Georgian President Saakashvili Speaks on Democratic Transition at USIP
February 1, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
On February 1, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) partnered with the Atlantic Council to host President Mikheil Saakashvili for a talk on Georgia’s democratic transformation, the challenges post-revolutionary societies face and what countries like Tunisia and Egypt can learn from Georgia’s example. Dr. Richard Solomon (President, USIP) delivered the opening remarks and Mr. Damon Wilson (Executive Vice President, Atlantic Council) moderated the discussion after the president’s speech.
President Saakashvili began his speech by acknowledging that a year after the beginning of the uprisings in the Arab world, the international community still cannot foresee which movements will produce democracies or end in disappointment. The people of the Arab world did help inspire people in Russia and other places to take their grievances to streets and demonstrate.
He then reflected on Georgia’s transition since 2003. Georgia was an “utterly failed state,” filled with corrupt police and government workers and warlords. Corruption was the main source of public anger leading up to the Rose Revolution. Saakashvili focused on this issue and made significant progress, so much so that the World Bank’s report on fighting corruption used Georgia as a case example.
The president discussed some of the differences between democracies and authoritarian states. In democracies, people feel ownership over their state so Georgia embarked on a decentralization project that gave more power to local and regional levels of government. Authoritarian societies artificially divide people so Georgia sought to begin to reverse this by granting legal status to all faiths and embracing multiculturalism.
Saakashvili also praised American organizations and institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and others that have played important roles in Georgia’s transition. He warned that these are high value investments despite what others may think, and that in the end we will all be safer with more democracies and less dictatorships in the world. He mentioned his visit with President Obama and thanked him for “unwavering support.”
With regard to next steps for post-revolution Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and others, Saakashvili recommends being bold and riding the wave of popular support to truly transform society and not to hold back. He hinted that institutions and governments should be reconstituted all at once, instead of piece by piece since remnants of the old order may influence the process and newly empowered citizens will be impatient about change.
For previous news on Georgia, please see:
Georgian Government Represses Protests
USIP - The Day After: President Saakashvili on Post-Revolutionary Societies and What Comes after the Arab Spring