Op-eds

Op-ed | Crisis Must Bring Solutions


Author

Tinatin Khidasheli leads “Civic Idea,” an activist and democratic education platform. She served as the Minister of Defense of Georgia in 2015-2016.

The government is afraid to use the word “crisis.” Why do they insist there is no crisis? Why do they seek and find the new words for naming something that is so simple, and lies on the surface?

It took Charles Michel, a politician who presides over the meetings of all 27 leaders of the EU, several hours of his stay in Georgia, to discover that this neighbor of the European Union is in such a deep crisis, that it is beyond calls from press rooms and friendly advice in private meetings. He decided to sit the Georgian politicians down personally, at the negotiating table.

There is much to lament in this. We have been playing at statehood for 30 years now, and yet still remain in the domain of civic confrontation so acute, that it requires externally mediated and facilitated talks patterned after those in the Middle East. Just to sit at the same negotiating table.

Why is that happening? Because the government is afraid. It is afraid because it is deeply incompetent. It is afraid, because many cabinet members found themselves on the political arena completely by accident. Afraid, because they are corrupt and worry, that losing power might mean losing liberty. Afraid also – because it is completely immoral. 

A man stands at the helm of the government now, who encouraged punishing little boys for their words, and who still considers it a palatable course of action to take. This is something that amuses and moves him. More so, he is trying to don the mantle of victim in this immoral drama. He is afraid, because he thinks that if he loses power, he will lose his liberty with it.

For all these fears, he refuses to recognize that crisis exists and perhaps – even convinces himself that it does not. Since he does not admit to it, he cannot fathom what tomorrow would look like, what are the actions he might want – or need – to take. The government like this is dangerous internally and can’t serve as a partner externally.

Georgia entered the 1990s with the so-called “Baker formula” (after U.S. State Secretary James Baker who was trying to resolve differences between the government of Eduard Shevardnadze and his opponents) and we are still there 30 years later: standing calmly and uncompromisingly in front of the abyss.

If there was one person in the Georgian government with minimal knowledge or experience of governing, that person would know that crisis is normal. I would even argue, crisis is a natural and at times even desirable process. We shall not fear it, we shall embrace it as a challenge, as an opportunity to push the boundaries of what was considered normal. Crisis calls for extraordinary decisions and actions that may bring progress, give new breath to the country. Herein maybe our opportunity – but the government, it turns out has neither capacity, nor education to cease it. And neither – it turns out – it is willing to do so.

Yet, it is during the crises that nations give birth to new ideas and new leaders. The crisis is a tragedy only when and if the country, the nation is not capable of giving birth to the next big idea, and of giving way to the new leaders that embody it.

So perhaps, the crux of the problem is not the crisis, but the nation’s inability to produce change?

When does the consensus fail to emerge, and the actors fail to re-start the process? That is when the political elite – all of it – is tragically impaired.

We must appreciate the opposition’s ability to stand together, which they – unexpectedly for many – have shown during this present crisis. But we must also recall that this unity is only an instrument for achieving a concrete result. Whenever one tries to go beyond that narrow purpose, the unity vanishes – because there is no objective ground for it.

It seems that the lack of unity is not only an inter-party phenomenon, but also plagues the parties from within. We could see these signs of mistrust clearly during the mediation. While speaking ad nauseam about unity, the opposition parties could not even come up with common and stable negotiators. Thus the former Georgian Ambassador to the EU, Salome Samadasvhili was shadowed by street activist from her party, while the former Foreign Minister and Parliament Chair David Bakradze had his own, super-confrontational minder.

When the country is hungry for the new ideas and the new leaders, the misunderstood notions of unity act as a break on a critically important process of renewal. This cannot continue.

I have not sat in that room, but I have sat in many a room when the principal actors were the same. The underlying spirit remains: “consensus,” “compromise,” and “cohabitation” denote foreign and deplorable notions in Georgian politics. The sole achievement at the negotiating table is to come across as more uncompromising than the others. 

I can see with absolute clarity, that for the large majority of the participants [of the mediation process] the main objective was to place a sharp word at an appropriate moment, with maximum damaging effect. Blaming each other most astutely for the respective 9 years’ of trouble was their main pleasure and achievement, which they were striving for and which – apparently – they succeeded at.

Another former chair of the Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze has given a particularly poignant example of such scornful sharpness during the press conference when he thought the mediation was over, and he did not have to play the game anymore. This man is the head of the ruling party. The party, which considers snap elections as an evil incarnate, while having a political prisoner – a normal situation. Honesty demands to say, that every previous leader of Georgia understood things in precisely the same manner.

The good news is that Georgia won’t fall victim to this crisis. The state will persist and stay on the world map for centuries to come. Perhaps we might even learn how to make wine even better, and our national dance ensemble will, probably, be just as impressive. The Borjomi will also spring eternal. Didn’t one orator name in 1989, during one of the rallies that very triad – wine, dance and Borjomi as things that will save the country?!

What will never happen though, is that the country like this will never join the NATO, nor the European Union, because it lacks the most important thing – political maturity, aspiration towards security and pursuit of happiness for its citizens. Such a country cannot be reliable, it cannot serve as a partner.  

Who is to blame? The response is banal – everyone is. But first of all those politicians that consider it possible to offer to pay the price of 2 kilos of potatoes for a vote, and those people who are willing to sell their vote for that price. Is it really surprising then, that someone who bought your vote for that price becomes a minister who “demands two corpses” of his enemies, or will say that “the crime is doing well,” or things that “Taliban is a good person”? That the minister of health is afraid of getting publicly vaccinated?

One good man, and my friend, used to repeat “this is how your motherland is, kid, there is no salvation, no salvation.” Perhaps, but even when the future looks bleak, we should make that salvation possible: me, you, all of us together. There is only one solution, one, big idea, that can be created by new leaders. The nation should be able to birth it.

The Georgian version of this op-ed appeared on Publika news site.

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