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  • Jerome Kocher

76. Rose Revolution and The Dream

The 1990’s was a traumatic and crushing reality check for former Soviet Republics and Eastern Europe. The USSR had collapsed. The security and stability of a central government had disappeared. Survival, food, jobs were all up for grabs. Even with the initial euphoria of Independence for these countries, the morning after was brutal. No currency. No utilities to administer electricity or water. Start again from scratch. There was no magic pill for the chaos. 

Like many, Georgia fell into the Wild West of Capitalism where organized crime filled the vacuum. A system of what they called “The Thieves” became a civil organization of bribes. It even reflected the religious history of the country by “baptizing” and "canonizing” gangsters in their promotion up through the ranks of corruption. It was a decade of hardship to say the least. 

Without detailing the different stages, something miraculous happened in 2003. A nonviolent change of power took place in Georgia. Enough was enough. People took to the streets, each carrying a rose. In the Parliament, the then corrupt President was speaking when a key opposition leader appeared. The police were on the side of the people and escorted the President out of the building, famously leaving a fresh cup of hot tea on the podium. The opposition leader took the podium and “drank the tea” of the former President. Change for the better had finally come, starting with firing all police and creating a new civil service system, where training and better salaries insured a professional work force that served the citizens. 

The following years were not a fairy tale, but they did create a better story for Georgia. Corruption was rooted out. Gangsters and a mafiosa system of thieves were given a choice: either leave or go to prison. When the lights went on, the cockroaches left. Ironically, the president was so successful it led to an abuse of power by those who had actually changed the system for the better.

Ten years later in 2012 a new political party called the Georgian Dream became popular. It said all the right things, even seeking Georgia’s candidacy in the European Union. But it was inspired by someone whose wealth came from Russian oligarchy. The jury is still out. But the suspicion lingers. Is this really a Trojan Horse, a Russian influenced party, Putin’s Puppet, that pays tribute to popular themes but its actions don’t match the rhetoric.

A garden will always have weeds. It needs constant attention. The same is true for Georgia’s “rose garden” planted in 2003. It’s an inspiring story. And Georgia is light years beyond the chaos of the 90’s. But an election is coming this Fall, just as it is in the United States and last week in Mexico. Is the Georgian Dream just clever marketing or the Real Deal? 

A new law called “The Foreign Agent Law” is controversial. It requires all civil, society and media organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources to declare their finances and submit to government oversight. On the surface it presumes to increase the transparency  of nongovernmental organizations and protect the sovereignty of Georgia from outside influence. But it is uncannily similar to a Kremlin law used to repress dissent and political opposition. Last week saw large scale protests in Tbilisi against this new law.

After the "Foreign Agent Law" was adopted by the Georgian Dream Party the European Union is reconsidering Georgia's status. Will this be a deal breaker? Will a highly orthodox population's view of LGBTQ also alter the EU's opinion? Georgia is facing Westward, despite its centuries old legacy as an intersection of The Silk Road where East meets West? Does it need to align with the European Union for stability and commerce like it pursued the Russian Empire over two hundred years ago for protection. Georgia is independent. But can it be a non-aligned nation in current geopolitics? Is that even possible? Georgian elections will be held the end of October, just two weeks before elections in the U.S. Put your seatbelt on!

Will this be a Georgian Dream or Nightmare? I don’t know. And neither does Georgia!

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