Reforming the National Security Council of Georgia

by Giorgi Kvelashvili

On August 7, 2009, in an unprecedented move for a post-Soviet state, President Saakashvili invited opposition leaders to the newly built presidential palace to attend what was dubbed “the first expanded meeting of the National Security Council of Georgia.” Symbolism aside, this event marks a new era in Georgia’s consolidation as a modern state and is a major step in its democratic development.

The Council gathered to mark the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Georgia on August 7, 2008. Mr. Saakashvili apparently wanted to demonstrate his country’s defiance in the face of Russia’s ongoing occupation in Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions and the resolve of Georgian society to face new threats from its northern neighbor.

The presence of the leaders of all factions of parliamentary opposition in the meeting was noteworthy enough, but even more significant was the participation of some of the most vocal opponents of President Saakashvili’s government from the so-called radical opposition, who just weeks ago led continuous rallies in Tbilisi to demand the president’s resignation.

Warmly greeting his political rivals, Mr. Saakashvili said “as we all can see, when we do not speak in loudspeakers, we can hear each other even better. This will only make our country stronger.” He thanked the opposition for their active participation in the meeting and “for sharing their viewpoints with the government.” Stressing the importance of political dialogue, he added: “This is no more just a monologue about the need to talk to each other; we are decisively engaged in productive dialogue.”

The Georgian leader indicated that “expanded sessions” of the Security Council – the president’s chief advisory board – will occur regularly and asked other opposition leaders to participate in the future: “Our enemy would not be happy to see all of us gathered in this hall…It is a great disappointment to them, but it is the best message we can send to the Georgian people.” He also noted, “This event also shows how Georgia has advanced along the path of democratic transformation, with its political leaders both in the ruling party and the opposition showing responsibility and growing maturity in spite of serious differences on many issues.”

Irakli Alasania, leader of the newly created Our Georgia-Free Democrats opposition party, in his interview to the Georgian TV channel Rustavi 2, said that he raised two issues during the meeting: “One issue is related to external threats against the background of the continuous Russian occupation, which must be common for every political force, and the second one concerns the end to the political harassment in the country.” He announced that the opposition leaders “already reached agreement with the government to discuss this topic during the upcoming meetings with the top-level officials in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”

One of the leaders of the Christian Democratic opposition faction in Parliament, Levan Vepkhvadze, who also attended the meeting, added that “reform of the Security Council will be the focus of the upcoming discussions with Eka Tkeshelashvili, Secretary of the Security Council.”

President Saakashvili hopes that continued dialogue with the opposition will help consolidate Georgian society, increase trust between political leaders and ameliorate the political climate before the municipal elections next year. Apparently, the Security Council will be permanently transformed to ensure the participation of the opposition parties, making room for constant dialogue and political debates. At the same time, the Ministry of Internal Affairs also plans to host a series of meetings with the opposition to address their grievances on the alleged “disproportionate use of force” to counteract excesses by some opposition activists during recent street rallies in the capital Tbilisi.

It is worth recalling that U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, during his visit to Georgia at the end of July, particularly stressed the significance of the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution that signaled the dawn of democratic transformation in the post-Soviet space. Moreover, he eagerly noted that “the Rose Revolution was a clear signal to the world that we have entered the 21st century, and the shackles of the 20th century have been shed.” Support for freedom and democracy is “a bipartisan sentiment in my country,” Mr. Biden told the audience.

Giorgi Kvelashvili holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from Yale University, and currently serves as a research assistant at the Jamestown Foundation.