Friday, April 28, 2006

"Old" Intelligentsia and "New" Intellectuals: The Georgian Experience

Author: Zaza Shatirishvili

About twelve years ago, when Sergei Paradzhanov[1] and Merab Mamardashvili[2] both died in the space of one year, everything was crystal clear in Georgian political life. The world was simple in a black-and-white way, divided into "us" and "them". "They" (the "Zviadists"[3]) were bad; as for "us" (the "anti-Zviadists"), although we might not have been perfectly good, we were still fighting for marvellously good, progressive and, as we later learned, "liberal" values. Today, a similar clarity reigns in Georgian intellectual life: on the one hand, there's the "old" (or, more pejoratively, "nomenclature") intelligentsia, on the other hand, there are the "new" (Western-type) intellectuals. This was the title of a seminar which took place last September at the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development at the initiative of its director, the philosopher and political scientist Gia Nodia.....The full text you can find here

Source: NZ Debates on Politics and Culture

Saturday, April 22, 2006

After the 'revolution': civil society and the challenges of consolidating democracy in Georgia

Central Asian Survey (September 2005) 24(3), 333-350


As a result of the November 2003 'Rose Revolution' Georgia experienced its second revolutionary regime change since independence in 1991. Yet in contrast to the coup in 1992 that ousted President Shevardnadze's predecessor, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, it was civil society, rather than warlord armies, that emerged as the major force behind the revolution. Drawing on a groundswell of popular discontent against the incumbent regime and the blatant falsification of the November parliamentary poll, civil society, made up of a coalition of political parties, NGOs and leading elements of the independent media, forced Shevardnadze to resign some three weeks after the election. While this once again highlighted the inability of the Georgian electoral process to secure a constitutional power handover, this was a peaceful protest movement in which civil society effectively captured the state. Over the following six months, the Rose revolutionaries consolidated their hold on the state through crushing victories in presidential and parliamentary elections, and in regional elections in the Autonomous Republic of Ajara. Recalling the leveling of the Georgian political scene after Shevardnadze's accession to the Presidency in 1992, the Rose Revolution has led to the scattering of political opposition and the establishment of virtual single party rule. Unlike 1992, however, it has also left doubts regarding Georgian civil society's ability to maintain an appropriate distance from a regime in whose accession to power it played a central role.
The Rose Revolution and its aftermath raise a number of impol1ant questions regarding the character and impact of civil society-driven regime change. First, how can the Rose Revolution be explained? Was it a reflection of the maturity of Georgian civil society and Georgia's democratic vocation, as its supporters claim, or a coup staged by 'rentier democrats' bank-rolled by Western funders, as its critics suggest? In either case why was the Shevardnadze regime unable to contain the opposition and civil society actors to prolong its hold on power, as incumbent regimes in other parts of the Caucasus and Central Asia have been able to do? Second, will the installation of a new regime lead to reform of Georgia's 'neo-patrimonial' state, enhance the prospects for wider political participation, increase government accountability and advance democratic progress based on improved civil society-state relations? What are the implications of the overwhelming mandates won by President Mikheil Saakashvili and the trium¬phant party coalition, the National Movement-Democrats, for the new regime's ability to project itself as genuinely democratic? Finally, given the context of another revolutionary turnover of power how capable are Georgia's democratic institutions of accommodating and channelling the political pluralism manifest in Georgian civil society? Two years on, the Georgian political scene is still in a state of flux, the new authorities continue to act in a revolutionary mode, and only tentative answers to these questions may at present be offered.

Laurence Broers is a PhD al University of London. Correspondence should be addressed to The school of Oriental and African Studies. 51 Arodene Road. London SW2 2BQ. UK (Tel: +44 (0) 208-678-9606).

The author would like to thank Bhavna Dave. Gia Tarkhan-Mouravi. Gia Abashidze. Magdalena Frichova and Sabine Freizer for assistance in the preparation of this article.

Shevardnadze's Georgia: 'democracy without democrats'

To understand the Rose Revolution's context and aftermath, a brief review of developments in Georgian political life in the preceding decade is required. Under President Shevardnadze, Georgia earned an unjustified reputation among many Western observers as a success story of post-Soviet democratization. Shevardnadze played a key role in the restoration of Georgian statehood following civil war and fragmentation in the early 1990s. Yet in its latter years his presidency saw the rise of a neo-patrimonialist state, in which notions of public accountabil¬ity, constitutional review and normative rules and standards of government played little role. Rather than consolidating discontinuity with the Soviet past, continuity with Soviet practices became increasingly apparent at a number of levels: conti¬nuity in the ruling elite itself, an elite characterized by increasing arrogance and complacency, limited opportunities for political participation, personal rather than normative loyalties among officials, and, overall, the reduction of a meaning¬ful public realm for the practice of politics. This led to rising tensions and the polarization of Georgian politics between a broad coalition of incumbents and those challenging them.
Shevardnadze's rule was characterized by the progressive entrenchment of vested interests and the informalization of Georgian politics. This was intrinsically linked to a dramatic rise in levels of corruption, which ate into almost every sphere of political and social life and significantly reduced state revenue. Cross-country surveys have consistently ranked Georgia among the most corrupt countries of the world, particularly with regard to 'administrative corruption', where enterprises pay bribes to avoid regulation, and 'state capture', where enterprises 'purchase' laws, amendments and beneficial regulations from state actors. Key sectors of Georgian industry and society attracting notoriety as the most corrupt included the energy sector, higher education, law enforcement agencies, particularly the transport and traffic police, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In April 2001 an Anti-Corruption Policy Coordination Council was created to combat cor¬ruption, which resulted in the dismissal-but neither arrest nor prosecution-of a number of high-ranking officials. These efforts were widely perceived as inadequate given the scale of the problem, leaving the administration in the vulnerable position of having publicly recognized corruption as a problem without proposing or acting on effective measures to combat it. The government's failure to act on corruption prompted the International Monetary Fund to suspend its programmes in Georgia two months before the November 2003 parliamentary election. By late 2003 'corruption' had become the dominant metaphor explaining state incapacity in Georgia, and provided a resonant campaigning platform for the opposition in the November poll.
Concurrent with the informalization of the state was its wide-ranging atrophy, a phenomenon discernible at multiple levels: the failure to provide basic amenities or guarantees of social welfare, such as a constant electricity supply or pensions; inadequate and chronically delayed salaries in the swollen and ineffective public sector (thereby encouraging bribery); and failures to enact or even elaborate policies that could generate resources other than those provided by external donors. Atrophy of the ruling apparatus was dramatically illustrated in the demise of the presidential party, the Citizens' Union of Georgia (CUG). Having won a deci¬sive victory in the 1999 parliamentary election with 56% of the vote, the CUG looked poised to become a hegemonic party. In 2001, however, the CUG was rocked by a number of high-profile desertions, losing much of its organizational capacity. As a result the party suffered a crushing defeat in the 2002 local elections. The fragmentation of the CUG brought an important democratic dividend through the spawning of a number of new opposition parties, but also elicited attempts to strengthen the centralized appointee system of executives in local government to compensate for the ruling party's loss of influence at the local level.
Another important trend in recent years has been the persistence and indeed entrenchment of authoritarian enclaves in Georgia. First and foremost this concerned the political regime in the autonomous republic of Ajara, the only autonomous unit inherited from Soviet rule remaining within Georgian jurisdic¬tion. Under the leadership of its Supreme Council Chairman, AsIan Abashidze, Ajara was notable for the continued salience of a model of political authority rooted in characteristically Soviet forms: state institutions were fused with Abashidze's Union of Democratic Revival party, civil society and the media remained tightly harnessed to the regime, elections typically featured turnouts and approval ratings for the incumbent regime in excess of 90%, and power was legitimated through a Soviet-style paternalism and a lavish personality cult surrounding the figure of Abashidze himself. A second, more ambiguous, form of authoritarian enclave developed in Georgia's southern tier, in the regions of Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli. Successive elections in these regions have been marked by a lack of pluralism, implausibly high turnouts and artificially inflated support for governing parties, secured by focal 'big men' capable of deli¬vering block votes on the basis of local patronage or ethnic solidarity with local Armenian and Azerbaijani communities. The effects of this unchanged politique de notables are evident in the near-total seclusion of these regions and their inhabitants from the mainstream of Georgian politics.
Finally, the progressive decline in the standards of Georgian elections since the early 1990s must be noted. Following elections broadly regarded as free and fair in
1992 and 1995, the standards of following elections steadily deteriorated. Both the parliamentary and presidential elections of 1999 - 2000 were marred by wide¬spread and systematic violations. These elections presented only the semblance of pluralism obscuring 'behind the scenes' pacts between the forces contesting them. The 2000 presidential election was further marred by demonstrations of fealty by appointees in local executives through the delivery of 'appropriate' results favouring Shevardnadze. These defects offset the ostensible pluralism of the Georgian multiparty system (22 parties and blocs contested the November election), and account for dismal public expectations of the electoral process.
Under Shevardnadze the political party system in Georgia remained poorly developed, for although parties were many in number they remained weak politi¬cal actors, mainly because of differentiation in their capacity to mobilize resources. Georgian parties tend to be personality based, alliances and coalitions shift frequently and generally lack nationwide party structures, loyal memberships or a sound financial base. While incumbent parties have often relied on 'adminis¬trative resources' to secure representation, opposition parties have often been forced to resort to alternative means of generating funds, such as selling positions on their party lists or cultivating close links with business interests. Political parties also demonstrate very little ideological differentiation. Clearly contrasting political programmes are not presented, and if they are, they bear little relation to what a party does in office; furthermore, policy-based campaigns have proven to be unsuccessful. The absence of differentiated ideological positions, while reflecting Georgia's lack of economic choices as a donor-dependent state, is also dictated by the weighting of its political system towards the presidency. In an environment where clientelism is salient and resources scarce, this detracts from the importance of the legislature, as the only way for party leaders to distri¬bute largesse is by joining the ruling party or at least aligning themselves with it. The Georgian political system's bias towards the executive has further encouraged the instrumentalization of political parties as vehicles of personal ambition. Parties operating as the personal vehicles of their leaders alienate electorates from the democratic process (although where they are successful in distributing largesse they may be seen as representing constituencies in a specific way). Internally, undemocratic decision-making structures and clientelism limits political parties' capacity to habituate their members to democratic practices and collective decision-making.
The two chief parties spawned by the fragmentation of the CUG were Mikheil Saakashvili's National Movement (formed November 2001) and Zurab Zhvania's United Democrats (formed November 2002). Both Drew extensively on former cadres of the CUG, yet to varying extents were successful in portraying them¬selves as oppositional, 'Western', pro-democracy parties. Especially for the National Movement, Saakashvili's personal charisma and the well-honed image and logo (now Georgia's national flag) of the party allowed it to make consider¬able progress within a year of its creation. What differentiated the National Move¬ment and United Democrats parties from other opposition parties was their appeal to civil society actors. However, this was only partially attributable to their political platforms; at least as important was the perception that these parties pre¬sented the only hope for unseating the Shevardnadze regime.
In sum, from the late 1990s onwards Georgia demonstrated signs of democratic erosion, defined by Guillermo O'Donnell in the Latin American context as a 'progressive diminution of existing spaces for the exercise of civilian power and the effectiveness of classic guarantees of liberal constitutionalism'. Georgia's democratic shortcomings were nonetheless of a different order to those of the more authoritarian regimes found in other parts of the Caucasus and in Central Asia. Under Shevardnadze open attempts to inhibit democratic development, though present, were exceptional; Georgia could thus be character¬ized as a 'democracy without democrats'. However, towards the end of his presidency, Shevardnadze' s surrounding by personalities with manifestly cynical attitudes towards democratic values tarnished his image as the mainstay of Georgia's democratic development. This had two consequences. On the one hand, it compromised his personal legitimacy with both internal and external audi¬ences, a long-standing buttress against critics of his regime. On the other, it left the symbolic space reserved for 'democracy' in the Georgian political arena open to capture by the political opposition, which meanwhile had been cultivating links with Georgia's most influential constituency for democratization-civil society.

