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Georgia has chance for normal development

The Georgian election brought two surprises. The victory by the Georgian Dream coalition led by Bidzina ...

The Georgian election brought two surprises. The victory by the Georgian Dream coalition led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a staunch opponent of the current Georgian leadership, is striking enough. But what caused a real sensation was Mikhail Saakashvili’s almost immediate acceptance of defeat and statement that his party United National Movement will go into opposition.

No one expected that the Georgian president, who was seen as a person obsessed with authoritarian power, would be such a fellow democrat.

Whatever we think about Misha’s [Saakashvili] policy, he always proved to be extremely committed to his own vision of Georgian transformation and had no plans to go. Since prsppects for a Euro-Atlantic integration ceased to look likely after defeat in the 2008 war, the Georgian president relied on other examples, notably Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, and Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore.

His priorities seemed clear: both leaders created their states from scratch. Ataturk also deliberately put an end to the Ottoman tradition. Both tried hard to change the mentality of their compatriots. They ruled their respective countries for a very long time and rejected democracy as a vehicle of modernization out of principle.

Saakashvili fully shares this worldview and it shows in his attempt to reform his own country. He has been radical from the very start and ready to neglect a considerable portion of the population of his own country – people over 40 and 50 and employees of industries that were deemed unpromising (the Georgian reformers have listed agriculture in this category). His main idea is to stop looking back – whether to the Soviet or pre-Soviet past – because he insists on overcoming tradition, which he blames for preventing Georgia from becoming a “normal” country. Clearly, he needed a powerful repressive machine to implement such drastic reforms. This function was performed by Georgia’s Interior Ministry, which had unlimited power.

During his time as president, Saakashvili has made one indisputable achievement – he has built an effective state machine. Suffice it to mention Georgia’s polite and well-groomed police and border guards, the absence of low-level corruption (in a country where it used to be regarded as endemic), flawless government services (whereas lazy indifference had been considered part of the national character) and better tax collection.

The secret of this success is easy to explain: Georgia is a police state where practically everything is under control. Sometimes via very brutal repressive means, which was demonstrated once again shortly before election – shocking video of torture in a Georgian prison was leaked, most likely with the clear purpose of discrediting authorities. Many believed that those leaks played a big role in ruling party’s defeat.

The problems which led to the election result are rooted in the nature of the president’s policy. He has done what could be done with his methods of choice, but they are not capable of deepening reforms. The administrative model cannot ensure further development. Moreover, continued attempts to crudely destroy Georgia’s national mentality and tradition engendered resistance. The estranged part of population which didn’t tolerate continued social experimentation turned out to be much bigger than the rulers in Georgia expected. And Saakashvili, despite his very impulsive and unstable psyche has a good political intuition, understood that any attempt to overthrow results by force could be disastrous for both the country and himself.

Whatever led him to decision to accept the will of people, one cannot deny that this is his historic achievement. For the first time a power shift in Georgia can occur peacefully. Both predecessors of Mikhail Saakashvili were deposed by violent means. The country got a chance to go on a normal path towards democratic development. This is still rare example in the area of former Soviet Union.

­Fyodor Lukyanov, for RT

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.