Kakha Kukava: Georgia has long valued democracy - a concept sadly unfamiliar to our President, Mikheil Saakashvili
Kakha Kukava is Secretary General of the Conservative Party of Georgia and responds here to recent articles about Georgia featured on ConservativeHome.
As a Conservative I believe in national independence, free markets, the rule of law, strong families and a minimum of state interference in the life of ordinary citizens.
I also believe in freedom of speech and tolerance and respect for others. In Georgia our Conservatism is forward thinking and progressive, just like that of David Cameron’s. That is why I hope, in the future, Georgian Conservatives will be able to develop strong links with their British counterparts.
I have seen the recent articles on ConservativeHome about Georgia and I very much welcome both the concern for our democratic rights and for my country’s stand against Russian aggression offered by, respectively, Carl Thomson and Liam Fox.
But I am concerned by the growing view that somehow these two Conservative impulses – protection for the individual and strong national defence – are in opposition in Georgia when, in fact, our best long-term defence against further Russian encroachment, and our only hope of reversing the occupation, is strong democracy at home.
Georgia is not some central Asian despotism where the values of democracy are weak. We were already a modern European democracy when the Red Army overthrew our democratic republic in 1922. That was why we were the first of the constituent countries of the Soviet Union to declare our independence – even before the Baltic states – in 1989. That is why our people still look to joining NATO and the European Union.
Georgia’s Conservatives supported the Rose Revolution that brought our president, Mikheil Saakashvili, to power because at last we thought we would get leadership that matched its rhetoric of reform with action. Although Mikheil Saakashvili had served as one of then President Eduard Shevardnadze’s ministers, we believed him when he said he intended to sweep away the remnants of Soviet rule and Soviet ways – not least of which was massive corruption – which continued to infect Georgian public life under the rule of the man who was once First Secretary of Georgia’s Communist Party.
But Mikheil Saakashvili had learnt all too well from Shevardnadze and we soon saw the apparatus of the state being used to repress opposition. But the people had had enough and expressed their disgust, peacefully, on the streets in November 2007 in massive demonstrations.
President Saakashvili responded in the only way he knew how, declaring a state of emergency and sending in special forces to close down the independent media (click here for further details). He then called an early election that international observers said was marked by ballot stuffing and incredible turnout figures. Even then he only just scraped a win.
These were the circumstances immediately before the disaster of last August’s war. Who started that conflict is hardly the point – because it suited both sides to seek a military diversion that would be good for domestic opinion. Putin and Saakashvili were well matched.
To get our occupied territories back is now going to require persuasion and not force. A Georgia led by President Saakashvili is not likely to persuade anyone.