Georgia at the crossroads – time for the West to resolutely resist losing an ally on its eastern frontier
The Republic of Georgia is now at the crossroads between democracy and authoritarianism. On the morning of February 23, the head of the largest opposition party (United National Movement - UNM) was arrested at the party’s headquarters. The coming weeks will decisively impact the country’s democratic and transatlantic trajectories.
Without proactive engagement by the U.S. and its European allies, the remarkable strides Georgians have made since the country’s independence in 1991 might be undermined. To help democratic Georgians realize their aspirations, leaders of the transatlantic community need to resolutely redefine their approach toward Georgia to prevent its drift into autocracy and away from the West. A good start would be a genuine political dialogue as well as respecting the rule of law and judiciary independence.
We, the West, should put Georgian citizens’ legitimate interests in living in a democratic and prosperous country at the center of our policies. We should, first and foremost, think about them as well as our own reputation and trust that they are aligned with the West.
Georgia deserves high praise as the frontrunner among the Eastern Partnership countries. Significant progress was made with democratic reforms, crucial to its long-standing transatlantic agenda. For example, the 2012 elections resulted in a peaceful government transition for the first time in the South Caucasus’ history, exemplifying how a post-Soviet state can escape the Russian sphere of influence, stand on its own and integrate with the West, although this progress was taken for granted by states supporting Georgia’s westward direction.
Having said that, the tide turned against Georgia: the U.S. and US’s European partners failed to respond to the first signs of its democratic regression. Therefore, Georgian political elites have gradually curtailed basic civil and political rights in exchange for short-term political gains.
These developments raise worries about Georgia’s democratic credentials and - ultimately - its geopolitical orientation. International and local NGOs warned of state capture by Georgia Dream founder and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose clout affords him leverage in domestic politics. As a result, Georgians witnessed the growing politicization of the judiciary, deinstitutionalization of governance, and the arbitrary application of the law.
The corruption of the judiciary for political ends is incompatible with the values to which Georgians and their government aspire. It is now necessary, more than ever, that both the ruling party and the opposition resume talks toward resolving the crisis and implement the March 8 Agreement for electoral reform. This and other actions, ensuring electoral integrity, were achieved with the involvement of U.S. and European diplomats empowered by political support in their respective capitals. Still, they can do more.
Georgia’s course needs to be righted. Failure to resolve the differences between these political rivals will further democratic backsliding, diminishing Georgia’s transatlantic ambitions. The transatlantic community’s failure to prevent further regression would endanger our strategic interests in the region and leave our democratic Georgian allies isolated and justifiably embittered.
We call on the U.S. and the EU to intervene-to help freedom-loving Georgians curb the government’s trend toward authoritarian behavior. Washington and Brussels should demand resolution of the current political standoff through genuine political dialogue in line with the spirit of the rule of law.
We contend that these actions, coupled with concentrated diplomatic engagement and renewed transatlantic integration withWestern leaders, will incentivize Georgia’s political elites to uphold the rule of law, thus ensuring equality before the law and justice for all Georgia's citizens.
Andrius Kubilius, Member of the European Parliament, Former Prime Minister of Lithuania
Marketa Gregorová, Member of the European Parliament, Czech Republic
Rasa Juknevičiené, Member of the European Parliament, Former Minister of Defence of Lithiuania
Ambassador Paata Gaprindashvili, Director of Georgia's Reforms Associates (GRASS), Georgia
Ambassador Žygimantas Pavilionis, Chair of Foreign Affairs Committee, Lithuanian Parliament
Ambassador Jan Piekło, former Ambassador of Poland to Ukraine
James Nixey, Director, Russia-Eurasia and Europe Programmes, United Kingdom
Edward Lucas, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, United Kingdom
Hana Hopko, Chairwoman of ANTS Network, Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee the Ukrainian Parliament (2014-2019), Ukraine
Tamar Kintsurashvili, Executive Director, Media Development Foundation, Georgia
Tinatin Khidasheli, former Minister of Defence, Chairperson, Civic Idea, Georgia
Kamil Basaj, INFO OPS Poland Foundation, Poland
Alyona Getmanchuk, Director, New Europe Center, Ukraine
Roland Freudenstein, Policy Director, Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, Belgium
Giedrius Sakalauskas, Res Publica - Civic Resilience Center, Lithuania
Mykhailo Gonchar, President of the Centre for Global Studies "Strategy XXI”, Ukraine
Egor Kuroptev, Director, Free Russia Foundation in South Caucasus, Georgia
Matej Kandrik, Director, STRATPOL, Slovakia
Peter Koles, Director, Slovak Security Policy Institute, Slovakia
Brian Whitmore, Nonresident senior fellow, Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, USA
Mark Voyger, Senior Fellow, Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA)
Eto Buziashvili, Research Associate, Atlantic Council, Georgia
Mariam Tsitsikashvili, Project Manager, Georgia's Reforms Associates (GRASS), Georgia
Leo Litra, Senior Research Fellow, New Europe Center, Ukraine, Moldova
Jan Paďourek, former Deputy Director of Czech external intelligence service, Czech Republic
Pavel Havlíček, Research Fellow, Association of International Affairs, Czech Republic
Jakub Janda, Executive Director, European Values Center for Security Policy, Czech Republic
David Stulík, Senior Analyst & Head of Eastern European Program, European Values Center for Security Policy, Czech Republic
Juraj Mesík, Slovak Foreign Policy Association, Slovakia
David Naroushvili, Project Coordinator, Georgia's Reforms Associates (GRASS), Georgia
Ani Kintsurashvili, Lead Researcher, Civic Idea, Georgia
Andrii Lavreniuk, Ukrinform, Ukraine
Givi Gigitashvili, Researcher, Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, Georgia