A succinct and insightful overview of Georgia political scene
This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared at Reconsidering Russia
The controversy over the statement reveals the difficult position of Georgia’s pragmatists, led by Prime Minister Garibashvili.
The vast majority of the Georgian population supports them (especially in the regions).
However, they are opposed by a very vocal minority of pro-Western political parties (the UNM, Free Democrats, and Republicans) and pro-Western NGOs.
These pro-Western hawks also have representation in parliament that is proportionally higher than their actual electorate.
In addition, they have support from influential Western politicians, especially in Washington as recent support for former President Saakashvili illustrated.
Consequently, the line that the pragmatists have to tread is difficult.
Recently former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who supports the pragmatists, stated that Georgia’s “geographical position as well as internal and regional problems put us in a rather difficult situation; however, all resources to achieve our common and long-cherished goal [of a prosperous state] are in our hands today.”
He also added “the former authorities, who now represent the opposition, still endeavor to put pressure on our people; although all their attempts to do this have ended in failure thus far.”
Yet, despite the challenges, Prime Minister Garibashvili is fully committed to keeping Georgia balanced.
Throughout this past year, the Prime Minister has proven himself to be very much to be his own man, contrary to opposition allegations of him being an “Ivanishvili puppet.”
In fact, Garibashvili continued balancing his government’s pursuit to normalize ties with Moscow while keeping the pro-Western hawks at bay.
Further, in the aftermath of the Alasania scandal in November, it was Garibashvili who single-handedly managed to keep the coalition together and to avert a crisis.
Also under Garbashvili’s watch, the Georgian economy grew.
Even in recent months, when the lari suffered a fall in connection with the depreciation of the ruble, the government managed to stabilize the situation.
With regard to the Abkhaz and the Ossetes, Garbashvili’s conciliatory statements and actions have helped to build confidence more so than any other political leader in Georgia’s post-Soviet history.
Sadly, his overtures were complicated by more bellicose and provocative steps taken by former Defense Minister Alasania.
Still, the fact remains that Garibashvili is firmly and sincerely committed to the restoration of Georgian unity through peaceful and pragmatic means.
Garibashvili’s government has had more difficulty in its relations with Ukraine.
In particular, the new Kiev government’s proximity to former President Saakashvili, who is wanted in Georgia for abuse of office, has alarmed Tbilisi’s pragmatists.
Relations recently went from bad to worse when the Poroshenko government decided to appoint Saakashvili political allies to top government posts.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili
Poroshenko even considered making Saakashvili himself Deputy Prime Minister, a position that the former Georgian President eventually declined.
The decision to appoint Saakashvili allies also sparked indignation in Ukraine due to the fact that they were foreign citizens to whom Poroshenko had to grant immediate citizenship.
Responding to the appointments, Garibashvili emphasized that the presence of Saakashvili-era officials in the Kiev government was damaging relations between Georgia and Ukraine.
He found it incomprehensible that Kiev would be interested in appointing Zurab Adeishvili, the Saakashvili-era Justice Minister who is wanted by Tbilisi via an Interpol Red Notice, to an official position.
He also accused Saakashvili’s former Healthcare Minister, Aleksandr Kvitashvili, who was appointed by Poroshenko as Kiev’s new Healthcare Minister, of “destroying the Georgian healthcare system.”
Though he is experiencing difficulties with Ukraine, Garibashvili remains committed to restoring relations with Russia.
At his recent marathon press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated his readiness to meet with the Georgian political leadership.
“We are ready to move in this direction,” said Putin, “and if the Georgian government considers it possible, we will be glad to see any representative of the Georgian leadership – the President or the Prime Minister, in Moscow.”
In response, Garibashvili announced that the Georgian government is now officially ready for such a summit, which may take place in 2015.
Such a meeting would be a positive step forward for regional security, cooperation, and stability.
Regardless of what finally happens, Garibashvili must be cautious and pragmatic while simultaneously keeping Georgia’s national interests at the forefront.
If this past year is any indication, the 32-year-old Prime Minister is certainly up to the task.
Pietro A. Shakarian is an MA graduate student at the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (CREES) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He maintains the blog Reconsidering Russia and has written for The Nation and Russia Direct.