voice for democracy

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Georgia’s Path From Soviet Republic To Free Market Democracy – Forbes

(To hear the full interview with Giorgi Isakadze – or to view other conversations with entrepreneurs, cultural figures and businesspeople who experienced the transition from socialism to capitalism in Europe’s socialist bloc – follow my most recent podcast series, From Socialism to Capitalism.)
Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, languishing in a prison cell now for weeks, has been moved to a military prison as his health has deteriorated due to a hunger strike he’d begun to protest what he feels are trumped up, politically motivated accusations against him. He has said he intends to end his hunger strike. Seen as a pro-American figure, and popular in Washington D.C. some eighteen years ago, Saakashvili has been all but forgotten by the West since he was jailed in October.
Saakashvili returned to Georgia in September, 2021, in preparation for the country’s October 30 local elections after spending eight years in exile following the end of his administration in 2013. He was arrested on October 1 on abuse of power charges levied at him following his tenure as head of state. Says Saakashvili: “I couldn’t watch from afar while the country I worked so hard to build, from a failed post-Soviet state to a nascent Western democracy and staunch US ally, drifted back into Russia’s orbit.”
It’s the latest chapter in what has been the thrilling and at times heartbreaking story of Georgia’s journey from Soviet Republic to free market democracy. 
Often, in order to understand the present, we must look to the past. Giorgi Isakadze has been tuned into his nation’s story his entire life, most closely since the USSR and the Iron Curtain were dismantled some thirty years ago. Isakadze, 45, once a political advisor to the Georgian government, is now a widely recognized media personality, editor of Forbes Georgia and managing partner with BMG Media in the capital, Tbilisi. In his lifetime, he has witnessed his country achieve major shifts on the political spectrum, bringing both empowerment and suffering.
Georgia came under Russia’s thumb after the Red Army entered Tbilisi in 1921 and established a Russian-style revolutionary government, becoming part of the Soviet Union a year later and a Soviet Republic in 1936. 
Georgia’s economy grew steadily, despite rampant corruption, but its communist leadership proved incapable and unpopular. Anti-Soviet and pro-independence movements came up against stalwart opposition, and Isakadze still remembers the now infamous peaceful protest on April 9, 1989, when 21 people were killed by Soviet soldiers sent to disperse them. “It was first blood, as we called it,” says Isakadze, who was 14 at the time. “And it was the first price that we paid for independence.” 
The anti-communist and pro-freedom rumblings in Georgia were the first sign to the world at large that the USSR was coming apart at the seams. Just prior to the collapse of the USSR, Georgia declared independence in 1991.
“Georgia was – alongside the Baltic countries – one of the countries that was granted independence and we paid a lot for that,” says Isakadze. “We paid with our lives, we paid with our economy, and we paid with our territory.”
Following independence, the nation’s first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, sought to suppress separatist movements in the Russia-leaning regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which sparked a two-year civil war. “The real war was happening one kilometer from my apartment,” remembers Isakadze. “It was a crazy period when Russia was supporting sides by feeding them with arms just to provoke the process of internal war and civil war as much as possible.” 
Isakadze would take pictures of the battles taking place in the streets near his family home. “People were just killing each other,” he explains. “And just 200 meters from there, the city was continuing living in a way as if nothing was happening. I remember this period as the most tragic, because at the same time it was about solidarity, and it was absolutely ridiculous.” 
Isakadze and his family endured long periods of power outages, long lines for food and other goods; and his mother – in addition to working as a doctor – oversaw the selling of roasted chicken and pork to local shops for profit, as the family’s other income source had been cut off. “My father was a landscape architect,” Isakadze explains. “During wartime there is nothing to do with the greenery outside Tbilisi.” Isakadze, meanwhile, took English lessons from a private tutor by candlelight on evenings when electricity was unavailable. 
The war ended in late 1993, leaving economic, political, and social instability in its wake. Isakadze continued his education in economics and pursued a career as a journalist and editor. He went on to become an advisor to then Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze before the head of state was ousted by Saakashvili’s rise to power during the country’s Rose Revolution of 2003—a nationwide protest over disputed election results. Under Saakashvili, the government enacted further economic and military reform, as well as measures to combat corruption—some quite extreme. 
“Georgians abolished traffic police, Georgia abolished the ministry of affairs the way it should be,” Says Isakadze. “And 92% of all (mandatory) permits and licenses were abolished because there was no other way to battle corruption.”  
Continued friction in the Russian-leaning separatist regions turned into a hot conflict on August 1 of 2008, which Russia used as a pretext to invade Georgian lands. The 12-day war displaced nearly 200,000 people before a ceasefire was signed and ultimately crippled the economy, reducing GDP by about 70%. 
Though political friction festers between parties, recent years have seen Georgia move onward and upward, economically and in terms of standard of living. Some of Georgia’s economic saving graces over the years have been its strength in manufacturing, wine production and – due to its many resorts along the coast and in its mountain ranges – tourism. 
“Georgia has shown, during a few years, what kind of reformist and number one regional country it can be, due to the level of democracy and things like that,” Isakadze says. 
This latest development with Georgia’s prominent ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili is yet another test for Georgia’s democracy.

source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *