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Two Decades of the Rose Revolution: A Divisive Anniversary for Georgian Politics

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, December 11, 2023
The 20th anniversary of the Rose Revolution turned out to be the basis for different messages for the political spectrum. The Georgian Dream evaluates this event negatively, while the United National Movement and the political forces that arose from the UNM, consider the Rose Revolution to be the most important event in the recent history of Georgia. The part of the pro-Western opposition, which separates itself from the National Movement, looks at the Rose Revolution with restraint.

To assess the Rose Revolution, it is perhaps appropriate to look at it in a global context. The rose revolution started a whole series of 'color' or 'flower' revolutions, which took place in 2003-2005 and led to certain changes in the international arena. The first revolution took place in Georgia in November 2003 and represented a protest against the falsified parliamentary elections. The Rose Revolution was followed by the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon in February 2005, and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in March 2005.

This ended the wave of revolutions. Attempts at a "color" revolution in Belarus and Moldova ended in failure. What did the Rose Revolution bring to Georgia? Accelerating reforms and dramatically strengthening the Western vector in the country's foreign policy, an application was made for joining the European Union and NATO. As a result of reforms, modern state institutions were created and corruption practically disappeared from the life of ordinary people.

Georgia became a model country for the post-Soviet states for a simple reason - if post-Soviet Georgia succeeded, they could do the same. Building a modern state meant leaving Russia's sphere of influence. This would pit Moscow against Georgia in the age of rising neo-imperialism."Putin perceived the Rose Revolution as a conspiracy against Russia," Saakashvili said on the 20th anniversary of the revolution. Of course, Saakashvili's government made many mistakes during the reforms. Perhaps the main mistake was that they assumed that it would be easier to carry out reforms without democratic changes. That is why they idealized Singaporean Lee's rule, and in the end, they created a strange formula - we want Lee Kuan's Singapore with elements of Switzerland.

The lack of democracy contributed to the growth of dissatisfaction in the society, and already in 2008, Saakashvili had a very difficult time - he had to leave the post of president and hold re-elections, and the August 2008 war with Russia dealt a heavy blow to Georgia and Saakashvili's domestic and foreign positions.

The rule of the National Movement lasted until the 2012 parliamentary elections. Saakashvili's team did not expect defeat, but with the advice received from the West, they reconciled themselves to defeat and handed over power to the Georgian Dream formed by Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Changing the government through elections is generally good for democracy, but only if the political forces do not see it as a tragedy. After 2012, Georgian Dream is already in power for the third term and it is already announcing another convincing victory in the upcoming 2024 parliamentary elections. Saakashvili himself notes today that in 2012 democracy did not win by changing the government, but Putin was able to overthrow it with hybrid methods and brought the Russian-Georgian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili to the government of Georgia.

During the rule of the National Movement, every year the anniversary of the Rose Revolution was celebrated, especially since it coincided with the traditional religious feast of St. George for the Georgian people. Since 2012, the Georgian Dream government no longer considers the Rose Revolution celebration-worthy. On the contrary, it is seen as a negative event. For example, in 2019, Irakli Gharibashvili said that the Rose Revolution brought the country's economy to the point of desolation.

Saakashvili, the main organizer of the Rose Revolution, marked the 20th anniversary of it in prison. As for his party, there is an internal conflict between the new leader Levan Khabeishvili and the previous leader Nika Melia. Saakashvili is trying to maintain the unity of the party, and on the 20th anniversary of the revolution, a special manifesto was published on the action plan, which should become the basis of unity.

The UNM honors the 20th anniversary of the Rose Revolution, which the Georgian Dream opposes. Regarding the anniversary, Irakli Kobakhidze said:

"The Rose Revolution brought to this country torture, inhuman treatment, business racketeering, loss of 20% of territories... Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Rose Revolution is simply hubris and nothing more."

The Chairman of the Parliament Giorgi Papuashvili repeats the same. According to him, the rule of the National Movement has shown that revolutionary changes lead to bad results, the National Movement has created an authoritarian regime, a system that violates human dignity, and a system of inhumane treatment.

There is no unanimous opinion among the opposition regarding the solemn celebration of the Rose Revolution. Iago Khvichiya, chairman of the Girchi party, considers it strange that the National Movement celebrates this date, because the leader of the party, Saakashvili, is a prisoner.

The UNM believes that the Rose Revolution played a great role in the development of the country. For the citizens of Georgia, this was a turning point, when Georgia had a chance for European development. Today, despite everything, this chance is taking a real shape.