The growing pains of Georgian civil society

The existence of a vibrant civil society has long been regarded as evidence of Georgia's democratic credentials. Many observers have wondered why Georgia has featured a comparatively influential civil society, which seems sorely lacking elsewhere in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The strength of Georgia's civil society-composed mainly of NGOs, independent media outlets and to some extent political parties-may be explained by the configuration of state¬-society relations in post-Soviet Georgia. Only a strong state, capable either of dis¬regarding a prostrate civil society or co-opting political opposition, can afford to ignore the society it governs. Unlike most other states in Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Georgian state has not been able to operate autonomously of civil society because of at least two constraints.
Firstly the Georgian state does not control any key natural resources, such as oil or gas reserves, which would lock it into strategically significant international commodity markets and thereby ensure independent sources of revenue. Revenues generated through the exploitation of such resources afford governments rich sources of patronage to co-opt potential opposition and diminish the need to extract resources through negotiation with society (for instance through taxation). Western interests and the international organizations representing them are furthermore more likely to tolerate non-democratic practices in the name of 'stability' where strategically significant resource bases exist. Georgia may be a resource-rich country in terms of mineral ores, agricultural produce, hydroelectric power potential, human resources and natural beauty. However, none of these resources are structured in such a way as to afford the state sufficient sources of revenue or patronage mitigating demands for democratization. 12 The strategies of co-opting opposition and securing compliance by bestowing mobility and largesse deployed by regimes in Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan are simply not an option in Georgia.13 To some extent the Georgian state may have been able to secure a degree of autonomy in recent years through the capture of international aid, yet this resource did not significantly mitigate sources of social discontent as a result of institutional inefficiencies and corruption.
The second constraint is Georgia's positive self-identification with Europe, the 'West' and the Western democratic model. Gamsakhurdia's removal from power may in large part be attributed to his resort to open autocracy, a form of political authority associated in Georgia with the experience of colonization. Traditional¬ist-populist and 'Eurasianist' ideologies of the sort current in Turkmenistan and Russia have a correspondingly low appeal in Georgia, being limited to the per¬sonality cult and lineage myth cultivated in Abashidze's Ajara. The prominence of democracy as a legitimating discourse (if not practice) provides an important lever of influence for opposition where regimes conspicuously fail to live up to 'demo¬cratic' expectations. From an ideological standpoint, this context imposes further limitations to the scope for state autonomy in Georgia.
Limitations to state autonomy in Georgia created considerable space for civil society development since independence. NGO development in Georgia grew out of the informal groups of the perestroika period, which like many others in the former Soviet Union were originally concerned with 'non-political' issues such as the environment and monument conservation. However, NGOs were insufficiently developed to provide a counterpoint to militias as a source of politi¬cal development under the increasingly militarized conditions in Georgia in the early 1990s. It was only with the restoration of a Georgian state facing compelling incentives to define itself as democratic in. 1994-1995 that an environment conducive to NGO development was established. Demonstrating democratic cre¬dentials through the presence of a vibrant civil society became an important asset in the receipt of international aid by the Georgian state. These conditions led to the proliferation of NGOs from the mid-1990s and the accumulation of significant experience and political capital in the NGO sector. A new elite of civic activists emerged, providing a new source of intellectual leadership in the country challenging the traditional 'intelligentsia' in universities and state-funded media outlets. 14 To some extent, however, the availability of significant external resources for NGO development led to a degree of imbalance between a set of comparatively well-resourced, Anglophone NGOs in Tbilisi and much weaker regional development. If in Ajara a Soviet paradigm remained in place, in other regions of Georgia the lack of resources available to NGO’s compromised their ability to retain independence from local government and financial groups.
Likewise the development of independent media was another major feature of this period. While state-controlled media replicating Soviet standards of journal¬ism continued to exist, independent outlets became increasingly popular. Public access to information remains heavily dependent on electronic media, however, which far outweigh the press in terms of their reach and influence. This is significant because if direct pressures in the form of censorship have been minimal (except in Ajara and to some extent during election campaigns), the growth of electronic media companies has been linked to both the susceptibility of their owners to indirect political pressures, thereby encouraging a compliant editorial line on sensitive political issues, and the use of 'independent' media outlets as platforms for entering politics.
Political party development remained the weak link in civil society develop¬ment. If civil society may be defined as the public space between the individual and the state where a variety of actors operate to mediate relations between state and society, locating Georgian political parties within this space is proble¬matic. As noted above, most political parties have operated in ways removed from the citizenry at large; in the case of incumbent parties, such as the CUG and Abashidze's Revival party, these have essentially operated to allocate resources within ruling elites, a process almost entirely disconnected from electo¬rates. NGOs and political parties have thus traditionally regarded each other with suspicion, the former regarding political parties as structured around clientelistic principles inimical to democratic development, the latter regarding NGOs as an emergent threat to their modus operandi.
During the early years of Shevardnadze's presidency direct attempts to curtail civil society activity were rare, especially given the international plaudits granted to the regime by its existence. However, as the Georgian political system stalled during the late 1990s and early 2000s attempts to mitigate the impact of civic activism increased. These included the proliferation of NGOs and media outlets serving as a front for-and financed by-incumbent interests,
particularly in the period preceding the 1999-2000 elections, and a number of suits filed against journalists by leading political figures following revelations of financial impropriety. In July 2001 Giorgi Sanaia, anchorman for the most popular independent TV channel Rustavi-2, was murdered for political reasons, and the channel's offices were raided by police on the pretext of a taxation inves¬tigation the next year. 16 In spring 2003 the Georgian Parliament further strength¬ened the libel provisions in the Criminal Code, extending the maximum term of imprisonment for libel and 'insult' to five years. Aggressive assessments of civil society organizations became increasingly salient in government propaganda, in which NGOs were portrayed as anti-state institutions, receiving foreign funds (grantichamia, 'grant-gobbling', as their critics would have it) in exchange for dis¬seminating anti-national, 'foreign' values. I? In summer 2002 the Ministry of Finance proposed a new initiative introducing government review of foreign funding and financial management in the NGO sector. This was followed in February 2003 by a draft bill proposed by the Ministry of Security proposing the suspension of 'foreign-managed militant and other organizations'. Taking advantage of global anti-terrorism rhetoric and genuine public concern over the spread of Western evangelical organizations in Georgia, the latter bill envisaged the suspension of any organization's activities receiving support from foreign donors. These measures attracted fierce domestic criticism from civic actors and the government was forced to withdraw them. However, they demonstrated both the authoritarian cravings of an ailing regime and the fragile dependence of civil society on foreign donors. Finally, and not least, the latter years of Shevardnadze's presidency were also notable for a rise in violent attacks directed not only at representatives of Western religious organizations but also NGOs advocating religious freedoms. These attacks, led by the defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili, went unpunished, with offenders proudly reporting their actions on national media.
This increasingly hostile environment prompted a process of soul-searching within the Georgian NGO sector and among journalists in the period preceding the November 2003 election. Previously NGOs and independent media outlets had tended to steer away from party politics but by 2003 some organizations were ready to forgo neutrality and join political party activists in their public struggle against the regime. Neutrality, partially perceived as determined by the conditionality imposed by foreign donors, was considered by some leading repre¬sentatives of civic groups as an inadequate response to the state's attempts to reduce the political space available for civil society activity. Remaining neutral would lead to the discrediting of civil society itself, through the marginalization of the democratic values which are its raison d'erre.21 This opened the way for a strategic revision of the traditional divide between NGOs and political parties and certain civil society organizations, above all those funded by George Soros's Open Society-Georgia fund and the National Democratic Institute, aligned themselves with the political opposition. In the months preceding the November election, among others the Liberty Institute and the closely associated student movement kmara! (see below) emerged as a nucleus of civic activity oper¬ating in close cooperation with the National Movement and United Democrat parties. However, the alliance between parts of the third sector and the political opposition was far from unanimous. If some groups perceived their only chance of survival in alignment with the political opposition, others took the stance of 'better the devil you know'. For the political parties this alliance was more straightforward: they derived both legitimacy and increased capacity from the close association with civic groups and the coordinating functions they supplied.

