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Reflections on the 'Mental Revolution' in Georgia

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, September 14
Ever since the internationally-renowned Economist magazine published an article entitled 'Georgia's Mental Revolution' the phrase has been quick to slip from the lips of Saakashvili and his team. They clearly take pleasure in quoting the article because it outlined their official version of the outcomes of the Rose Revolution of 2003.

This 'mental revolution' is held up to be the greatest achievement of the Rose Revolutionaries. It is alleged to have been ushered in by the fresh young men and women who came to occupy key positions in the government following the Rose Revolution. These young people had received their education in the West and disdained all things Soviet. They went about combating the Soviet-style bureaucracy and all of them were determined to build up a new modern state and develop the country. The Economist argued that the mental revolution in Georgia resulted from dismantling the perception of the country as a former Soviet republic and repackaging Georgia as a new state with a clean break.

President Saakashvili brandished the assessment of the Economist several times during appearances in various places this year such as the US and Poland.

However, more skeptical minds point out that claiming to create a new man and mentality has been an over-optimistic, utopian characteristic of many a revolution down the ages. The phrase then serves as a useful and deliberately crafted soundbite rather than an accurate expression of what has happened in Georgia. As analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze argues, the 'mental revolution' is directly connected to the slogan of 'zero tolerance' in crime and justice which has lowered crime rates but overseen the rise of the prison population by 300% and the establishment of a viciously retributive criminal justice system. In such a situation, rather than changing mentality, people are merely cowed and controlled.

If, however, the phrase 'mental revolution' is used to refer more narrowly to the international arena and the move in Georgia towards a more global outlook and orientation towards the West then perhaps the expression has more meaningful purchase. This is the view of Temur Koridze, a former official during President Zviad Gamsakhurdias administration. Domestically though, Koridze warns that to claim a 'mental revolution' is to commit the same fallacy as the Soviets in their ill-founded attempts to produce a 'new Soviet man'. Despite the most radical efforts of the Bolsheviks over a 70 year period, how that experiment ended is well known and should perhaps act as a warning. Currently, with forthcoming elections looming congratulatory talk of a 'mental revolution' might prove premature. During a time of fair electoral competition, whether Georgians really do feel that they have been made anew will become clearer.