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.


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