When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Georgia’s government and citizens sought to join Western institutions. Accordingly, the government pursued aggressive anti-corruption policies to eliminate graft throughout the country.
Initially, the hard work paid off. Soon, Georgia discussed with organizations such as NATO how to join its ranks. This first occurred during the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest. The organization welcomed Georgia’s membership aspirations. At the time, Georgia also ranked sixty-seventh out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. According to the organization, the index “measures the perceived levels of public-sector corruption in a given country.” Georgia’s strong ranking suggested that it had made significant progress in its reform efforts.
Fifteen years later, the Georgian government is a former version of itself. Over the past few years under Georgian Dream, the ruling political party in Georgia, the country has started to regress in its democratization efforts. The Georgian opposition and citizens are puzzled by the party’s decision. Georgian Dream has made very unpopular decisions, many of which have been criticized by the Georgian public.
For example, the ruling Georgian government attempted to introduce a bill that would force Georgian organizations to declare themselves as “foreign agent” if they received 20 percent or more of their funding from international donors. Critics argued that it would allow Georgian Dream to target opposition organizations, and after much political opposition, the bill was dropped. Meanwhile, Georgian Dream also introduced a bill allowing authorities to “increase the duration of covert surveillance.” President Salome Zourabichvili immediately spoke out against the proposal, stating that the legislation would “further restrict human rights.” Finally, Georgian Dream “unlawfully obtain[ing] and purposefully edit[ing] audio recordings from an opposition media newsroom.” These are just some examples of the questionable decisions Georgian Dream has pursued over the past two years. Their efforts are also not in line with the Georgian public.
For example, since its independence in 1991, Georgian citizens have supported integrating with the West. They have also pressured their government to become more democratic, and they want to enjoy the benefits of being part of Western institutions. This support increased following the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 and 2022. According to a recent survey conducted by the National Democratic Institute, Georgian citizens overwhelmingly support potential integration with the European Union.
Despite this position, Georgian Dream continues to distance itself from Western institutions. Most precariously, the ruling Georgian party has opted to strengthen its relationship with Russia despite Russia having occupied parts of Georgia since 2008.
For example, following the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, numerous countries around the world sent defense, humanitarian, medical, and financial aid to Ukraine to help it during its time of need. The international community also enforced stiff penalties on Russia to punish it for its behavior. But for whatever reason, Georgia is not one of the countries that has provided Ukraine during the war. In addition, Georgia has yet to implement sanctions on Russia for its war in Ukraine.
To make matters worse, Georgia is pursuing policies to enhance its relationship with Russia. For example, a flight ban from Georgia to Russia was lifted earlier this year. Visa restrictions on Georgian nationals visiting Russia were also removed, making it easier for Georgian citizens to visit Russia. These developments suggest that Russia’s influence in Georgia is growing.
Meanwhile, as Georgian Dream strengthens its relationship with Russia, it is also currently distancing itself from its long-time ally Ukraine. It also damages the country’s relationship with the European Union and the United States. Last month, the ruling party falsely accused Ukraine of attempting a coup in Georgia. In the baseless accusation, Georgian Dream falsely stated that Georgian foreign legion groups in Ukraine would leave their defensive positions and they would return to Georgia to start an armed insurrection. The Ukrainian government swiftly denounced these claims, stating it does “not interfere and does not plan to interfere in the internal affairs of Georgia.”
Second, Georgian Dream attacked European officials. Earlier this year, the party withdrew its observer membership with the Party of European Socialists (PES), a progressive pan-European group. Georgian Dream alleged that PES failed to support its efforts and “failed to benefit Georgia on its path towards European integration.” PES immediately dismissed the claims.
Similarly, Georgian Dream has targeted pro-European politicians in Georgia. In a news series of baseless allegations, the party alleged that pro-European officials in Georgia were planning to “overthrow the [Georgian] state.” No evidence was provided to support these false claims. The Georgian State Security Service attempted to help Georgian Dream in these allegations, but the organization failed to provide information that supported these outlandish statements.
Finally, and most recently, Georgian Dream made baseless claims against the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It claimed that the American organization was working with the opposition movement in Georgia to start a revolution. Like its previous allegations, Georgian Dream failed to provide any evidence to support them.
Unfortunately, Georgian Dream is attempting to scare Georgian citizens into believing that Western organizations and officials are infiltrating Georgia. This fear-mongering, however, has attracted very little attention, and it has not fooled anyone. The allegations they have made are simply tactics to harass the Georgian opposition, and it is an attempt by Georgian Dream to remain in power. Despite these attempts, the Georgian opposition and everyday citizens have continued to fight back peacefully.
Now, time will tell how political matters develop in Georgia. Having gained no traction, Georgian Dream is concerned about its position in the upcoming 2024 parliamentary election. Seeing that the Georgian Dream has deviated from the people’s desire to strengthen relations with the West, it can be hypothesized that Georgian citizens will vote in favor of candidates who support anti-corruption reforms, democratization efforts, and transparency in Georgia. Voters will also support parliamentarians who want to strengthen Georgia’s relationship with the EU and other Western organizations.
Nothing is guaranteed in the 2024 parliamentarian elections, but Georgia’s democratic backsliding can certainly be altered. If Georgian citizens work hard with the Georgian opposition, and should pro-European politicians win their campaigns, then it is likely that Georgian Dream will no longer be the ruling party in the Georgian parliament. It will not be easy, and it will take a lot of hard work and effort, but the Georgian populace has the opportunity to change their country for the better. They must not squander this opportunity. Otherwise, should they fail to remove Georgian Dream’s majority, then the current democratic backsliding will continue. This will only strengthen Russia’s hand in the region.
Image: Eval Miko / Shutterstock.