Explaining the 'Rose Revolution'

As real opposition parties developed following the fracturing of the ruling elite in Shevardnadze's second term, incumbents' attempts to remain in power by illegi¬timate means became more sophisticated. This process culminated in the fiasco of the November 2003 parliamentary elections. Despite the fact that this election was the most keenly contested and transparent in Georgia's post-Soviet history, and reflected genuine pluralism, it was flawed by organizational chaos, the serious compromising of the principle of universal suffrage through the manipulation of voters' lists, paralysis and partisanship in the electoral administration, a culture of impunity for fraud and isolated but nonetheless serious incidents of violence. Civil society emerged as the major player in discrediting the November elections at three key levels: enhancing the transparency of the November election, organizing protests in its aftermath, and portraying protest through the media to 'create' the Revolution. What distinguished the observation effort from previous years was the scale of resources made available to it, and the aggressive use of these resources to win the propaganda war over the validity of the election results.
NGOs were well prepared for the November election and mounted the largest ever observation effort seen in Georgia. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (IS FED) and the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) fielded some 2300 and 500 observers respectively, in addition to substan¬tial observer missions provided by the International Election Observation Mission and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. For the first time ISFED was able to field both a long-term and short-term observer mission in Adjara, although ISFED activists took this as an indication more of inertia on the part of the local regime than political liberalization. The scale of the observation effort was made possible by an unprecedented level of foreign funding: the USA alone contributed US $3 million in election support, while the remainder of the international community contributed a further US $1 million. These contributions were used to train domestic observers, and, for the first time in Georgia, to fund exit polls in 17% of Georgia's precinct electoral commissions (PECs hereafter) and parallel vote tabulation (PVT) in 20% of PECs, conducted by ISFED. These measures for the first time provided election watchdogs with hard data with which to file legal complaints against the electoral administration. More controversially, however, the early publication of the PVT results (which did not reveal in which PECs it had been conducted) served to fortify opposition claims of victory the day after the election and thereby to discredit a priori the official results, which were not published until 20 November.
In the aftermath of the elections NGOs played a crucial role in mounting a legal challenge against the official outcome of the election and in helping the political parties to channel public outrage at the conduct of the elections into an organized and peaceful protest movement. ISFED and GYLA acted as plaintiffs contesting the results submitted by over 150 PECs at the District Courts and filing complaints against District Electoral Commissions, leading to the annulment of the proportional party list component of the vote by the Supreme Court. A more controversial role was played by the student movement kmara! ('Enough!').
Formed in April 2003, kmara followed the model developed by the Otpor student movement in Serbia, and later reprised by the Pora movement in Ukraine. This involved the active exchange of expertise in methods of non¬violent protest: over the summer of 2003 kmara leaders visited Serbia and Otpor trainers came to Georgia to run summer schools for some 700 activists. Claiming a membership of over 2000 prior to the election, kmara's irreverent graf¬fiti and poster campaigns, TV clips and street demonstrations served to engage a disaffected electorate. After the election, the organization formed, together with the National Movement, Burjanadze-Democrats and Unity parties the 'United Opposition' coalition. Kmara's post-election TV adverts vilifying members of the Central Electoral Commission invited fierce controversy and were dropped from Rustavi-2 TV station after the channel was fined.
Most contentious of all was the role of some independent media sources in por¬traying, and mobilizing, protest. Responding to a perceived threat to its continued existence from the incumbent regime (as noted above, it had already been the subject of perceived police harassment in 2002), Georgia's most popular indepen¬dent channel, Rustavi-2, provided pro-opposition coverage of the elections and the protests that followed. As the most popular independent electronic media outlet, its influence was considerable. Critics of the Rose Revolution have claimed that a whole range of ruses were deployed to 'create the revolution' on television screens, at least in the earlier stages of protest, which civil society activists to varying extents confirm in private. These include judicious use of camera angles, the shifting of the same crowds around different locations, the attaching of other parties' insignia to National Movement buses to give the impression of a wider support base, and the encouraging by protesters of security forces to remove their helmets, thereby giving the impression in television coverage of the 'breaking' of the police line and the implication that the police had 'turned'. Following Shevardnadze's resignation the director of Rustavi-2 admitted that the channel had been providing 'one-sided coverage of develop¬ments in Georgia,?6 While this development was emblematic of media indepen¬dence from the state, it also resulted in an impoverishment of the quality of information available to the public. This was reflected in public opinion surveys following the Revolution that Rustavi-2 was just as biased in its coverage as the state-harnessed Channel I and Abashidze's Ajara TV.
Was the Rose Revolution nothing more than a cleverly choreographed post¬modern coup? The point, I think, is that the National Movement- United Democrats coalition could not have achieved the 'Revolution' on its own. Supported by external funding, key elements of the NGO sector and within the independent media provided vital coordinating functions beyond the capacity of the political parties organizing the protest movement. In doing so, NGO and media actors transcended their traditional role of observing political developments to become a key force shaping their outcome. It is nonetheless implausible to suggest that regime change can be achieved without a substantial domestic consti¬tuency. Claims that the Rose Revolution was simply an 'operetta revolution, do not take into consideration either the political context preceding the November election outlined above, the existence of genuine mobilization among segments of Georgian society, or the abject failure of the regime to organize a credible elec¬tion. Where the international factor was decisive was in forestalling a violent denouement to the Rose Revolution. The intense attention paid by the West to the outcome of the election obliged the regime to abstain from a violent suppres¬sion of the opposition. This forced all actors to -follow a 'civilized' script-as Mikheil Saakashvili was keen to impress upon foreign correspondents immediately following the storming of the Georgian Parliament, 'not a single shot has been fired'.
More questionable is the naive reduction in much Western coverage of the political contest in Georgia to one between opposed forces of progressive pro Western democrats and retrogressive, corrupt autocrats. As the population of Georgia is more aware, the leaders of the revolution all have experience of high office under the previous regime, and their claims to represent democratic values are received with great skepticism domestically. A second crucial point is the impact of the participation of civic actors in the revolution on perceptions of civil society as a whole. The apparent fusion of (some) civil society groups with the political opposition, in pursuit of a pro-Western agenda and in receipt of significant Western funding, fuels perceptions of the instrumentalization of civil society in the service of 'outside' interests. This has opened new rhetorical spaces for critiques of civic actors as 'rentier democrats', reflected in frequent derogatory references by losers in the revolution to the sorosizatsia ('Soros-ization') of Georgian politics and to NGOs and former civic activists now in public office as gasorosebuli ('Soros-ized').
The Rose Revolution may thus be seen as an outcome of the interplay between domestic and international factors. Georgia's configuration of state-society relations outlined above provides a crucial domestic impetus for democratization, compelling the Georgian state to engage seriously with democratic reform. By contrast Georgia's democratic erosion in recent years reflects the over-reaching attempts of a materially and symbolically bankrupted regime to extend its auton¬omy from society. As a response to these attempts, the Rose Revolution was more a revolt than a revolution, perpetrated by a coalition between political groups protesting their exclusion from power, and civil society actors protesting the methods used to enforce that exclusion. Key to its success was the capture of 'democracy' as a symbol capable of presenting the opposition in a light appealing to Western observers. The revolution was supported by a large part of the popu¬lation exasperated by the incumbent administration, while the remainder of the population acquiesced in the change of regime. The government's rapid collapse can be ascribed as much, if not more, to the demoralized recognition of its own illegitimacy by core elements of the old regime as to the ideas that the 'revolution' represented. Beyond the reinvigoration of a nationalist symbolism to portray the previous administration as 'neo-Soviet', the Rose Revolution did not constitute a novel ideological project, nor do the policy bearings of the new administration differ in substance from those of its predecessor-only the pace of implementation. From the analysis above, it is also evident that although we have seen a change of regime in Georgia, the demands and restrictions of the configuration of state-society relations remain unchanged. As did its predecessor, Georgia's new administration faces the same fundamental challenge of lending meaning to popular sovereignty.

'Post-revolutionary' Georgia: democrats without democracy?

