Philip P. Pan (Washington Post) - Georgia: Autocracy no more, not yet democracy

The article offers great inside into the problems transferring a post-communist-state into a western democracy:

... "The experience of this nation of 4.5 million after Saakashvili came to power in the Rose Revolution illustrates how difficult and complex the task of building a lasting democracy can be, even with ample funding and high-level attention from the United States and Europe.

"You have to change cultures, institutions, norms," said Larry Diamond, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. "It's a profound challenge. What you're talking about is changing the way people use power."

On May 10, 2005, a huge crowd assembled in Tbilisi's Freedom Square to see Bush. "You gathered here with nothing but roses and the power of your convictions, and you claimed your liberty," he declared. "Because of that, Georgia is today a beacon of liberty for this region and the world."

At the time, some Georgians were already accusing Saakashvili of monopolizing power and undermining Parliament, the courts, the news media and civil society. But criticism from the United States was expressed in private, when expressed at all.

When Saakashvili pushed through a constitutional amendment giving him the power to dismiss Parliament, for example, many supporters of the Rose Revolution objected. But U.S. officials were reluctant to take a position or even host a public debate on the subject, recalled David Usupashvili, an opposition leader who at the time was a Saakashvili ally and worked for a U.S. aid organization.

Lincoln Mitchell, a scholar at Columbia University who served as the National Democratic Institute's chief of party in Tbilisi, said the Bush administration equated support for Saakashvili, who studied law at Columbia, with support for democracy in Georgia.

"The relationship got personalized," he said, noting that Saakashvili named a highway after Bush and sent Georgian troops to Iraq. "The idea was don't make problems for the English-speaking leader who is our best ally in the region."

U.S. support for Saakashvili resulted in a sharp increase in foreign aid to the Georgian government. But funding for the advocacy groups that had been at the heart of the Rose Revolution dried up, forcing organizations to shut down programs that could monitor and challenge his decisions.

Civil society also suffered, because activists flocked to join the new government. If Western officials overlooked Saakashvili's autocratic drift, so did many of these reform-minded Georgians. Several top leaders of the current opposition worked with Saakashvili for years before quitting.

"We made compromises, telling ourselves that it wasn't so easy to achieve democracy overnight," said Georgi Chkheidze, a former chairman of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association who joined the Justice Ministry. "We waited too long to speak out."

...

Nino Zuriashvili, a vivacious, hard-charging journalist, produces investigative reports most Georgians never see. "We offer them to television stations for free, but the national broadcasters won't air them," she said.

In the years before the Rose Revolution, the news media operated with few restrictions, and she worked for the Georgian version of "60 Minutes," a top-rated show on the country's top-rated television station, Rustavi-2. The independent broadcaster's support of the opposition helped put Saakashvili in power.

But Zuriashvili ran into problems soon afterward. Station managers squashed a report on the seizure of property from private businessmen by government officials, then refused to broadcast an expose on prosecutors forging evidence. When she confronted them, she learned the station had been sold to new owners who wanted to take it easy on the new government. They canceled her show, giving her a different job.

So she quit and started her own news organization, Monitor Studio, which relies on international aid groups for funding. She and two colleagues have produced 26 investigative video reports, the latest of which documents how the government pressured the owners of nearly a dozen TV stations, including Rustavi-2, to sell to businessmen friendly to Saakashvili.

But the media environment in Georgia defies a single, sweeping verdict. Conditions under Saakashvili have varied over time, and there are two local stations in Tbilisi now run by the opposition. Newspapers, too, are generally critical of Saakashvili.

The mixed picture has allowed Saakashvili to ridicule critics who accuse him of stifling the news media by pointing out that they often make their allegations on live talk shows broadcast across the nation.

"If somebody in the morning has some idea and is a public figure, it just takes six to eight hours before most of the country hears about it. You can't shut up anybody here," he said, denying any effort to transfer TV stations into friendly hands or dictate coverage. "You can argue that some TV stations are more pro-government and some are less and some are against us, but it's like that in every country."

Journalists say the problems with the media here fall short of direct censorship and require long-term solutions, such as programs to raise journalistic standards and encourage media independence. "In some ways, this quasi-democracy we have is much more dangerous than a dictatorship," said Nino Burjanadze, a top Rose Revolution leader who joined the opposition last year. "The issues are less straightforward and more difficult to explain to our friends."

...

The problems led the advocacy group Freedom House to remove Georgia from its list of electoral democracies this year. But the opposition has also fared poorly in elections because it has been unable to unite behind a substantive agenda beyond replacing Saakashvili.

Several parties refused to take the seats they won in the May elections. The boycott further divided the opposition, with those outside Parliament accusing those inside of acting as Saakashvili's puppets.

Ghia Nodia, a former minister of education, blamed the problem on immature political parties, including the ruling party, that see revolution as the primary means of winning power. "The problem is this very confrontational political culture," he said, noting that not a single president has completed a full term since the country declared independence after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Targamadze, the minority leader, said his Christian Democratic party is losing patience. "I'm trying to be a moderate, but if Saakashvili doesn't start real political reforms, we'll become more radical, too."

You can find the whole article here on SFGate, home of San Francisco Chronicle.




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