Kyiv, July 8, 2015. Now when Mikheil Saakashvili became a governor of Odesa region in Ukraine, it became evident that experience and understanding of Georgian reforms’ pros and cons is important for Ukraine. “I talked with Saakashvili two days ago in Odessa and it is evident to me that whether you like it or not, he has got a clear vision of what he wants to do,” said Regis Gente, a French journalist and author of the book “Putin and Caucasus” and “A trip to Abkhazia” during a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
Gente who has been living in Georgia since 2002 when Eduard Shevardnadze was president, emphasized that Saakashvili’s reforms managed to break down corruption in post-Soviet Georgia. Successful reform was a satisfactory continuation of the Rose Revolution. “I’d like to emphasize that reforms in Georgia did happen, that there is no corruption in modern Georgia indeed. Following Saakashvili’s rise to power, I’ve never seen police or traffic police taking bribes or any other abuse taking place,” said Gente.
He explained the success of Georgian reforms through true political will. “Georgian reforms took place because there was political will. Moreover, there were no exceptions to these reforms. They really applied to everyone, even the most unprotected: for instance, African immigrants, told me they are not repressed in any way provided they obey the laws,” said Gente.
At the same time, Gente dwelled on shortcomings of Saakashvili’s government and the reason for loss of power in Georgia in 2012. At present, approximately 20 percent of Georgian citizens support Saakashvili. Gente believes that there are five main reasons for Saakashvili’s loss of power. First of all, Saakashvili lost power during fair and democratic elections. Voters like changing governments in democratic countries. Citizens often change their opinion in conditions of free exercise of choice, even if the changes are simply for change’s sake. Among others, dissatisfaction with a considerable number of state officials who were dismissed, publishing videos unveiling multiple cases of excess of power by guards in Georgian prisons, economic reasons—the government preached liberal ideology of self-regulation of market—and the war in 2008 caused the former president to fall out of favor.
In summary, Gente said that the main problem of Saakashvili’s ideology was well intentioned in trying to break the cycle of corruption in Georgia, but his methods were not always democratic. Any fast change risked sacrificing democracy, as democratic process demands dialogue. “Another tragedy of Saakashvili is the fact that there was no real opposition in the country. All the public activists fighting against Shevardnadze became Saakashvili’s ministers and deputies. There was no one to criticize Saakashvili’s faults effectively,” added Gente.
Ukraine’s chances for success, in comparison with Georgia, depend on change demanded by the public. “Changes in Ukraine take place not from the elite, but from the bottom. Perhaps, this is where Ukraine’s success will lie,” summarized Gente.