The moment of collective celebration in Georgia over a tentative permission to start queuing for membership in the European Union was brief. Before long, Georgia was back to its cat-and-dog domestic politics, snubbing European requests to work toward national reconciliation.
Taking time out of their feud, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and President Salome Zourabichvili on November 8 congratulated their nation on the occasion of the European Commission recommending Georgia for the much sought-after status of membership candidate.
In their remarks, the head of government and the head of state may have made rivaling claims on the success on the European integration front and dropped a few passive-aggressive reproaches for one another, but, overall, both struck celebratory notes on the much-anticipated, landmark decision.
Zourabichvili even said that an upcoming joint visit to France was a chance for Georgian leaders to take a step toward depolarization – one of the key conditions the EU has set for Georgia on its journey toward membership.
The EU cannot underscore enough its desire for Georgia to bring its bare-knuckle political battles under control. Germany’s ambassador to Georgia even said that it was the most important of the many homework assignments that Brussels gave Tbilisi in order to take relations to the next stage.
But compromise and restraint remain foreign concepts in Georgian politics – a cacophonic world of chronic bickering, offensive language and the occasional slugfest.
On the heels of the celebrations in Tbilisi, the prime minister and the president did manage to get through the Paris Peace Forum without a fight. But once they were done talking peace and mingling with foreign leaders, the two turned on each other again.
The prime minister and members of his party, Georgian Dream, went back to their accusations that the president, largely a figurehead, is overstepping her constitutional powers and undermining Georgia’s foreign partnerships. Garibashvili and his crowd were particularly unhappy with a comment Zourabichvili made to French media.
Garibashvili alleged that the comment was unfriendly toward Chinese President Xi Jinping and accused Zourabichvili of undermining Sino-Georgian relations. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the President of Georgia has acted in her personal capacity and made her personal assessments of international matters in violation of the Georgian Constitution and to the detriment of national interests,” the Prime Minister’s office said.
Members of Georgian Dream piled on, calling the president an embarrassment. “We don’t refer to Salome Zourabichvili as president anymore,” said Mamuka Mdinaradze, a senior Georgian Dream MP. “She does not have legitimacy as far as we are concerned.”
The president’s comment was in response to a question that asked both whether Russian President Putin would ever face justice for his alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity and whether Xi would ever be held to account for the alleged genocide of the Uyghurs.
Zourabichvili later clarified that her response referred only to Putin, not to the Chinese leader. But the prime minister and his party appear bent on using any chance to trip up the maverick president that they see as a nuisance and, possibly, a threat.
In the previous episode of the kick-the-president show, the Georgian Dream even tried to impeach Zourabichvili, once a ceremonial figure but now an increasingly important player on the political scene. While Georgian Dream is widely accused of supporting European integration with one hand and undermining it with the other, Zourabichvili took it upon herself to be the guardian of Georgia’s progress on the path to the E.U.
With her strong pro-Europe and anti-Russia credentials, she has been earning some public support and moderate opposition figures have been constellating around her. Some observers even expect the president to cross swords with Georgian Dream in next year’s parliamentary polls.
Then, in the other corner of Georgia’s political battleground, Georgian Dream remains locked in a fierce feud with the largest opposition party, the United National Movement. Georgian Dream’s chairman Irakli Kobakhidze continues to label the group as the “war party” bent on dragging Georgia into a conflict with Russia.
“All this time, the National Movement, the war party, has been focused on disrupting peace and damaging the economy,” Kobakhidze said when commenting on recently published ratings of political parties. “Of course, the public will not support the party of war.”
The National Movement, for its part, continues to accuse Georgian Dream and its billionaire founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili of being in cahoots with Moscow. Even as Georgia made its key step toward Europe this month on Georgian Dream’s watch, the National Movement keeps calling the ruling party “the Russian Party.”
The “Russian party” and the “war party” trade accusations of attempts to stall Georgia’s progress toward European integration.
The ruling establishment and its rivals also wrangled this week over the for parties to win proportionally distributed seats in parliament, which is now set at 5 percent. In the spirit of European calls for depolarization, Georgia Dream had vowed last year to lower the threshold, but walked back on its promise this week. “Scrounging for a lower barrier is futile,” Parliamentary Speaker Shalva Papuashvili told opposition parties.
While duking it out with the president and minority parties, Georgian Dream also wages war on civil society, accusing respected democracy watchdogs of plotting to overthrow the government in response to these groups warning against threats to human rights and democracy-building.
In a word, Georgia’s political life is a mess that the EU expects the nation to clean up before taking the next steps toward membership.
“In a European Union-style democracy, the political parties and civil society are called upon to work together in a constructive manner,” said Ambassador Fischer. “The first step is to accept the other side as legitimate. If the political discourse exhausts itself in saying, ‘you are not legitimate, you should disappear,’ then there is no way you can have a constructive discussion.”
By the looks of it, little suggests that Georgia is willing to temper its irascible politics with some civility and restraint, but the European influence coupled with Georgian voters’ fervent desire to join the EU could push Georgian politics to get there. At least, that’s the hope.
Source : Eurasia Net