Since its turbulent early years of independence, Georgia has made progress in state-building reforms, but it has yet to fully develop into a true democracy. Carnegie hosted several Georgian non-governmental experts to discuss two decades of state building, current democratization challenges, and prospects for the future. The Honorable Kenneth S. Yalowitz, former U.S. ambassador to Georgia, moderated.
Georgia’s Political Evolution
Ivlian Haindrava from the Tbilisi-based Republican Institute divided twenty years of independence into three periods.
- Independence and Chaos (Early 1990s): The first years of Georgia’s independence under Zviad Gamsakhurdia, until he was overthrown, and then under Eduard Shevardnadze were highly unstable due to wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, inter-Georgian conflict, constitutional revisions, and hyperinflation, Haindrava said.
- Stability and Stagnation (1995-2003): Despite early reforms, the creation of a national currency, and the emergence of free media in the mid-1990s, President Shevardnadze did little to combat corruption and develop Georgia during the latter years of his administration. Due to his unwillingness to reform, Shevardnadze effectively turned Georgia into a “shadow state” during his tenure, Haindrava argued.
- Authoritarian Modernization? (2004 - 2011): Haindrava described the Saakashvili era as a period of “lost opportunities” in which the government has adopted the policy of “modernization first, democracy later.” Saakashvili’s regime is more concerned with maintaining appearances than actually strengthening democracy, pluralism, freedom of speech, and government accountability, he concluded.
From Failed State to “Consolidated Nation”
- A Difficult Transition: Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia was a war-torn failed state, argued Ghia Nodia from Ilia State University in Tbilisi. Although Georgia slowly recovered during the 1990s, it remained a weak state until after the 2003 Rose Revolution, he added. Today, however, Georgia is a “consolidated nation” and a functional state that “provides public goods to its citizens.”
- Room for Improvement: Despite impressive recovery under successive administrations, Georgia has not yet completed the process of democratization. Managing pluralism, restoring popular trust in the electoral system, and supporting collective action are some of the key remaining challenges, argued Nodia. Saakashvili’s regime has introduced significant reforms while simultaneously consolidating power and ignoring human rights, added Shorena Shaverdashvili from Liberali magazine.