After its accession to power, President Mikheil Saakashvili's administration enthusiastically embarked on the implementation of a wide-ranging series of social and political reforms. These are broadly aimed at modernizing key bodies such as the traffic police, higher education and the security forces and, the resistance of vested interests notwithstanding, meet overall with high popular approval. Nevertheless, having initially enjoyed a remarkably high degree of legitimacy, by the end of its first year in power it was already evident that the new administration had lost much of its political capital, at least at home. This is attributable to widespread perceptions that in spite of the revolution there have been few improvements in government accountability, and in some areas there has been a marked deterioration. Furthermore, the leveling of the Georgian political scene resulted in the weakening of the capacity of all three branches of civil society-political parties, the media and NGOs-to impose checks and bal¬ances on the new administration. While it is premature to see this in terms of a fixed trend, it coincided with a period in which significant changes were introduced to the Georgian political system, and a campaign prosecuting former officials in the name of 'transitional justice' formed a core policy of the new regime.
One of the first casualties of the Rose Revolution was political pluralism. Although numerous improvements to the electoral code and organization of polling were notable in the 2004 elections, these were all characterized by a lack of pluralism and significantly reduced civil society activity. Very little cam¬paigning preceded the presidential election of 4 January 2004, as it was a foregone conclusion that Saakashvili would win. Although the new registration procedure and the calculations of the total number of the electorate and turnout raised some concerns, the 96.3% result nonetheless reflected a thumping mandate for Saakashvili. The partial re-run of the parliamentary election on 28 March, in which only the party list component of the vote was contested, again demonstrated the levelling of the political field. Opposition parties either declared boycotts or ran low-key campaigns with little hope of challenging the hegemony of the National Movement-Democrats coalition, which took 67.3% of the vote. Only one other party, the entrepreneurial New Rightists party, surpassed the required 7% threshold for representation in parliament. Furthermore, having condemned the November elections on the grounds of deficient voters' lists and counts, the decision to let the majoritarian results from 2 November stand could not be justi¬fied from a legal perspective. Following the removal of AsIan Abashidze in May, elections in Ajara in June again returned a vast majority for Saakashvili's local Victorious Ajara party, which won 28 of the 30 seats contested in the autonomous republic's Supreme Council. Four majoritarian by-elections in October again returned National Movement-Democrat candidates, although with drastically reduced turnouts in the region of 35%. Thus those opposition forces that won substantial electoral support according to both the official results and those organized by civil society actors in the November poll, but which did not support the post-election protests, were relegated"to an extra-parliamentary role.
The link between revolution and democracy has been further undermined by the new administration's belligerent style. Towards the anniversary of the Revolution a number of articles in the Georgian press expressed concern regarding the rise of insulting language and intolerance of diversity of opinion among Georgia's new leaders. An open letter addressed to President Saakashvili in October 2004 signed by a number of leading civil society activists drew parallels with the extreme rhetoric of the Gamsakhurdia period: 'near-forgotten labels established in the 1980s at the dawn of Georgian democracy are increasingly apparent in the dis¬course of the ruling party's leaders and the officials working within their remit: "enemy of the state", "traitor", "fifth column" and so on'. Having rooted its claim to legitimacy in the discourse of democracy, it is far from reassuring that Georgia's new government has introduced a political culture where dissent is labelled as treason.
The flattening of the Georgian political arena also impacted NGO capacity. One of the consequences of the Revolution was the 'decapitation' of civil society due to the shift of a significant number of its most experienced activists into government office. Over a dozen prominent activists now hold leading posts in the new administration, including three ministries (Education, Culture and Sport, and Justice), the mayor of Tbilisi, and several members of parliament. This has constrained the capacity of civic groups to act as a watchdog during the crucial 'post¬revolutionary' period on at least three levels. First, NGOs are suffering from the loss of leadership and accumulated experience. Second, those organizations whose former leaders are now in office face certain subliminal constraints in criticizing their former colleagues. Third, as a result of the division between those organizations that participated in and supported the November protest move¬ment and those that did not, a new hierarchy of access to government figures is detectable. Representatives from organizations that did not openly support the revolution report that they now face considerable problems gaining access to officials engaged in their field of activity.
Similarly, another concern is the 'disappearance of politics' from the Georgian media during the new administration's first year in power. Two television channels (Iberia and the Ninth Channel) were closed shortly after the revolution, two of the country's most popular political talk shows were taken off air (ghamis mzera and ghamis kurieri), and a new mood of self-censorship seemed to have settled in, manifested in a compliant attitude towards the new administration on the part of outlets formerly noted for their independence.35 In a troubling development, reflecting the practices of the previous regime, some outlets perceived as critical of the new authorities became the subject of financial investigations perceived as barely masked political warnings. In this context media company owners, who as a rule possess numerous other business interests, are reluctant to attract negative attention by engaging in openly critical coverage of current developments. Those outlets that openly supported the November protests now enjoy superior access to state officials and are therefore better placed to secure 'scoops' in the form of inter¬views with leading figures on key issues. It is doubtful whether these develop¬ments presage a longer-term encroachment on the freedom of speech in Georgia. What is certain is that following its active intervention into politics, Georgia's independent media faces a struggle to re-establish both its autonomy from the state and its credibility in the eyes of the public.
The weakening of institutions capable of ensuring government accountability needs to be seen in the context of the first 'reform' package introduced by the new administration upon its accession to power. These constitutional changes introduced a double executive through the re-instatement of the post of prime minister, and allow for the president to mediate cases of conflict between the government and parliament by dissolving the latter. While representing an attempt to shift Georgia's constitutional order from a strictly presidential to a semi-presidential system, the package of changes retained stronger powers for the president allowing s/he to appoint a government not approved by the parliament and to retain a government in which the parliament has expressed a lack of confidence. This significant reworking of Georgia's constitution was approved virtually overnight, without public debate, by the 1999 - 2003 parliament reconvened after the (partial) annulment of the 2 November poll results. The con¬tradiction between the speed and lack of debate with which these changes were adopted, while other reforms promised by the National Movement-Democrats prior to the Rose Revolution, such as elected local executives, remain unimplemented raises serious concerns regarding the sincerity and intentions of the new administration.
Where civil society appears to slowly be making a comeback is in the field of human rights protection. Having formed the leitmotif of the Rose Revolution, the prosecution of 'transitional justice' against the illegal financial gains amassed by individuals in the former administration formed a central aspect of the new admin¬istration's first year in power. Coverage of former officials being arrested formed a staple of Georgian news broadcasts in the months following the Rose Revolution. To the acclaim of civil society groups Basil Mkalavishvili, the renegade priest responsible for violent attacks against evangelical groups, was also arrested. While the broader intentions of the campaign met with public approval, amongst rule of law experts it rapidly became clear that this was not a process subject to judicial review, or even under the full control of the executive. The methods deployed aroused protest from civil society and human rights watchdogs in particular, who, following the public denunciation of the torture of the former director of the Chamber of Control, Sulkhan Molashvili, drew attention to increased human rights violations by law enforcement agencies. In the months pre¬ceding the Rose Revolution's anniversary, NGOs reported on hundreds of cases of bodily injuries sustained by detainees in pre-trial detention. NGOs similarly expressed concern regarding the planting of drugs and arms on suspects, and the lack of transparency surrounding payments made by suspects to secure release.39 Furthermore, the prosecution campaign has attracted criticism on the grounds of its partiality, both in terms of the persons and crimes prosecuted. No former officials have been prosecuted for the breaches of human rights or freedoms of association committed under the previous administration, while the apparent 'untouchability' of key high-ranking former officials suggests the targeted rather than comprehensive nature of the campaign.
Post-revolutionary Georgia saw a turnabout in the relationship of incumbents to democracy. If under Shevardnadze this relationship could be understood as instru¬mental, his regime was nevertheless careful to preserve democratic appearances. Saakashvili's regime by contrast, is made up of cadres whose careers were made through participation in Georgia's fledgling democracy in the 1990s, and who consequently have genuine experience of electoral politics and civic activism. This underscores their political identity as 'democrats'. However, the paradox of post-revolutionary Georgia is that the country appears to have moved, at least tem¬porarily, from a context of 'democracy without democrats' to one of 'democrats without democracy', given the regime's hitherto rather casual attitude towards such core democratic values as pluralism and the rule of law. This has not been aided by the apparent reluctance to abandon 'revolution' as a justification for radical change; policies implemented in this way, needless to say, cannot be based on consensus.


The Rose Revolution provided a clear illustration of both the strengths and weaknesses of Georgian civil society's ability to contribute to the country's democratization process. While on the one hand it provided evidence of popular demands for mass political participation, reflecting powerful democratic reflexes in Georgian society, it also demonstrated civil society's inability to overcome the resilience of clientelistic practices within state structures by constitutional means. A central feature of Georgia's transition has therefore been the failure of public politics and state institutions to become articulated to mass legitimacy, as the demand for mass political participation has far outstripped the capacity of the state to organize and channel this demand in democratic ways. When this is seen in the context of the limits to state autonomy in Georgia outlined above, we can begin to understand the turbulent history of the country's transition and why to date Georgian democracy has still to be transformed into a creative force capable of building and sustaining authoritative and legitimate institutions.
The Revolution also offers an interesting set of problems presented by civil society's capture of the state. The contrast with 1992, when warlords captured the state, furnishes evidence of a considerable level of institutionalization of pol¬itical conflict in Georgia. Yet it is also evident that the alliance between political and civil society has resulted in a weakening of institutions capable of holding government accountable. While certainly imparting hope to much of Georgia's long-suffering population, Saakashvili's crusading spirit has yet to demonstrate adaptation to the status of incumbency or much inclination to enhance accountability. Following the flattening of the Georgian political arena, Saakashvili's regime must allow political space for the expression of political pluralism and opposition-after all, protection of this very space legitimated its claim to power-and concede that significant political forces are currently excluded by its monopoly on government. For civil society, the task in hand is to recoup its prior identity and role as a countervailing force to the state. For the NGO sector this requires the reassertion of an appropriate distance from the regime following the replenishment of government offices with the leading cadres of the revolution. Equally important is the institutionalization of an effective party system. A vibrant non-governmental sector may be a sine qua non of a consolidated democracy, but it is an insufficient condition for the articulation of political platforms rooted in social constituencies, as was evident in November 2003. The lack of an effective party system has to date been obscured by the absence of economic growth and consequently of identifiable social cleavages which could serve as the basis for political constituencies. Economic revival, however, would demand a quantum leap in the capacity of state-society institutional mediations to channel popular desires for participation.
Finally, the prompt endorsement of the Rose Revolution through the electoral process should not obscure the fact that Georgia has not yet passed the key test of an unambiguous defeat of incumbents and the renewal of power via the ballot box. At best, the January and March elections could be seen as cases of the beneficiaries of non-constitutional change legitimating their actions at the polls. More worryingly, the indiscriminate use of the symbolism and rhetoric of revolution by Georgia's new leaders has the effect of making revolution itself banal.4\ Although non-violent, the nature of the break with the previous regime, itself brought to power on the back of another 'democratic' revolution, undermines the notions of democracy, civil society and rule of law in whose name the Rose Revolution was perpetrated. While revolution has emerged as the alter ego of the previous decade's mantra of stability, its reiteration in Georgia's post-Soviet trajectory subverts the already tenuous rooting of constitutionality as the basis for the 'rules of the game' in Georgia's transition and civil society development.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Europeanization and (Not) Resolving Secessionist Conflicts

Author: Ghia Nodia1

The following notes are a reaction to the preceding contributions to the volume “Europeanization and Conflict Resolution” from the perspective of an author who spends most of his time in Georgia, but happened to be conducting research in Brussels.2 While the problematique and conceptual framework proposed by the authors serve as a starting point for me, these notes will introduce some personal considerations to the overall discussion on Europeanization and conflict resolution rather than comment on specific points in the book. In addition to the four cases discussed in the book I will also use that of South Ossetia that was extremely topical at the time when these notes were written.

