as a 'party of war' had a negative impact on democratic governance. Unlike the ruling party, the Freedom House report is considered by the opposition to be a real assessment of the state of democracy in the country and a 'ground for alarm'.

For example, Irakli Kobakhidze, the general secretary of one of the opposition parties Lelo, believes that the main reason for the democratic decline is the Georgian dream, which destroys democracy in the country - this is manifested in all areas, starting from human rights, ending with the destruction of state institutions, clannishness and corruption of the government.

The opposition places the main responsibility for Georgia's "democratic decline" on Bidzina Ivanishvili, under whose instructions the country is moving towards Russia. In the meantime, it is known that the European Union has finished working on the 11th package of restrictions, where the Caucasus countries also appear. The sanctions will not affect state institutions and will apply only to individuals and companies that help Russia circumvent international restrictions. Ivanishvili is also included in the list of such persons.

The fulfillment of the well-known 12 conditions of the European Union would contribute to stopping the decline of democracy in Georgia and in this sense to the sharp improvement of the situation. 8 local non-governmental organizations have created a special "status-meter", according to the evaluation of the month of May, only one priority has been fulfilled at the moment, which involves the practical consideration of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by the Georgian courts.

At this stage, 2 priorities have also largely been fulfilled - the fight against organized crime and gender equality and violence against women.

Four priorities have been partially fulfilled - electoral and institutional reforms, anti-corruption measures, vulnerable groups and independent public defender.

According to the status meter, 5 priorities should be fulfilled at this stage - depolarization, an independent judiciary, de-oligarchization, media and civil society involvement.

Unfortunately, regarding the fulfillment of the 12 conditions of the European Union, the evaluations of the Georgian Dream on the one hand, and of the opposition and non-governmental organizations on the other hand, are diametrically different. The polarization of Georgian politics is manifested in this.