On 4 January 2004 Mikheil Saakashvili, the leader of the Rose Revolution, was elected as Georgia's new president with 96 percent of the popular vote. He was 35 years old. He had witnessed the failures of the Shevardnadze style of governance for almost a decade. He had seen the impotence and incoherence of international donors and advisors. And he had heard the argument that the real obstacle to fighting corruption was "Georgian culture ". As one foreign expert told the New York Times in early 2004
"Georgia is what in the 1960s people used to call an honor-and-shame society. It has relied to heavily in the last few decades on social networks and kinship that this not only demands corruption but ultimately economic stasis."
Georgian criminologist Georgi Glonti wrote that Georgians "automatically resist law in any and all forms." This explained previous failures of reform:
"Assuming that American laws and market rules could be grafted onto Georgian society was like trying to graft an artichoke onto an orange tree. The reforms wither and die. The Georgians politely do what the Americans and other Western reformers ask by way of passing laws, adopting constitutions, changing police procedure, customs and tax procedures and instituting whatever other reform measures are suggested. And then, basically nothing happens."
In this view, what was working in Georgia were the unwritten laws upheld by the so-called thieves-in-law, criminal groups with their own codes and hierarchies, who managed to "infiltrate every aspect of Georgian life." These thieves existed across the former Soviet Union but Georgians were vastly overrepresented among their ranks. Georgian thieves like Shakro Kalashov, Gogi Chikovani or Tariel Oniani were among the leaders of organised crime in Russia. The fact that following the coup against Georgia's first elected president in early 1992 a Soviet-era thief, Jaba Ioseliani, ended up running the country "shows that Georgia had developed a unique relationship with its criminal institutions." In March 2003 Ioseliani was buried in Didube, Georgia's pantheon for its most respected public figures.
As Saakashvili and his associates saw it, however, Georgia's problems had not stemmed from a lack of policy ideas, but from implementation. Culture was not an acceptable excuse, and the fact that criminal structures, such as the Thieves-in-Law, had begun to replace state structures in providing protection and arbitration was a threat that had to be confronted. What had been lacking was courage and political will to reassert the state's authority. Now, the Rose revolutionaries believed, Georgia's voters had given them the chance and the mandate to do just that.
Georgian Parliament in Tbilisi. Photo: Wikipedia Commons
The government that Kakha Bendukidze joined in the summer of that year was the first truly post-Soviet cabinet in the history of independent Georgia. None of its members
On Georgia's perpetual revolution, see Till Bruckner's essay Decision Making and Georgia's Perpetual Revolution: the case of IDP Housing (2009):
"Observers tend to enthuse about Georgia's leadership or damn it, but such black-and-white views do little to explain what is really going on in the country. Examining the government's recent efforts to provide housing to those internally displaced by the August 2008 conflict with Russia sheds light not only on the housing program itself, but on contemporary Georgian politics in general. In particular, four traits characteristic of the ruling United National Movement's revolutionary governance are brought into focus: informal decision-making, fluid roles, heroic action, and vanguard politics."
Regarding police reform, there are a number of sources.
The reform of the previously highly corrupt road police has been recognized as one of the most popular measures taken by the Georgian government. In her 2005 article, Caucasus correspondent Lili di Puppo describes the reform as a "visible success":
The purge in the corrupt police, where 15.000 officers were fired, was another drastic step of the government and has been so far the most visible success in the government's new policy. Car-drivers are no longer stopped and asked to pay bribes by policemen at improvised road check points and the disappearance of the corrupt traffic police is said to be the factor behind the surge in the number of Armenian tourists this summer.
The bigger question posed by di Puppo, however, is whether Georgia would be able to go beyond dramatic radical measures and commit to long-term institutional development:
"The biggest challenge for the Georgian state, as stated at different occasions by Georgian officials, is to eliminate the dependence on individuals and move towards a more predictable system based on institutions."
Alexander Kupatadze, Giorgi Siradze, and Giorgi Mitagvaria, "Policing and police reform in Georgia", in Organized Crime and Corruption in Georgia, eds. Louise Shelley, Erik R. Scott and Anthony Latta (Routledge, 2007). In this chapter, the authors describe Georgia's legacy of being an over-policed society prior to the reforms:
"When the Soviet Union collapsed, Georgia had a population of 5,400,800, with 25,000 employees in the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and 900 in the KGB (Committee on State Security), a ratio of one law enforcement official per 208 citizens. Georgia, therefore, remained a heavily policed society. Despite reforms in other parts of government, the Ministry of Interior maintained a dysfunctional structure with 28 departments, two branches in autonomous republics, and nine regional units. Additional unnecessary departments were created before the revolution, and personnel in the ministry more than doubled to 56,000 at a time that the population decreased by nearly one million. At the time of the Rose Revolution, the police-citizen ratio was 1:78" (pp. 93-94).
In its report "Reform of Law Enforcement Bodies in Georgia: The Ministry of Internal Affairs" (Dec. 19, 2005), Transparency International Georgia also describes the rigid, unreformed interior ministry left over from the Soviet times:
"Prior to the new government's coming to power in 2003, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs had seen very little change and effectively remained a Soviet-style police structure with a significant degree of militarization. The former authorities had failed to demonstrate the political will to transform the ministry in accordance with the needs of a democratic state. Rampant corruption had resulted in extremely low public confidence in the police structures."
In June 2004, the Ministry of Internal Affairs presented its strategic vision of reform at the Donors' Conference for Georgia in Brussels. The vision had been elaborated based on the materials of the Democratic Policing conference funded by the EU. These include the May 2004 statement from the European Commission, which stresses the importance of a purely civilian character for the reformed MIA:
"a very clear message was sent to the Ministry of the Interior by the EU and ISAB experts present that any capacity to undertake independent military operations must be removed from the Ministry of Internal Affairs or disbanded. This includes the removal of military doctrines, structures, terminology and ranks and is essential in achieving policing standards." (p. 15).
The key objectives for the structural reforms in the Ministry of Internal Affairs were summarized in the MIA's document entitled Strategic Vision and Development Priorities in 2004-2006.
- Reorganization of the ministry into the body responsible for the internal policy of the country, with duties including the execution and coordination of police activities;
- Professionalization of the police force to make it completely non-political, including the bolstering of public confidence in the police by increasing its effectiveness in fighting crime, ensuring civilian security, and combating the system's existing corruption;
- Creation of appropriate work conditions, suitable remuneration, and job stability for the employees of the Ministry system and protection against the hiring of unqualified persons;
- Gradual execution of the reform process, ensuring that the necessary material, technical and human resources are determined and their sources are defined before components of the reform are implemented." (p. 6).
To access all Democratic Policing conference materials and for an overview of the European Commission activities with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, go to the website of the Delegation of the European Union to Georgia. Here you will find a brief historic background, key events and key documents of relevance to cooperation between the European Commission and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. A selection of those documents can be found here:
Georgia as a model
Bendukidze and Russian capitalism
Jacobins in Tbilisi
The future of Georgian libertarianism