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The national accord process in Georgia

Georgia’s political environment remains characterised by deep divides that have persisted for years. Following the EU’s own attempts to help the country last year, it appears that it is now the Georgian president’s turn to help forge a path forward.

March 24, 2022 - Lasha Gamjashvili - Articles and Commentary

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili discussing the COVID-19 pandemic with German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Photo: Giorgi Abdaladze. wikimedia.org

On December 16th 2021, Georgian President, Salome Zurabishvili, hosted numerous political figures to an evening at the country’s Orbeliani Palace. Georgia is currently facing a plethora of challenges, including Russian occupation and disinformation, economic hardship, a raging pandemic, and societal inequality. In such difficult conditions, polarisation and hatred are only making these problems worse. It is also worth noting that the return of the country’s former President Mikheil Saakashvili has exacerbated these challenges in particular. As the current president stated, she initiated this process at the palace in order to achieve national reconciliation. Despite the fact that President Zurabishvili is an unpopular and controversial leader, she appears to notice more problems in Georgia than the prime minister and his ministers. This group frequently asserts that Georgia outperforms several European countries in a variety of areas. According to the president, Georgia must first eradicate the endless polarization of its politics in order to move forward and achieve further goals. At the beginning of the palace meeting, the president stated that: “even standing together is positive and I think it will be perceived positively by our society, which is already experiencing very badly this endless polarisation, the endless tension that has sunk and stopped our country.” Georgia, according to its president, is already an “adult state”. It has been for 30 years since the country gained its independence. The president now believes that it is time for a more mature and new style of politics.

It is critical to emphasise that government officials rarely discuss problematic issues in an open manner. Instead, they often appear to perceive national issues through rose-tinted glasses. In front of the politicians gathered at the palace event, the president said:

“The people are tired. And on top of this unbearable situation, we have COVID, the current social and economic conditions, and there is practically no prospect in the country that we can look to for calm to address the main issues. These issues are development, overcoming poverty, uniting society. Everything is divided. Even the Church is divided. And we can see that we’re forgetting what is happening in the outside world, all around us, the threats and opportunities that we somehow forget.”

Regrettably, the president had to stress that Georgian politicians prefer to focus on domestic affairs and rivalry among themselves- Forgetting or ignoring what is occurring in the world is definitely having an impact on Georgia. For instance, Georgian officials are more concerned with the Saakashvili case than with how to resolve economic concerns, or what is occurring in the Caucasus following the Second Karabakh War.

The president also emphasised that the youth do not want to live in a difficult environment that is full of hatred rather than opportunities. The president declared unequivocally that Georgian politicians have no strategy to end the occupation or alleviate the difficult conditions on the occupation line. She went as far as saying, that the politicians have even abandoned talking about the Russian occupation, clearly Georgia’s major international concern. Instead, they are busy criticising each other in order to improve their own image in front of Georgian citizens.

It is important to note that the president claims to have “no plans” when it comes to encouraging national reconciliation. Without any firm goals, any process will be unpredictable and difficult to follow. On the other hand, this open process would allow politicians of all parties to participate for the wider benefit of the country. Overall, reconciliation must be flexible in order to overcome the current divisions within the country.

Zurabishvili has stressed that, the process should be based on inclusivity and openness, with no additional prerequisites. The president has done everything she can to entice every politician, including her harshest critics, to be a part of the process. After all, they will lose no thing by participating and may even accomplish something simply by engaging with discussions. It is important to keep in mind that several politicians did not attend the first meeting, which was primarily ceremonial and focused on exchanging New Year’ greetings. However, these absentees, still expressed their desire to be a part of the process, which will now be more concentrated on the country’s major issues. The president also made a remark about certain politicians’ absence, stating that “It’s neither an insult nor an irritation…,-” By saying this, Georgia’s leader, acknowledged that not everyone would be ready to commit after the first invitation. She added that, “there will be plenty more opportunities for us to start significant discussions.”

Reactions of different political actors

After the first ceremony, Georgian Dream chairman Irakli Kobakidze stated that it will be impossible to achieve reconciliation without political justice. As a result, he has insisted that members of the rival United National Movement (UNM) confess to “their crimes.” Overall, it seems like, it will be too difficult for the president to change the perspectives of the ruling party bosses. It goes without saying that UNM members also have similar opinions regarding Georgian Dream. The ruling party is often criticised as being a home for thieves, criminals, and murderers. Independent politicians generally support the process and the president’s initiative, although they have differing perspectives on how the process could and should unfold.

It is also worth noting that Mikheil Saakashvili, the ex-president and honorary leader of the United National Movement, reacted to Salome Zurabishvili’s efforts while recovering at Gori hospital after a 50-day hunger strike. When speaking about Georgia’s major difficulties, Saakashvili noted that the president has been courageous and taken precise steps to help heal the country’s divides. This was a rare moment in Georgian politics, as Saakashvili and Zurabishvili have traditionally seen each other as political rivals. The current president claimed before this initiative that she would never pardon him for abusing his power on multiple occasions. This is obviously another obstacle for reaching the renewed consensus, as the opposition’s major priority remains securing the release of Saakashvili from prison.

It goes without saying that ending the polarisation and establishing national consensus is especially important, in this tough period. The country faces so many complex issues and, will face far greater obstacles in the future. Overall, there are a lot of reasons to be sceptical about the process. First and foremost, the country’s current group of politicians lacks the political will to resolve the ongoing crisis. Whilst, the leaders of Georgian Dream remain dismissive when discussing opposition parties, groups like the UNM, still hold negative attitudes regarding any potential agreements with the government. Furthermore, it is clear that the president lacks the ability to compel the country’s political figures to act in a constructive manner. This is despite the fact the president emphasised the importance of international events to the country. Georgia is a parliamentary republic, and the president’s powers are subsequently limited. However, the country’s current leader remains a widely disliked figure both in political circles and wider Georgian society. Even the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, was unable to reconcile Georgia’s political actors and bring the crisis to an end. How will President Zurabishvili accomplish this ambitious goal?

Despite this prevailing pessimism, the national accord process is objectively a good development for Georgian politics. Such occurrences are uncommon in the country’s politics, which is mainly characterised by animosity. This essential national process must be closely monitored in spite of all the difficulties.

Lasha Gamjashvili holds a bachelor’s degree of Social Sciences in International Relations from the International Black Sea University (Georgia) and the master’s degree in Social Sciences from Vytautas Magnus Univeristy, Lithuania. Lasha is a contributor of several think tanks and has worked on European and international events.

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