To date in 2014, Georgia has not experienced anything as cataclysmically destructive as the 2008 Russian-Georgian war. However, this year has not been particularly successful either. And prospects are low that this negative trend will improve much in the coming two months, before the year is up.
One positive development has been the Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union, which Georgia signed on June 27 (Civil Georgia, June 27). Although, the AA falls far short of membership prospects for the country—something that most Georgians ardently desire—it still is a significant step forward for Georgia in terms of deepening its economic and political ties with Europe.
However, even this positive event was overshadowed by months of bickering between Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and President Giorgi Margvelashvili about who should attend the AA signing ceremony and actually sign the agreement. Constitutionally ill-defined and overlapping foreign and domestic policy functions created fertile ground for constant conflict between the two offices. This conflict encompasses a host of issues ranging from who is to represent the country at foreign forums, to undermining each other’s policy agendas (see EDM, September 18). In fact, the quarrels between the president and the prime minister became one of the political trademarks of this year, and they show no signs of abating for now. Rather, the rift between Garibashvili and Margvelashvili is widening and more likely will deepen in the next year—something that Georgia, which remains ravaged by a myriad of economic and political problems, can ill afford.
Indeed, Georgia struggles with multiple problems: among the most painful are a poor economy, mass poverty and high unemployment (data.worldbank.org, geostat.ge, accessed October 14). In this year too, the government failed to address any of these economic issues. In the third quarter, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by just 5.2 percent (tradingeconomics.com, accessed October 14), a rate that was essentially too low to be felt much in a country where the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita stands at only $3,570. The government’s continued failings in economic development policy have noticeably dimmed the Georgian population’s euphoria and high hopes for a drastic improvement of the country’s socioeconomic condition. The expectations brought on by the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition’s ascent to power have quickly devolved into massive disappointment and growing public apathy. In April, GD’s popular support stood at 42 percent (Civil Georgia, August 27), certainly not a good sign for a coalition that won a landslide victory in the 2012 parliamentary elections.
In order to appease an increasingly disgruntled public, this year the government continued its criminal prosecution cases against high-ranking officials who served during Mikhail Saakashvili’s presidency under United National Movement’s (UNM) rule. As UNM still remains widely unpopular because of its alleged power abuses while in government, the prosecution of former high-profile bureaucrats continues to resonate well with the electorate. The question is, however, how long the public will remain satisfied with just televised court hearings and when it will demand real actions from the authorities to address the country’s multiple socioeconomic and political ills.
The government has not been especially successful in charting Georgia’s foreign policy course either. Aside from the above-mentioned signing of the Georgia-EU association agreement, the authorities have nothing much else to show. The Georgian government’s loudly acclaimed normalization of ties with Russia in fact hit a wall this year. It is true that since GD took power, the majority of Georgian wines and agricultural products have returned to the Russian market after having been banned since spring 2006. However, the most pressing bilateral issues, such as the question of Russia’s continued occupation of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain unresolved. Georgia has not registered any progress in this regard. Thousands of Russian occupying troops are stationed in the regions and can be quickly deployed to attack the rest of Georgia should Russia again deem it necessary. Furthermore, Moscow has not stopped issuing its habitual threats and warnings toward Tbilisi (Civil Georgia, October 9)—certainly not a sign of improving relations between the two countries.
In its relations with Moscow, the Georgian government was not helped by its especially cautious or, to put it more bluntly, servile tone toward the Kremlin in regard to the Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Tbilisi never openly condemned Russia as the aggressor. Instead, in its watered down statements, the Georgian government chose to emphasize the need to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and for a peaceful resolution of the conflict—hardly a novelty for anyone. Certainly, the deep Georgian-Ukrainian ties deserved more than this.
Furthermore, the government’s much heralded rhetoric of developing people-to-people contacts with ethnic Abkhaz and Ossetians did not seem to materialize either. In fact, in August, a radically anti-Georgian and pro-Russian new separatist regime, led by former KGB officer Raul Khajimba, took power in Abkhazia (see EDM, September 3). After threatening to expel ethnic Georgians still living in the region, Khajimba vowed to tighten Sukhumi’s policies toward Tbilisi and stated that he would close down four of the five crossings from Abkhazia to the rest of Georgia (Civil Georgia, October 4).
Overall, this brief analysis of the current year clearly shows that the Georgian government’s policies in 2014 have actually been in tatters. The Georgian authorities, however, do not seem to take notice of this fact. More disturbingly, the government has, so far, not shown willingness or the capacity to revamp and readjust its policies in the face of its own failures. It is highly unlikely that it will do so either before the year is through or even beyond.