What kind of conflicts?

I will start by trying to define what conflict specifically means in this discussion as the definition I will use differs from that of the book. The book deals with four cases where internationally-recognized states have or may be broken up in a way that involves violence. If this is what “conflicts” are about, than achieving agreement on maintaining the integrity of the state – or, in a still acceptable case, on breaking it up in an amicable and orderly way – constitutes a “solution”.
However, the book still discusses two qualitatively different types of conflict situations. In three cases: Cyprus, Transnistria and Abkhazia, we have a condition often described by the term “frozen conflict”. These are cases where there has been relatively recent violent conflict over secession, with the secessionist parties being militarily successful, having established effective control over specific territories and setting up de facto state institutions. However, this military outcome is recognized neither by the military losers – the central governments, nor by the international community. Therefore, the conflicts are not considered resolved. The term “frozen conflict” is often criticized because no situations are fully frozen: there are important processes including acts of violence under way in the conflict areas. However, I still consider the term justified as far as all the parties involved agree not to challenge the effective regime of military-political control as shaped after the last ceasefire, without recognising it as legitimate. Occasional violence, even if it does occur, is not meant to threaten the status quo. I will also use the term “post-violent conflict”.

1 Ghia Nodia is Chairman of the Board of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development in
Tbilisi and Professor of political science at the Ilya Chavchavadze University of Language and Culture. He is on he editorial board of the Journal of Democracy, where his article 'Debating the Transition Paradigm: The Democratic Path' was published in 2002.
2 From April to September 2004 I have been holding the International Francqui Chair at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University of Brussels, VUB).

In the fourth case analysed in this volume, that of Serbia-Montenegro, there has been no violent stage and there is no pending threat of a violent solution. However, there was a hypothetical scenario of Montenegro unilaterally seceding from the rump Yugoslavia, as this state was then called, leading to another civil war. EU actions here were aimed at preventing a potential conflict rather than solving the actual one.
The authors may have had good reasons to interpret the term “conflict resolution” broadly so that it includes conflict prevention. However, I believe that a more narrow definition of the term has an important practical value here. In post-violent conflicts the intention of the international community is usually to reverse the results of war by peaceful means, while at the same time, in some sense, legitimizing their military outcomes. The secessionist entities are asked to give up ‘well-deserved independence’ bought by blood and sacrifice (which is a rather traditional way to gain independence). The international community further strives to reverse the results of processes of ethnic cleansing, whereas such a process is considered in the secessionist areas as a good way to get rid of a “fifth column”. This does not mean, however, that the “international community” shares the agenda of the recognized states. The actual formulas promoted by the international community suggest face-saving ways to reconcile the formal assertion of the principle of territorial integrity while accepting the results of military defeat. This means that peaceful attempts to reverse the results of war may legitimize them to a certain extent.
Ideas of “common states” or very loose federations without any real control by the central government over the secessionist entity are examples of possible outcomes of such conflict resolution policies. Such formulas are also favored by particular conflict prevention policies, as was the case with the EU policies in Serbia and Montenegro. In such situations, outside interventions have fewer impediments to overcome and there are fewer perceived injustices to be corrected. The chances of success are therefore much greater.

Conditionally and socialization

“Europeanization” is described in the first chapter of this volume “as a process which is activated and encouraged by European institutions, primarily by the European Union, by linking the final outcome of a conflict, to a certain degree of integration of the parties involved into it into European structures”.3 To put it plainly, the prospect of membership in European institutions, and in the first place the European Union, is supposed to transform the behaviour and attitudes of political actors involved in the conflict in such a way that a solution becomes more feasible. In principle, these institutions are offering secessionist parties an institutional framework that makes it easier for them to reach a compromise on sovereignty issues. Changes are achieved through two mechanisms: conditionality, that is direct demands to take specific political actions addressed to parties in conflict, with compliance being rewarded by specific benefits – typically, progress in accession to EU; and socialization, which is a somewhat more vague (though no less important) process of internalizing “European values” and European ways as a result of being in close contact with European actors and acquiring European-style institutions.
It seems quite obvious that the difference of impact of the EU upon candidate and non-candidate countries should be rather sharp, as the EU cannot use conditionality linked to membership in its policies toward non-candidate countries.4 When it comes to the concept of socialization, on the other hand, the difference may be more of degree. Even weaker modes of interaction between Europe and actors in its periphery (such as through the Council of Europe, or the EU neighborhood policy) can bring results.
There is a further important distinction to be made between candidate and noncandidate countries that is especially important for Moldova and Georgia. When it comes to promises of membership and related conditionality mechanisms, the EU is in the driver’s seat. One can speak of “a process which is activated and encouraged by European institutions”. It is an EU decision whether to consider a country a candidate for EU membership, and how to apply conditionality in such a case. But this is no longer true when it comes to “socialization”. The requirement to have the acquis communautaire fully assimilated by the candidate countries does not exist with respect to non-candidate countries. Most importantly, the EU has no copyright on the definition of European identity or of European values. Neither can the EU control the national identities of other countries. Noncandidate countries can claim to have a European vocation even if the EU thinks otherwise.
While countries like Georgia or Moldova are denied the status of candidate countries by the EU (including them into the European neighborhood strategy is a polite denial, even if this is not made entirely explicit in this policy), the EU cannot prohibit them from having European aspirations, that is a wish to join it. Both countries consider themselves to be EU candidate countries in a broader, informal sense. This implies a self-imposed imperative for these countries (or their governments) to Europeanize unilaterally in order to convince the EU to change its attitudes and recognize their European vocation. In these countries, Europeanization can be considered a process initiated locally, and then met with a paradoxical mixture of encouragement and discouragement by the EU: “you are welcome to Europeanize yourselves, but please do not hope you will be rewarded with EU membership”. The neighborhood policy may yet design specific mechanisms (such as individual action plans) for the EU to monitor, evaluate and encourage specific steps towards the “Europeanization” of these countries.

3 See chapter 1 of this volume,
4 Conditionality can also be linked to other benefits like assistance programs, trade policies or political support on specific issues, but these incentives are much weaker than in respect to candidate countries.

Why the EU cannot solve ethno-territorial conflicts

Apart from having different mechanisms, the EU impact may also have different kinds of Outcomes. At a maximum, it may aspire to help resolve conflicts in the sense described above. Or this impact may be less ambitious: even if parties fail to solve the conflict, they still may change their attitudes and behavior towards the other party in the conflict, and towards the issues that lie at its heart. The latter is usually denoted by a more general and vague term “conflict transformation”.
The EU had a clear aspiration to have an impact on the actual conflict settlement in Cyprus. We now know that it failed. Standards of empirical research would not allow us to draw a general conclusion that the EU is bad at conflict resolution based on this single case, but it may be used for illustrating more general arguments.
Quite probably, the European Union has been the most effective peace-consolidation and conflict prevention mechanism in history. A comparison of the last half-century with the previous history of Europe suggests it is a spectacular success in this sense. However, this does not imply that it should also be good at conflict resolution. In practice, the difference between the two is the difference between hard and soft security issues. The former involves military confrontation or the direct threat thereof. Soft security mechanisms are about creating social and institutional frameworks and preventing conflicts from reaching the stage of military confrontation. Issues of borders and territorial control are traditionally hard security issues. Conflicts over them tend to lead to military confrontation or are deterred by military means. But soft security policies may prevent players from openly challenging existing regimes of territorial military-political control.
Historically, the EU has been a consumer rather than a supplier of hard security.5 While philosophical ideas and values underpinning the EU are rather old, this project has become feasible under the specific security regime that emerged in Western Europe as a result of the Second World War. Continental Europe was then militarily dominated by outsiders, with Anglo Saxon powers to the West and Communist Russia to the East. These powers decided all hard security questions, that is, they defined how territories should be distributed among European powers. They co-opted France for political rather than military reasons, so that continental Europeans had a greater ownership of the post-war territorial order. Soon afterwards, NATO and the Warsaw Pact emerged as hard security organizations that guarded that order (having declared the “inviolability of borders” sacrosanct). Notably, NATO did not only protect Western Europe from communism, but it also prevented conflicts between West European countries – the famous dictum about keeping Russians out, Americans in and Germans down implies exactly that. The Warsaw Pact had a similar function in its part of the world.
The EU rose after this hard-security regime was imposed. It was designed as a permanent confidence-building mechanism that aimed at making West Europeans accept and perpetuate the post-war political order within non-communist Europe – so that eventually it would become less dependent on Anglo-Saxon military enforcement. The method of achieving this goal was indirect (this indirectness may have become the trademark of European sophistication as opposed to “simplistic” American or Anglo Saxon straightforwardness). The post-war borders in Europe did not have to be accepted because they were “good” or “just” (even humbled Germans would have had problems agreeing with that), but because in an integrated Europe all borders were to become irrelevant (or at least, much less important). The diminished relevance of nation-states and borders between them was stipulated by a commitment to common principles of free trade (at least within the EU) and democracy.
Something similar was designed in the eastern part of Europe. The Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact, and Comecon, as well as the communist ideology that underpinned them, were supposed to make people who lived in this part of the world accept the political and security order that was imposed on them by Stalin’s regime and internationally endorsed by the Yalta agreements. However, communist ideology proved to be a less effective factor of legitimization than Western democratic ones, and with its crisis the whole East European edifice imploded. It left neither soft nor hard security mechanisms for people to accept the regimes of territorial-political control, in the event that they considered these regimes unjust. It was in the security vacuum created in this period that a number of territorial conflicts (usually called “ethnic conflicts” in the West) erupted. That there were so few of these conflicts may actually be a tribute to the moderation and common sense of people who had to build a new political order on the debris of communism. Under the circumstances, any radical challenge to the status quo could have led to worst type scenarios.

5 Robert Kagan provided interesting analysis if this in his Of Paradise and Power: America vs. Europe in the New World (New York: Knopf), 2003.

