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View of Tbilisi. Photo: ESI

Suggested readings

In his detailed history The Making of the Georgian Nation (second edition) Ronald Grigor Suny notes that after achieving independence in 1991 "Georgians became the victims of their own excessive rhetoric and ill-considered political choices" (p. 334).  He quotes Elizabeth Fuller who described the philosophy of Gamsakhurdia (the first elected leader of Georgia, toppled by a coup in January 1992) as follows:

"Central to Gamsakhurdia's entire political career is his messianism – his mystic belief that he was divinely appointed by God to lead the Georgian people, and by extension, that Georgia has a divine mission to be a moral example to the rest of the world."

The notion that Georgia should be an example to the rest of the world, albeit shorn of its mystical and religious overtones, is also very present in the rhetoric of Georgia's libertarian leaders and their friends in international organisations. It is present in many speeches made by Mikheil Saakashvili.

One of the most outspoken advocates of this vision of Georgia as a global model is Lado Gurgenidze, Georgia's libertarian prime minister from late 2007 to late 2008.

In "Georgia Can Be a Guiding Light to Other States", an op-ed published in The Telegraph in October 2008 Gurgenidze uses his own life-story to make the case that in Georgia everything is possible:

"In autumn 2004 I departed London, uprooting my young family and leaving a comfortable City job, to rebuild a chronically under-managed, former state-owned bank in Georgia with a market value of £14 million and a sizeable hole in its balance sheet … Within three years, and with a talented team of veterans from Western banks, Bank of Georgia was a London Stock Exchange-listed financial institution with a market value of £460 million."

And he continues:

"Preserving Georgia's democracy and territorial integrity is increasingly seen as 'not about just Georgia any more', but about the inviolability of sovereign borders and the supremacy of the rule of international law over the rule of force. I would argue that there is another, often-overlooked dimension. The World Bank ranks Georgia as the 15th freest economy in the world, with the level of economic liberty exceeding our Central and Eastern European peers and most EU countries (the United Kingdom is ranked 6th). The world has a vested interest in promoting Georgia's success on its chosen path."

For a very detailed discussion of Georgia's reforms, listen to Lado Gurgenidze's April 2009 presentation (75 min) at the Milken Institute in Los Angeles, California. Gurgenidze focuses on the successes of Georgia's radically liberal policies and points out, "It's not enough to be like other countries. We have to be better. Unabashedly, unequivocally better."

Gurgenidze sees Georgia's future as part of a wider story of "extending the march of freedom to the eastern shores of the Black Sea." Similarly, Richard Kahn, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington DC, credits both Bendukidze and Gurgendize with Georgia's transformation into a model of economic governance:

"Much of the inspiration and drive for the radical free market reform of the Georgian economy comes from a mountain of a man named Kakha Bendukidze, whom I first had the pleasure of meeting some years ago in Russia … Commenting on the international financial crisis, he correctly observed that as long as governments continue to rely on central banks and extensive regulation of the financial industry rather than free banking, "periodic financial crises will continue to plague mankind."

"The prime minister, Lado Gurgenidze, was both educated and spent considerable time in the United Kingdom and clearly was influenced by Mrs. Thatcher. I asked him if he was concerned that the pressures to grow the size of government because of the invasion would undermine Georgia's reforms (note: history shows governments almost always grow in relative size versus the private economy in the time of crisis, such as wars or financial instability, even if governments create the crisis). The prime minister replied that the Georgians have not retreated from their reforms, including shrinking the size of government, and they fully understand any retrenchment would be very damaging."

Kahn concludes:

"There is a message here for the political leaders of America and Europe, but I expect most of them still will not get it."

Many of these articles, praising what Gurgenidze called "compassionate libertarianism" (see his March 2008 power-point presentation on the topic) appeared at a time which also saw the publication of many critical articles on Georgia's democratic maturity.

In September 2008 Lincoln Mitchell wrote in The New York Times that since the Rose Revolution

"media freedom was reduced, an independent judiciary did not evolve, the government party sought to weaken opposition parties, and a one-party system (its fourth in less than 20 years) was solidified." ("Viewing Georgia, Without the Rose-Colored Glasses," NYT, 25 Sep)

Newsweek wrote in September 2008 that "if anything, the country is becoming less democratic." (Michael Freedman, "The West Hails Georgia As a Democracy. But Is It One?" Newsweek International, Sept. 2008.)

April 2010

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