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Whose job is it to answer the people?

Wednesday, October 15
Despite the serious problems Georgia’s economic and political life face the administration keeps cheerful, highlighting the unprecedented international support the country is receiving. However the population seems to be more and more interested in receiving direct answers to the many questions which concern ordinary Georgians, those about the military defeat, human losses, destroyed lives, demolished infrastructure, IDPs, lost territories and many related issues. People want to know who was responsible for these things, and who has to answer for them, not only verbally.

The opposition, which imposed a moratorium on criticizing the authorities during the State of War, started posing very awkward questions to the ruling party as soon as it was lifted. But from that day to this the Georgian people has not received any answers to them. Nor have there been any direct answers to the widely-publicised questions asked by former Chair of Parliament Nino Burjanadze. If the administration keeps ignoring these questions, which emerged from a general public concern, and does not answer them at least on paper then we might see protest actions in the streets again rather than sheets of paper being handed over and polite statements being made in the public media.

So far President Saakahvili has simply claimed that he “takes responsibility.” If so, what then? Does making this ‘confession’ therefore mean that everything that happened should be forgotten about? Does discharging certain mid-level officers of the Ministry of Defence resolve any of the problems which might exist?

Georgia’s Western friends are appealing for patience, for constructive ideas rather than critical analysis, in the hope that currently intractable problems can be resolved in the long run. We thank them for that. But the problem is, Georgia has these problems now. It is cold now, children are going hungry now, the elderly are ill now, people are unable to return to their burnt-out homes now and everything is wrong now. So people have the right to ask questions right now. While they are living through the consequences they have the right to ask why Georgia did not avoid the war, why it was defeated, who was responsible and what price they should therefore pay.

In post-Soviet Georgian politics things have consistently gone wrong because nobody has taken complete responsibility for their wrongdoing. President Gamsakhurdia lost part of South Ossetia, plunged the country into civil confrontation and was forced to leave the country. President Shevardnadze lost part of Abkhazia, took verbal responsibility but stayed in power for another 10 years until he was kicked out. Now he lives in peace at the Krtsanisi residence making elder statesman-type comments from time to time, not the action of someone who acknowledges his responsibility for mistakes in the areas he talks about. What therefore will be the likely consequence of the administration continuing to adopt its present policy of wilful avoidance of the issue?

National Movement MP Koba Khabazi is saying that the war was inevitable, and therefore no one needs to resign, as neither the Georgian defence system nor its military committed any serious errors. The opposition fundamentally disagrees with this and is demanding that the Commander in Chief, i.e. the President, takes genuine and full responsibility and faces the appropriate consequences. It also maintains that his inner circle and regional administration representatives should be similarly called to account.

The Special Investigation Commission headed by opposition representative Paata Davitaia was created just a few days ago in Parliament. This Commission has no power to make decisions, merely to identify the facts surrounding the war, but this is already a step forward. If its members conduct themselves in a principled way many suppositions will be revealed as fact and it will be impossible to conceal anything further. How this Commission goes about its business, and what it is allowed to do and say, will demonstrate whether the country is actually committed to the new wave of democracy we have been promised.

Taking responsibility means two things: accepting justified praise for successes and taking justified punishment for failures. According to the administration’s interpretation however ‘taking responsibility’ is just a verbal formula which can be used as a PR tool for self-promotion. Until an independent court system functions in Georgia this interpretation may prove correct in practice. But we think it is incorrect that the Rose Revolution administration is more concerned with maintaining power and imposing obedience than it is with upholding democracy.

Democracy should be the first principle of the Georgian state. Nothing whatever should be put ahead of it, in any circumstances, to justify the actions of individuals.