Westerners often viewed the conflicts in the Balkans and the Caucasus as expressions of “backwardness” and “barbarity”. There was much in the way that the parties to these conflicts behaved that justified such evaluations. However, the charge of backwardness was not just about sprees of indiscriminate killing, looting and raping in which semi-private post communist armies engaged. Europeans often assumed that even concerns about territorial control, sovereignty, and nationhood were something hopelessly “backward”.
However, if the importance of the nation-state in Europe has somewhat diminished, Europeans tend to neglect how and why this happened. This was not a result of a sudden mental mutation. If something is to be learned from the European experience, it is that before people in modern societies can relativize national sovereignties or feel more relaxed about them, they have to put the hard security questions of territorial control behind them. This sequence matters. Alas, these hard security issues are usually solved by more traditional methods involving the military component. This means that parties to conflict should be allowed to fight it out among themselves (and have the “civilized world” watching a lot of disturbing pictures on their TV screens and, worse still, accommodate streams of refugees), or an outside imperial power should step in and impose a solution that it deems appropriate by military means.
A comparison between the Balkan example and that of Cyprus confirms this point. The EU tried to play a role in solving conflicts in the former Yugoslavia but did not achieve any significant positive result. NATO had to step in and change the situation on the ground by military means. Actually, even NATO’s intervention did not solve the most sensitive issues, such as the creation of a viable state in Bosnia or resolving the question of the international status of Kosovo. NATO did however impose a new security regime by dramatically changing the regional balance of power and creating a new system of incentives for the local political players. It was only through this intervention that the EU could become an effective political agent in the Balkans. This process replicated the story of the genesis of the EU itself: First NATO created a security shield, which permitted the EU to move under it and to start its peace consolidation efforts. Nothing similar happened in Cyprus. NATO could not act if only because the conflict was effectively between NATO members, and there was no other hard security player who could impose a solution from the outside. Instead, the EU employed a whole arsenal of soft security policies including the most powerful incentive it could conceivably offer – EU membership. Still, it did not work.
This leads us to probably the most existential issue of the EU – that of a Common Foreign and Security Policy. One could argue that the failure of EU conflict-resolution efforts so far only means that the EU should work harder on developing its foreign and security policy instruments. It may very well be so, but there are also strong grounds for skepticism. Making power politics redundant is the core point of EU philosophy. Its greatest achievement was to do that in the relations between its own members. If it has ever had any effective foreign policy, it has been about changing other (candidate) countries according to its own image. Its new foreign policy ambition is to make its neighborhood similar to the EU without being absorbed into the EU. However, foreign and security politics, as we traditionally know it, are power politics, and will remain so until the whole world becomes a replica of the EU. In this sense, the foreign and security politics of the EU may be a contradictio in adjecto.

EU and conflict transformation

This is not a criticism of the EU. It has itself been extremely reluctant to get into the conflict resolution business, and the experience of the Balkans and Cyprus will probably make this aversion even stronger. The policy of the EU will be that countries that aspire to membership have first to solve such conflicts. In the case of Cyprus, the EU was forced to deviate from this practice because of strong political pressure from Greece, which simply threatened to veto the enlargement of the EU to the former communist world. It is very hard to imagine what could bring the EU to take a similar strong position with regard to solving secessionist conflicts in Moldova and Georgia. This would go against the views and policies of some of the main EU member states, which do not consider such a position as being in their interest. Equally they do not believe that the EU is sufficiently equipped for such a task. As the EU is ill-disposed towards incorporating these two countries, it has a motive to refer to unresolved conflicts as a means to cool down their European ambitions, rather than to get involved in the unpromising business of solving these conflicts.
There is one more important reason why the EU would have less chance to influence the outcome of the conflicts in Georgia and Moldova even if it was willing to get involved. Secessionist entities are largely dependent on political-military patron-states. Northern Cyprus is, for instance, highly dependent on Turkey. The fact that patron-state Turkey was striving for EU accession, by extension, gave the EU a uniquely high leverage on Turkish Cypriots and their position in negotiations. By contrast, the EU has hardly any significant leverage on Russia, the military-political patron of the Transnistrian and Abkhazian regimes.
This leaves us with a vaguer concept of “conflict transformation”. As I said above, this is about changing attitudes and behavior of parties to the conflicts while they are yet to be solved. Here, the EU has a much greater chance of having an impact. This impact may also be achieved through less specific mechanisms described as “socialization” rather than the active and targeted policy of conditionality – which makes it relevant to non-candidate countries as well. However, the main problem in this regard is not whether the EU has an impact or not, but how to single out the EU contribution from those of other outside players collectively described as “international community” or “the West”. However many contrasts one may find between the positions of European players and the United States on different issues, when it comes to efforts at solving conflicts in places like Georgia and Moldova it is very difficult to discern significant differences. Western players vary with regard to how active and influential they are, but their message to the local players is quite uniform.
Their main message is that violent means to achieve political goals are not legitimate. The prohibition of the use of force to restore state unity, and the simultaneous formal affirmation of the principle of territorial integrity is, under the present circumstances – where the external parties are either unwilling or unable to enforce solutions on the conflicting parties, a recipe for the indeterminate preservation of “frozen conflicts.” The conflicting parties seem to accept this prohibition. This is so not only because they fear sanctions, but because the value of non-violent means to resolve conflicts has been internalized to a considerable degree by the general public and by political elites. This is a significant shift from the spirit of heroic, romantic nationalism with its acceptance if not glorification of violence, which prevailed in these societies in the period of the Soviet break up. The public’s general spirit is much more pragmatic today than it was some fifteen years ago, and it has developed a much stronger aversion to violence. No less importantly, states have increased their capacity to contain and avoid spontaneous violence.
The story of Georgia’s two “revolutions of the roses” (in Tbilisi and Batumi in November 2003 and May 2004 respectively) and even more recent developments in South Ossetia in May-August 2004 illustrate this point quite vividly. In both cases, Mikheil Saakashvili, the leader of a new generation of Georgia’s political elite, first in the capacity of opposition leader and later as the Georgian president, showed a willingness to take great risks. In all three cases, he tried to force leaders from power who had armed bodies protecting their positions. In all cases he pledged to achieve his goals in non-violent ways. To be sure, whatever the rhetoric, objectively his actions implied a high risk of provoking large-scale violence. However, in Tbilisi and Batumi, Saakashvili-led forces achieved their goals without a single casualty. They have been less successful with regard to South Ossetia in their attempt to oust the separatist South Ossetian government from power. Here, Saakashvili failed to avoid military confrontation and resulting casualties. The whole logic of Saakashvili’s South Ossetian campaign suggests that the non-violent rhetoric he used was not just rhetoric and that the military confrontation was more the result of miscalculation and mismanagement than a part of his strategy. As soon as he saw a possible direct military confrontation with his Ossetian and Russian opponents, he took the first opportunity of a limited military success (after Georgian forces captured a height from which Georgian villages had been shelled) to actually withdraw his forces from the conflict area and put an end to the military confrontation phase.
There are several reasons for this change. There are purely rational considerations.
Presumably, the Georgian elites learned a lesson from the violent conflicts in the early 1990s, namely that military confrontation would put Georgia against not just local ethnic militias, but ultimately Russian government forces (even if indirectly), and in such a confrontation it has little chance to succeed. However, this alone is not sufficient to explain the change. Arguably, in the case of the war in Abkhazia in 1992-1993, Shevardnadze would also have liked to avoid the use of force, but he failed in this because he did not have sufficient control over the semi-private armed formations and because the culture of violence was then widely spread in society. On the other hand, while the flexibility and leadership skills of Mikheil Saakashvili deserve praise, it would be impossible to avoid violence in a high risk environment of induced power changes in Tbilisi and Batumi, unless there had been a deep cultural change in Georgian society with regard to violence. These changes can be understood, on the one hand, through acquired societal experience – the negative experiences of the early 1990s brought an understandable aversion to violence, but also through political and social links to the West. Unlike the near total uncertainty of the period of the Soviet break up, there is now some kind of security regime in the South Caucasus, which presupposes Georgia’s dependence on Western political support and financial assistance. This does not mean that Georgia obediently follows Western recommendations in everything, but it understands that an open orientation towards violent solutions in solving political disputes or ethno-territorial conflicts would seriously tarnish Georgia’s international image and risk serious fallout with Western players.
Still, it would be unfair to say that had it not been for international pressure, Georgians would have become violent. The culture of peaceful resolution of conflicts that is associated with Europe (synonymous in Georgian with “the West”, or “the civilised world”) has been internalised at least by some critically important segments of Georgian society.
The second core point of the Western message is the deligitimization of aggressive and exclusive ethnic nationalism. Important changes are discernible in this regard. Ethnic nationalism continues to be a potent force in Georgian society and politics – as it is in Western European societies and politics, whatever the politically correct discourse there may be. The differences here are rather of degree, and of the structure of political players. What has changed is that ethnic nationalism has stopped being the dominant political discourse. This shift started with Shevardnadze, whose supporters denounced the policies and discourse of his predecessor, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, as “parochial fascism”. However, Shevardnadze represented the former communist nomenclatura and the shift was perpetrated by people socialized in communist internationalist, rather than Western-democratic, ways. Saakashvili represents a new generation that is in part socialized after communism and is, for the most part, aggressively anti-communist in its views. Saakashvili has also made national and state unity and the traditional values of political nationalism his pronounced priorities. His approach to solving ethnic-territorial issues and its accompanying discourse has nevertheless been quite different from those typical of the early 1990s.
This is especially obvious with regard to the South Ossetian conflict. In 1989-92, the conflict led to the creation of an enemy image of Ossetians as an ethnic group. Logically, thousands of Ossetians were expelled from regions of Georgia that had nothing to do with the conflict. The idea that the wishes of the South Ossetian population had to be taken into account when finding a solution for the problem of the region was hardly ever discussed. The autonomous status of South Ossetia was abolished.6 Saakashvili made concrete steps to reverse these positions, declaring the decision to abolish the autonomy to be a mistake. 7 He announced steps to welcome the Ossetian population that had been expelled in 1990-1991 back to Georgia (Shevardnadze’s government used this issue as a bargaining chip in negotiations with South Ossetia). He employed an ethnic Ossetian refugee from Georgia in a high-ranking position dealing with conflicts resolution. He started his efforts of regaining control over South Ossetia by trying to win over the Ossetian population through a set of measures such as starting broadcasting in the Ossetian language, paying pensions to Ossetian residents, encouraging people-to-people contacts, and supporting different charitable actions.

