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Meeting a former revolutionary

Day Five in Georgia: I meet with Levan Ramishvili of liberty institute, a leading Georgian NGO on the field of human rights and democracy. Levan is the president. During Shevardnadse time he and five of his colleagues were violently attacked in their office because they were promoting religious rights in Georgia. (for details go to http://www.idee.org/nij282-283.html#1.)
I got his address a couple of weeks ago. He wrote a letter to a news group that I am also a member of about two Georgian student activists that had been arrested in Belarus. President Lukashenko is afraid of a revolution in his own country. Luckily his email address included in the letter. I wrote him and he replied within five minutes. We agreed to meet once I am in Georgia. Being a member of the right newsgroup really helps sometimes?.It? s all about having the right persons contact data?

Liberty institute was founded in 1996 with the goal of promoting human rights and democracy. It goes hand in hand with the student movement Kmara which is supposed to have been the main force during the rose revolution. Kmara originally fought internal problems of the university but later on fought also for democracy. It is a very informal organization who does not even have a web page. Levan tells me that most active Kmara members are also employed at the liberty institute.

I ask Levan about the rule of external influences on Kmara, Liberty institute and the rose revolution. A lot of critics argue that the rose revolution only happened because of the support of the United States and that Saakashvili is a puppet of George Bush. Levan declares this ideas to be chauvinism of the West indicating that an eastern country would not be able to fight for democracy on its own. There has been financial support before the revolution especially from USaid (Georgia got the highest per capita rate of aid after Israel) but one should not forget that 99% of this money went to the corrupted government. Furthermore the US government was more afraid of instability in Georgia than it was in favor of a revolution. Therefore it cooperated with the Shevardandse regime instead of openly fighting against it.
In contrast to other former soviet countries Georgia was able to develop a somewhat polycentric political system with a somewhat independent civil society and media. This was possible due to external financing but it does not mean that the opposition was heavily financed from the outside. ?New blood? meaning politicians without a communist past were already introduced at a very early stage which is one reason why the Rose Revolution was much more radical than the Orange Revolution in Ukraine were large parts of today? s elite still have a communist past. There are currently no former communists in the Georgian elite. Even the police was totally changed in September 2004. Within one month 75% of all officers were fired and replaced by newly recruited personnel. A fact which is highly visible since the police is patrolling everywhere and no longer harassing the citizens.
Levan states that it took ten years to prepare the revolution which is why such dramatic chage was possible. From his point of view Georgia?s political elite today is even more eager to turn this country into a functioning democracy than its people. This can be seen by the example of nationalism. The new Georgian nationalism is a highly inclusive one with President Saakashvili making statements even in minority languages. For many people of the general population this is still a new idea that they have to get used to: Georgia being the mother land not of all Georgians but of all people who live on its soil; Georgians, Armenians, Azeri, Russians, Greek and many more. In the years before the revolution nationalism was rather ethnically oriented and it resulted in attacks of Jehovas witnesses and Baptists stating that with their conversion they were denying orthodoxism as the religion of all Georgians therefore denying their traditions etc?.

I ask Levan about the successes of other color revolutions and potential new ones. He states that the problem in Ukraine is still the old elite and that in Kyrgystan nothing changes except the president. Concerning Belarus he finds it hard to make an estimation because of Lukashenko?s repressive regime and the unorganized opposition. Azerbaidjan is ?somewhere in between? he says.
Concerning other countries he says that it happens quite often that opposition groups from all over the world call him and say something like ?We have elections coming up in 50 days. What should we do to in order to provoke a revolution??In his opinion these people will never have a revolution as strong as the one in Georgia.

Levan seems to be very content about the current political situation in Georgia. The regime has completely changed. He does not see a problem in most of the new ministers being very young (one of Saakashvilis policies was to hire very young professionals who got at least parts of their education abroad). He states that those people most capable to turn this country into a functioning democracy are already in the government and that the elite of today?s Gorgia is even more democratic than the people (Which does not mean that he would describes the population as being passive. He just points out that people are not as active as during the revolution anymore).
Of course a revolution cannot change the entire country over night. Unemployment which was already high before went up for one percent but this was partially due to the majority of policemen being fired. There is still a long way to go for Georgia but the bases are being made now. He states that the WorldBank recently released a study comparing the business environment in the reforming countries (legal barriers, hire and fire policies, obtaining credit etc) Georgia made second place after Serbia. For me this is very good news because when I was here two years ago western businessmen were fleeing the country en mass because of the bad conditions and corruption. During the 90s a documentary was made about an American company trying to do business in Georgia and the hardships they were facing.

Upcoming reforms are considering the school and the juridical system. Civil rights and human rights are going to be school subjects. School boards are going to be reelected. The new boards will consist out of equal amounts of teachers and parents plus one student plus a local councilor. This board will elect the schools principal. The goal is to improve the quality of teaching (parents and students having a saying in what is being taught), to prevent corruption, and to spread democratic values. There is not going to be a nation wide curriculum. Schoolboards will be able to decide about what they want to teach.
The jury system is going to be reintroduced in courts just like in the Unites States. It has existed before during Georgia? s first independence between 1920 and 1922.

Georgia is striving for EU accession. This is basically because of the countries historic European identity and for economic reasons. Levan is not to enthusiastic about the EU. He fears too many regulations and unemployment as the result of the common market. Furthermore he states that the EU did not support the Georgians in their fighting for democracy and human rights. All the support the EU gave was concerning technical or beaurocratic aid (Freedom house states that a big mistakes made by western donors in post soviet countries was to strengthen already existing beaurocracies instead of questioning their existence)

- for more information about the situation of democracy and human rights in former communist countries go to Freedom house? s Nations in Transit http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/nattransit.htm
- For more information about the Rose Revolution consult http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Revolution. You will also find links about the Orange Revolution Ukraine, the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgystan, and color or flower revolutions in general.
12.10.05 11:27
 


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