This is not to at all overlook the problematic sides of the new government. It is a plea for more humility about the past; if some of those same Western publications had focused more on the dark side of Saakashvili's administration, it might have helped curb its more egregious abuses and stopped it from going so badly off course. And it is an argument for a more practical dialogue in the present, supporting those officials who are pursuing a more reformist outward-looking agenda.
A good example of a balanced intervention has been set here by the European Union's human rights envoy to Georgia, Thomas Hammarberg. In a nuanced and specific report, Hammarberg voices concern about a rise in intolerance of minorities under the new administration and the continuing lack of public confidence in the prosecutor's office. Yet he does this while giving the proper context within which they came to power, saying that under the previous government, "The separation between the State and the party tended to become blurred. Land and other property were confiscated with little or no possibility for appeal; properties were also 'donated' to the State under pressure and threat. There were complaints about 'elite corruption'. "
The second conclusion is that in the post-Vilnius Eastern Europe, Washington needs to adjust to a new role. The arguments that Georgia is a battlefield in the Cold War or a “pivotal strategic ally” can finally be put to rest.
The best guarantee of its security and sovereignty is closer integration into Europe, first through closer economic approximation. American-Georgian trade by itself is minuscule, worth $300 million in the first nine months of this year—and the hopes for a US-Georgia free-trade deal are best served initially by a US-EU free trade agreement.
Most of the hard work will be done in Brussels. But Washington has important technical instruments that it can deploy to support this new transition. It is a much more articulate messenger than Brussels, and can give political cover to this economic project. To reach the place where Bulgaria or Romania are now in ten or fifteen years’ time does not fit the kind of lofty vision that Georgians heard from their previous president—but it would actually be a real and solid achievement.
Thomas de Waal is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Polish Senate. CC BY-SA 3.0.