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Conversations About National Reconciliation Against the Backdrop of Political Polarization

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, December 27
The political polarization in Georgia and the need to reduce it have long been talked about both inside and outside the country. The opposition initiated the talk of national reconciliation, but the vision of the issue of reconciliation was polarized too.

President Zurabishvili also took the initiative to reach a national consensus, met with the Patriarch on the issue and received a blessing from him. However, the future will show whether even a partial agreement can be reached or not.

At a virtual summit organized by US President Joe Biden on December 10, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili vowed to engage the public to launch a process to achieve a “common understanding of recent history.” These words were interpreted as the pursuit of consensus in society and, consequently, the reduction of polarization.

US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan immediately responded to President Zurabishvili’s initiative, noting that the United States would be happy to support any initiative that would help reduce polarization and resolve deep divisions in the country. At the same time, according to Degnan, it is important to work in the Parliament of Georgia to reduce polarization.

Clearly, steps to reduce polarization are expected primarily from the government. On December 15, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg directly called on Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili to work with the ruling party to “resolve political differences and reduce polarization rhetoric and activities.” He also noted that Georgia is expected to adhere to democratic standards.

Stoltenberg did not receive an answer from Gharibashvili, but he was soon answered by Irakli Kobakhidze, the chairman of the Georgian Dream from Tbilisi. He told reporters that the ruling party would “do everything” to reduce polarization, but “within a rational framework.” Unfortunately, the government and the opposition have radically different views on what is ‘rational’.

The opposition considers it impossible to reach an agreement in the context of political repression, when lawsuits against political leaders and media managers continue, with a view to their possible arrest. The release of Mikheil Saakashvili, the announcement of a general political amnesty and the appointment of early parliamentary elections are considered to be an important step towards reconciliation by the opposition.

The response of the Georgian Dream to the initiative of national reconciliation by the opposition is already known. According to Irakli Kobakhidze, this requires Mikheil Saakashvili and his government officials to repent of the crimes committed during their rule, to answer for them, and after that the ‘National Movement’ must leave politics altogether.

In other words, the main opposition party, which could not ‘finish’ anything through elections, should disappear from Georgian politics.

In the face of such differing views of the government and the opposition, it is difficult to say what President Zurabishvili can actually do to reach an agreement, even with the blessing of the patriarch.

It is more likely that an agreement will be reached on some of the issues covered by the famous Charles Michel Agreement, the implementation of which was made problematic by the Georgian Dream when the agreement was annulled. For example, a constitutional amendment to reduce the electoral threshold to 2% is relevant today.

The amendment was adopted in the first reading, but the Georgian Dream sets a new condition and agrees to further consideration only if the opposition stops talking about early elections and reconciles with the fact that no elections will be held in Georgia until 2024.

This was discussed during the December 15 meeting of the opposition with Irakli Kobakhidze, however, judging by the statements made publicly, this request is unacceptable for the opposition participating in the meeting.

In the current situation, a significant part of the opposition is skeptical about the possibility of reaching a national consensus, because the government does not want a real step in this direction, and as Giga Bokeria notes, the process of universal reconciliation “will turn into a simulation and decoration.”

The opposition is not going to remove the demand for early elections from the agenda, nor will it abandon the issue of Saakashvili's release from prison. Will continue protests in this direction.

The government does not attach much importance to the opposition-organized protest rallies, especially in the period before the New Year. The constitutional amendments will be returned to parliament in February.

By this time, there is likely to be some sort of crisis in Ukraine, and if the West is able to defend Ukraine and oust Putin, the Georgian government will heed the advice of its Western friends on democratic reforms.