6 To be fair, the Georgian parliament did this in response to the decisions of the South Ossetian parliament that
proclaimed South Ossetia a sovereign republic without mentioning it being part of Georgia. This, however, does not make the decision of the Georgian Parliament right.
7 “Georgian leader says it was "mistake" to abolish breakaway region's autonomy”, ITAR-TASS Tbilisi, 12 June.

The general political discourse is about welcoming “our Ossetian compatriots” back into the Georgian state rather than regaining the territory they occupy. The political discourse is based on the assumption that any settlement formula has to be acceptable to the other side. The recent escalation of the conflict in South Ossetia overshadowed these changes, but initially they constituted the core of his strategy. Saakashvili may be criticised for oversimplifying the problem and mismanaging the South-Ossetian campaign in general, but the change in attitudes and behaviour is still obvious. The greater pluralism of attitudes towards the conflict within Georgian society has also to be ascribed to Western socialization in this area. It is linked to the delegitimization of ethnic nationalism. The traditional ethnic nationalist stance requires a solid consensus within each of the parties with regard to conflict-related issues. Everybody should treat the enemy the way the enemy deserves and share a resolve to achieve victory by all necessary means.
Dissenters are traitors: either you are with us or against us. This attitude is more or less
natural for a society at war. This is also contrary to values of modern democratic society:
even a condition of war does not justify a formal or informal prohibition of the plurality of views. This may be the strongest test to distinguish a democratic society from a nondemocratic one.
In the early 1990s, Georgian society only tolerated tactical disagreements with regard to tackling conflict, not discussions on fundamental issues. If part of society disagreed substantially, it was not because it questioned ethnic nationalism or its methods, but because it adhered to a different kind of conspiracy theory. For instance, supporters of the ousted president Gamsakhurdia opposed the war in Abkhazia, but they justified this by saying that Shevardnadze started a war on secret orders from Moscow in order to give Russia an excuse to cleanse Abkhazia of Georgians and to establish military control over it.
It would be a strong overestimation to say that currently there is a lively public discussion in Georgian society about how to solve the issue of Abkhazia. There is almost none. At least part of the reason may be that under conditions of a “frozen conflict” society has simply bracketed the issue and turned it over to the “international community” to solve. Arguably, there have been no discussions about the conflict because nobody knew what to do about it. Still, some groups of young politicians, NGOs and part of the media, which is the core of the new political elite has tried to explore new approaches. This level of pluralism is certainly not enough for a democratic society, but the demand for a solid nationalist consensus is also broken.
None of the influences that led to these changes are specifically European or linked to the EU as an institution. All are part of a general Western liberal-democratic consensus. As much as Georgia puts preparation for future membership of the European Union at the top of its agenda, the EU may acquire greater power than other international players to actually influence Georgia’s behaviour. However, since the EU does not want to encourage Georgia’s European aspirations too much, it is unlikely that the EU will have a particularly strong influence on Georgia’s behavior with regard to conflict.
Europe can have a specific impact on attitudes towards state sovereignty. Theoretically, even a unilateral decision to seek EU membership should dampen the traditional commitment to the idea of national sovereignty, and this should encourage the search for solutions within a context of multi-layered federated institutions. This is the idea, as it is noted in the discussed book, of the EU as a framework rather than agent. However, there are no signs that the idea of Europeanization in this specific sense has had any serious impact on the attitudes of the conflict parties. The idea of the Caucasus Stability Pact, proposed a few years ago by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS),8 was based on this philosophy. It proposed a multi-layer federal arrangement within the South Caucasus that would have to be blessed by all influential outside actors. This model was listened to politely in the region – because it demonstrated at least some interest of Europeans – but was not considered as having any practical value in the foreseeable future. The Cyprus example, again, demonstrated that this “framework” value did not work even when it promised clear benefits to both parties in the short term. The European framework, it seems, may help ethnic groups in EU member states to accept existing federal arrangements, rather than act as a helpful model to create new ones.
Moreover, the idea of the relativization of sovereignty runs counter to obvious local agendas of strengthening the state. All states in the South Caucasus suffer from insufficient state capacity, Georgia probably more than the other two. As a result, strengthening the state is – and obviously should be – a priority for governments. This is not the best environment for spreading the message that nation-states are not that important any more. What can be said about the transformation of attitudes to conflicts and respective behavior in self-proclaimed states? One could say there are some features of such change, but they are modest. These entities mainly differ from recognized states by being internationally isolated, though this isolation is not absolute. Leaders of de facto authorities have occasional contacts with representatives of Western governments. Western NGOs, mainly those involved in the conflict resolution, have established stable groups of counterparts within local societies. In Abkhazia, in particular, a local core of civil society has developed around projects of cooperation with Western and often Georgian NGOs.9

8 See Michael Emerson et al., ‘A Stability Pact for the Caucasus. A Consultative Document of the CEPS Task Force on the Caucasus’, Brussels, Centre for European Policy Studies, Ceps Working Documents No 145, 2000, on the Internet on
9 The British NGO Conciliation Resources has been particularly active in this respect. For an overview of their Caucasus project see their website

This Segment is very small, but it still has a certain influence on the local scene. South Ossetia is an even smaller and isolated society than Abkhazia, and there it is difficult to speak about any milieu of civil society. However, here it is much more difficult to argue that Western contacts have led to changing general attitudes to the conflict. Politically, these societies see Russia as the only political protector and are suspicious of the “international community” or “the West” whom they see as Georgia’s supporters. Georgia’s proclamations of its European and Euro-Atlantic orientation only reinforce these suspicions. These societies and their elites (save for a tiny NGO segment) have no incentive to follow Western ways. Moreover, their political condition draws them not just to Russia, but to most anti-Western groups within Russia, such as the military and Russian nationalist politicians. This is not the only factor. For societies in self-proclaimed entities, past violence is associated with victory rather than defeat, therefore, despite all sacrifices; they have less ground to revisit critically their actions at this stage. Being smaller entities than Georgia makes it easier for them to portray themselves as victims and to retain the high moral ground in these conflicts – this also does not encourage looking for new ways. The situation of legal uncertainty and isolation contributes to the development of a “siege mentality” that does not help the development of pluralism, especially with regard to conflicts. This, however, should not be understood in the sense that Abkhaz elites are culturally less “European” than Georgian elites. By the time of the Soviet break up, the ethnic Abkhaz elite was no less modernized than the Georgian elite, and in that sense it did not have fewer societal or cultural grounds to be “pro-Western” than its Georgian counterpart. The more enlightened of the Abkhaz elites – those who are more likely to greet Western visitors –are genuinely well disposed towards “Europeanizing” projects and, under other political
circumstances, would certainly be no less enthusiastic pro-Europeans than Georgians. Nevertheless, political positions are defined by specific power balances and alliances rather than cultural attitudes.10

10 This may be illustrated by the Abkhaz vision of their foreign-political preferences as described by Bruno Coppieters in the discussed book. While explaining their orientation towards Russia, the Abkhaz contend that “the fact that Russia is also undergoing a process of Europeanization has to be taken into account in an overall view of Eurasia” (p. 202). This view may be assessed as wishful thinking: in a general sense of modernisation, Russia has been ‘Europeanizing’ since Peter the Great’s time in early 17th century, but in a more specific political sense Russia is rather drifting away from Europe and the West. This belief also illustrates that at least part of the Abkhaz society is concerned with the contradiction between the orientation of their country that is dictated by power politics, and their own pro-European preferences.

Western influences and “revolutionary impatience”

To refer to Saakashvili’s latest efforts in South Ossetia as an illustration of Georgia being “Europeanized” may sound rather controversial. Many Westerners – Europeans or Americans – are quite concerned. Saakashvili is often described as an unpredictable leader who has destabilized the situation in South Ossetia without having a clear plan to solve it. While his goals are considered generally legitimate, the prevailing wisdom of foreign advisers is that the Georgian government should first focus on political and economic reforms, and only later invite the Ossetes and Abkhaz into a prosperous and democratic Georgia.
As of September 2004, Saakashvili’s South Ossetian campaign appears to be his first serious failure. This failure is often explained with reference to his character traits such as “revolutionary impatience” or simplistic attitudes to complex problems. While this criticism may be justified, I would argue that Saakashvili’s efforts have quite a strong logic behind them. It challenges the conventional wisdom of the international community with regard to “frozen conflicts” and ways to resolve them, but it also exposes its weakness. There is near consensus on a scheme so that first the situation in post-violent conflicts should be stabilized and the parties should cool down. Then there should be a period of confidence-building. As a result, there will be “conflict transformation”, attitudes of conflict parties will change, and only after that, under the guidance of the international community, responsible rational actors on both sides will sign a deal, legitimated by transformed communities on both sides. Any actions that undermine this scheme are assessed as counterproductive for peace, and their perpetrators are called “spoilers”.
This is a comfortable utopia that runs contrary to international experience – including the recent European one. I do not doubt the sincerity and good intentions of many people who believe in such a scheme, but the main reason why it is so widely accepted is that it suits players that have an interest in preserving the status quo – and this is the majority of players or “stakeholders” in these areas. It suits the “international community” that has enough headaches with ongoing “hot” conflicts. Rulers of recognized and unrecognized states, who do not have resources to change the situation, welcome face-saving ways to accept it. Local liberal-progressive elites think it strengthens their opposition to ethno-nationalist attitudes in their countries. It is most wonderful for numerous criminal and corrupt interests that take advantage of the uncertain legal status within political “black holes” of uncertain jurisdiction. Interestingly, this corrupt shadow business involves all the parties and constitutes a most effective confidence-building mechanism.
Being well socialized in Western ways, the new Georgian elites understood that these approaches constitute nothing but a justification for preserving the conflicts in the frozen stage indefinitely. If this is so, then the best chance to accelerate a solution is to instigate a crisis. Of course, a crisis creates great risks. It is very difficult to keep it within acceptable limits and not allow it to descend into large-scale violence. A player who initiates such a crisis also takes great personal political risks because he will have to take the blame if things go wrong. However, a crisis may be the way to open up new opportunities and allow actors to genuinely change their positions.
Saakashvili’s actions in South Ossetia may be a result of indirect Western/European influence in other ways as well. The new government announced its ambition to join the EU, and reiterated the wish that had been formally expressed by Shevardnadze to join NATO. Neither NATO nor the EU was thrilled by this prospect. One can argue about the main reasons for their reluctance, but the first reason Georgians will hear from these organizations is about unresolved conflicts.
So, one message from the international community is: “You cannot even think about joining NATO or the EU without resolving conflicts”, the other: “You have to behave in a way which everybody knows will not bring conflict resolution for a very long time”. In this sense, Saakashvili’s willingness to take high risks by “de-freezing” the conflicts may be a logical response to the combination of these messages.

