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Remembering 2008

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, December 31
We think it is a global tradition to evaluate the past year’s events at the beginning of a new year. Analysts, politicians, statesmen, prominent people and individual households do this everywhere. Today we at The Messenger will do the same.

The verdict on this past year is simple. It was a tragic year for every Georgian, no matter his political, religious or any other persuasion. The Russian invasion in August was the most memorable event of 2008, in the negative sense of the term. As for its achievements, only those who represent the ruling party in some way suggest there are any. There are personal triumphs of course, marriage, the birth of a child etc, and of course we should not forget the Georgian victories at the Beijing Olympic Games. But it is very hard to find any positive achievement by Georgia the country in 2008.

2008 was the hardest year in the recent history of Georgia. The Russian aggression revealed accumulated problems in both domestic and foreign politics not previously noticed. Presumably, it has determined the timetable of future developments. This event could be seen as a tape measure with which to assess the performance of the Rose Revolution Administration.

August showed clearly that Georgia’s Western orientation could not neutralize Russian aggression. On the contrary, it made the Northern bear even more aggressive. The August war showed that the West is not going to confront Russia. We are not naive, and we don’t mean it would ever have confronted Russia militarily. But for Georgia, confirming this truth was not worth the price it paid. The Georgian authorities should have predicted this and that was their biggest failure.

We should also say clearly that NATO was blackmailed “successfully” by Russia. We don’t mean every single member of it, but some definitely retreated when faced with the Kremlin’s “arguments”. The promise that Georgia will certainly become a NATO member, but at some unspecified future date, was embarrassing to Georgia and encouraging to Moscow. It means very little, as theoretically every country on earth has the chance to apply for NATO membership and become its member at some time, and Georgia has been given little more than a statement of this fact.

Indirectly, Russia slammed the USA in August too. The US several times declared that Georgia was its strategic partner. Russia therefore indirectly attacked US interests by attacking Georgia. Of course Georgia still remains actively pro-Western and now even more anti-Russian. However more and more people express the opinion that Georgia should be neutral, striking a balance between Russia and the West, as neither offers Georgia what it is seeking. The signing of the bilateral treaty with USA may bring some benefit, but the Georgian leadership is trying to use this agreement as a safety belt, and ordinary Georgians are indeed pinning their hopes on it without actually knowing what is in the document.

Other notable events of 2008 before the August aggression were the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in January and May respectively. Despite their controversial results, which were challenged by the opposition, the administration managed to maintain its position. It also received Western support, as the West accepted the results of both these elections as just and true, expressions of the wish of the entire Georgian people. Now the opposition often accuses the West of turning a blind eye to violations committed by the Saakashvili administration during the election campaign and on the day itself. The opposition considers that Western support for the rigged (as they call them) elections gave Saakashvili and his team the confidence to get involved in a high-scale military confrontation with Russia. However the authorities keep repeating that the August Russian invasion could not have been avoided.

The West has indirectly admitted that Georgia is currently far from the sort of democracy it targeted during the Rose Revolution. The EU, US and NATO have made the development of democracy a priority precondition of the country receiving assistance of any kind. The Saakashvili administration has promised a new wave of democracy, and the President recently initiated legislation which would oblige him to give up the enhanced Presidential powers he was granted in 2004. Amendments to the Constitution and election code are being worked on. The most important thing however is not to stop only at declarations and PR measures. The authorities must implement real changes which would have serious positive consequences for democratic development.

Another issue which is influencing the entire world is the global economic crisis. The administration is trying to blame all Georgia’s economic hardships on the crisis but economic analysts blame the strategy it chose, saying that many problems could have been avoided if the administration had conducted a more thoroughly-thought through economic policy. The money the country has received, which was regarded as indicating its development, was mostly gained by privatizing and selling off important national assets. Less attention was paid to the development of a middle class, whose job stability and purchasing power would drive more meaningful and sustainable development.

There was one other very important issue this year. Now we have all understood the true role of Russia in the Caucasus. It has unmasked itself, and is no longer disguised by the uniform of a peacekeeper. It has shown its real face to the world, which can now see that Georgia’s problems did not begin in the summer of 2008 but much earlier. Whether or not it does anything to help Georgia, this image shows all the signs of lingering in Western consciousness, and bring an end to the falsely-grounded hopes of a “new Russia” which emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union and conditioned Western thinking for so long afterwards.

Georgia greets 2009 with hope. It understands though that the new year brings many challenges to the country. How much all the leading actors serve Georgia’s interests, and how much their own, will define what 2009 brings to Georgia.