Nino Khutsidze, Civil Georgia
Recent multiple attacks of the opposition over various problems have already turned into a headache for the Georgian authorities. Head of the think-tank Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) Ghia Nodia in an interview to Civil Georgia on March 15
Q.: And now what about developments in Akhalkalaki?
A.: The local ethnic Armenian population of Akhalkalaki expresses discontent for a long time. Of course, there we have an external irritant in a form of the [Russian military] base. It seems that there are different opinions in Russia, whether to withdraw this base or to suspend its pullout. Hence, inspiration of certain developments from Russia can be regarded as quite natural. On the other hand, the local Armenian population has great concerns. They fear that the Tbilisi wants to drastically change a demographic situation there by populating ethnic Georgians in the region. They live with this fear and each step, which weakens their domination, triggers a painful reaction. The authorities want to conduct the proceedings in courts in the state, Georgian language and appointed there a Georgian judge, as there is no local judge with a good command of the Georgian language. But in this case the authorities miscalculated while taking this decision. On the one hand it is absolutely clear that the state language should perform its function on the entire territory of the country, but obviously it is practically impossible to implement it in Akhalkalaki within at least next 5 years. The authorities should develop a long-tem action plan so that the Georgian language is gradually established in the state structures and simultaneously they should introduce a short-term decision, which can be a compromise and a temporary measure.
Q.: Recently opponents have intensified criticism of the authorities for saying not to a dialogue as a mean of solving problems. What is your opinion about it?
A.: This is one more strategic mistake of the authorities. In 2004 they tried several times to launch a dialogue with the civil society organizations, but when they saw that this dialogue was often unpleasant and even critical towards them, they decided to get in touch directly with the people. The only possible form of communication with the people is a monologue and our authorities are very talented in this regard. Mikheil Saakashvili is a very talented politician and works successfully with the population, while the work with the active part of our society, with separate target groups is completely neglected. The authorities fail to understand that in order to establish a public opinion, it is necessary to actively work with the civil society groups, that requires patience and listening to different opinions. We have rather pragmatic government. They compromise only when they see the force, which needs to be taken into consideration.
Q.: Do you think that the opposition is a force of this kind?
A.: The authorities do not perceive the opposition as a serous force, however when they [the authorities] see that over certain issues the opposition can mobilize a large part of the society, they compromise. For example resignation of Akhalaia and Sanodze show that the government can compromise. In case of a resolution on Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia, the authorities retreated [from their initial hard-line stance] as a result of pressure from the United States and Europe. So it demonstrates that the authorities, when they deem it necessary, are flexible and even can compromise. But this kind of a compromise is not triggered by long-term calculations.
Q.: Several opposition parties argue that the opposition is often forced to react on the authorities' "cheap PR campaigns" with "cheap" and "populist" slogans that finally causes an extreme lowering of the level of political debates. What can you say about it?
A.: The quality of political debates was always low in Georgia. In my opinion, this is caused by lack of [political] experience. One more reason is lack of those persons, who can speak of politics. They [authorities] think that exchange of insults during political debates is very profitable for raising their rating; they hope that such a behavior will help them gain a victory. A part of politicians even misunderstand the Georgian society, thinking that people are in favor of this kind of political debates.
Q.: Recently, the authorities started to indicate that certain external forces are trying to influence on development in Georgia through interfering in the domestic politics. Do you think there are real grounds for these concerns?
A.: Recently Russia makes systemic attempts to stir up aggravation of situation in Georgia. This is also linked with Georgia's real prospects to join NATO. Moreover, the present authorities of Georgia are emotionally unacceptable for Russia. Russia believes that the Georgian authorities are incompetent, while the President [Mikheil Saakashvili] is an unsteady person, who will sooner or later end in failure that will trigger a serious crisis and change of government through revolution. Therefore, Russia tries to trigger these kinds of developments, on the one hand, and to ensure that more acceptable people come to power after the new revolution, on the other. This plan of Russia is quite obvious. However, this does not mean, that all forces acting in Georgia are inspired by Russia. Of course, except of [Georgia's ex-security chief] Igor Giorgadze's supporters. I also do not rule out that Russia not only tries, but also can directly influence developments in Akhalkalaki.. But, on the other hand Russia lacks leverages to directly influence on developments in Georgia, maybe except of Akhalkalaki and of course breakaway regions