Banquets, Grant-Eaters and the Red Intelligentsia in Post-Soviet Georgia

Author: Florian Mühlfried

In many societies banquets are powerful tools for expressing, attributing and manipulating national identity. Additionally, they often function as social markers of individual passages like birth, baptism and marriage. Banquets are ruled by etiquette and force participants to subordinate to a collective code of behavior.
In post-Soviet Georgia, the supra, a highly formalized banquet, is a core element of national culture and a crucial part of both festivities and daily life. The supra is structured by toasts and ruled by a toastmaster [tamada]. The toasts follow a generally uniform, yet not entirely fixed, structure. Certain topics are obligatory, such as toasts to the family and the deceased, and a certain pattern is prescribed, such as following a toast to the deceased by proposing a toast to life, often presented as a toast to children. In addition to this, toasts to attributed identity (e.g., family, gender) are most commonly proposed before toasts to acquired identity (e.g., profession, hobbies) (Chatwin 1997).
Some toasts reinforce national values (especially the toast to the motherland, but also more subtly expressed in toasts to culture, song, and history), gender identity (particularly the obligatory toast to women), family values, and peer group identity. Generally the toasts should express honor to the addressee or the topic in hand and should not contain any colloquial expressions, let alone swearwords, gossip, or criticism. The language used is itself characterized by the use of certain formulas (e.g., gaumarjos [”May victory be with you!”] at the end of each toast) and a high, grammatically complex, level of speaking (note especially the frequent use of the third subjunctive).
A good toastmaster is generally defined as a person with an extensive knowledge of history, poems, songs and traditions. He (or, in very rare cases, she) should not merely repeat formulas — that would be considered a bad performance. It is very important that the toastmaster is able to improvise and propose toasts in an original, personalized way. Thus, the topics of the main toasts and the general structure are given, but the transmitted factors, or “tradition,” have to be acquired and integrated into personal, intentional behavior to complete the performance and make it successful. Consequently, a “correct” performance of the supra is not based on a faithful reproduction of an “authentic” or “true” procedure, but on the willingness and ability of the performers to integrate the formulas into their personal habitus.
At a Georgian banquet it is impossible to drink alcohol without relating it to a toast. Sipping wine is a deadly sin. The ritual consumption of wine and its connection to food bears obvious parallels in the Christian Holy Communion. But wine in the context of the Georgian banquet is not exclusively attributed to the blood of Christ. As many Georgians believe that Georgia is to be the birthplace of wine, and as there are many traces in Georgian culture that indicate the prior importance of wine for Georgian identity, wine becomes a metaphor for Georgian blood, and those who share wine at a supra become virtual kinsmen.
The rules of etiquette at the supra are very strict and function as a formalized system for distributing honor. Everybody should be included in this process of distribution, but a certain hierarchy based on social structure is reinforced. Who is addressed by the tamada, when and how, who speaks after whom and for how long, who drinks when and how much — all these facts can be considered to be part of a performance of status. Boys show that they have become men when they stand up during a toast to women or the deceased, while women and children remain seated. Men who have stopped actively participating in the process of drinking and toasting are most likely no longer considered the head of their family. Generally, toasting encompasses both competition and solidarity.
Both, in Georgian scholarly and popular discourse, the supra is considered to be an essential part of the Georgian tradition, too old to be dated accurately. Historical sources would suggest, however, that the supra in its current form is a product of the 19th century, closely related to the rise of the national movement.* Western travelogues from the 15th–18th century (such as Contarini (1873), Busbeck (1926), Chardin (1668), and Lamberti (1654)) indicate the long and vivid history of ritualized drinking, but the Georgian words for toastmaster and toast cannot be found in these sources, nor can the description of cultural practices comparable to these concepts. Additionally, according to the travelogues wine was frequently drunk without any ritual framing.
These observations are backed by Georgian literature and historiography. Since the “Golden Age” in the 11th–13th century the description of feasts has been a common topic in Georgian sources, but no hint of toasting or toastmastership can be found. Even in the 19th century the poet Ak'ak'i C'ereteli (1989: 25) noticed in his writings that “the ancestors” did not propose toasts at a table and would be ashamed if they witnessed the present day phenomenon. In the famous and extensive dictionary from the 18th century by Sulxan Saba Orbeliani (1991), the words for toastmaster and toast are absent, an omission that would be difficult to explain if the Georgian banquet at that time were structurally the same as today’s. Consequently, the Georgian banquet is an example of an “invented tradition” (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983) and fulfills the function of creating and reinforcing national identity.
The Georgian word for toast first appears in a cycle of poems by the Georgian aristocrat Grigol Orbeliani (1800-1883),** often considered to be one of the “fathers” of the national movement (e.g., Suny 1994: 125). The poems are written in the form of toasts and remember national heroes, and their deeds. This genre quickly became popular at banquets. Remembering the past as a toast became a form of national education after the Russian annexation of Georgia in 1801 and the consequent suppression of national sovereignty. In this context the verbal evocation of the past becomes a patriotic mission at the table.
There is another closely related explanation as to why the supra spread so quickly and extensively in 19th century Georgia. Unlike former occupiers of Georgia, the Russians shared the same religion as Georgians. Consequently, religion could no longer be a distinguishing factor between “us” and “them.” The “othering” of the Georgian nation had to be based on something else — folk culture. Despite its aristocratic origin, the supra, as a distinct way of feasting and as a manifestation of “Georgian” hospitality, soon became a symbol of cultural otherness.
In Soviet times the supra continued to be a sign of national identity and aroused suspicion from the authorities. In a law adopted in 1975 in Soviet Georgia, large banquets associated with crucial events like births, marriages, or deaths, were dismissed as a public display of a traditional attitude opposed to the ideal of the homo soveticus. The supra became a “harmful custom.”*** Additionally, for ethnic Georgians it was a privileged place for creating networks, reinforcing alliances and trading information — important factors for coping with Soviet life.
Those Georgian intellectuals who considered defending Georgian culture to be their main task, but were well established in the Soviet academic or administrative systems, saw the supra as an important means of education. Historians like Shota Meskhia presented a completely different version of Georgian history at a supra than the one he taught at the university. For “orthodox nationalism” the supra was a “true academy,” as a popular saying from this time states. The representatives of “unorthodox nationalism” used the socially acceptable form of the supra to disguise their meetings.****
In post-Soviet Georgia the supra lost its function as a permanent reassurance of cultural authenticity — at least inside the Republic of Georgia. For the many Georgians who left Georgia in recent years, due to political and economic instability, the supra continues to be a marker of national identity. In the setting of a diaspora, the table is a central place for socializing with fellow Georgians, and the rules of the supra often serve as a way of explaining Georgian culture to foreigners. Special dishes like tqemali sauce represent the “taste” of Georgia and can be missed, just like home.
For the last few years the age and origins of the supra have been hotly and publicly debated subjects in Georgia. This discussion was initiated by a local NGO publication in 2000 (Nodia, ed. 2000). In this publication, two authors from non-academic fields stated in separate articles that the supra originated as late as the 19th century. Another author in the same publication described the supra as a sublimated expression of male homosexuality. As a response to this publication a couple of anthropologists and historians from official academic institutions dismissed the three authors as incompetent amateurs (e.g., Gociridze 2001).
The public debate over the supra reflects the emergence of a new intellectual elite consisting of young, well educated people who prefer to work for NGOs instead of choosing an academic career. As these people are dependent on money from western institutions, they are sometimes referred to as “grant-eaters.” The mostly older representatives of the academic system are called the “red intelligentsia” in return, in order to stress their ties to the Soviet past.
One of the most popular arguments of the “red intelligentsia” against the “grant-eaters” is that the latter are trying to destroy the national culture in order to integrate Georgia into a global market. In this context, denying the “ancient tradition” of the supra is seen as a conscious attempt to extract one of the roots of Georgian culture. Against this background, the discourse on the supra has a strong normative power. Any attitude on this topic invariably leads to an association with the old or the new elite. Whoever wins the fight for prestige and influence in present-day Georgia will significantly shape the representation of national identity. For the “red intelligentsia,” the supra will remain a favorite means of symbolizing cultural distinctness. For the “grant-eaters,” the supra will become a synonym for cultural backwardness, and be replaced by western-style parties or banquets à la fourchette.

*In some cases I could relate the refusal to drink wine at a supra by men in their 50s to the loss of a prestigious job after Georgia acquired independence.
**The Georgian literature journalist Levan Bregadze argues that Orbeliani copied the style of the Russian author Zhukovskii in his poem. This would present the possibility that the Georgians adopted the art of toasting from Russian aristocratic circles (who themselves imported this practice from Britain).
***Compare the decision of the Central Committee of the KPG from November 15, 1975 on “Measures to increase the fight against harmful traditions and customs”; in: Gerber 1997: 261 [German].
****The concept of “orthodox” and “unorthodox nationalism” is used and has been popularized by Suny in his monograph, The Making of the Georgian Nation (1994: 307).