As elections draw near, increased tension at the line of separation with South Ossetia has helped put the future of normalisation with Russia in doubt. But whoever wins at the polls should not abandon dialogue, but rather build on it to frankly discuss these problems.
Originally published in U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs
Originally published in EUREN Brief
Originally published in World Politics Review
Acrimony between opposition and ruling Georgian Dream party surfaced ahead of Oct local elections, raising prospect of disputed results. Country prepared for local elections scheduled for 2 Oct, with opposition members throughout month characterising poll as “referendum” to end nine-year-long rule of Georgian Dream party and voicing concerns over possible voting irregularities. Under EU-U.S. brokered agreement signed in April between opposition and govt, local elections should lead to snap parliamentary elections if Georgian Dream fails to obtain 43% of vote share; ruling party withdrew from deal in July. Meanwhile, opposition media 13 Sept leaked thousands of reports and transcripts of conversations allegedly recorded by Georgian security services containing details of personal and professional lives of dozens of Georgian clerics, prompting launch of investigation by Georgian Prosecutor’s Office; Georgian Church claimed leaks are attempt to discredit clerics. Former senior official Megis Kardava, facing charges of torture, rape and murder, 17 Sept arrived for trial in Georgia after his extradition from Ukraine; Kardava is expected to testify against former Georgian leaders, who are now key opposition figures. De facto authorities of breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia facilitated participation of Russian passport holders in Russian parliamentary elections 17-19 Sept by opening polling stations and encouraging voting; Georgia 20 Sept condemned holding of elections in two breakaway regions.
Informal trade is increasing between Georgia and the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and between Abkhazia and countries outside the region. Trade alone cannot transform the parties’ core political differences. But talks among them on mutually beneficial commerce could open lines of communication long cemented shut.
Whether the smooth transfer of power Georgia achieved after October’s bitter election sets a standard for democracy in its region depends on whether the new government can strengthen the independence and accountability of state institutions in what remains a fragile, even potentially explosive political climate.
On the third anniversary of their war over South Ossetia, talks between Georgia and Russia are needed to create positive momentum in a still unstable environment.
Georgia has maintained political and economic stability despite the shock of the 2008 war with Russia, but the government needs to use the two years before the next elections to create public trust in democratic institutions by engaging in meaningful dialogue with the opposition over further reforms.
The historically coveted region of Abkhazia has become even more dependent on Moscow since Russia’s controversial recognition a year and a half ago.
The Georgian government has been in crisis for quite a long time. Mr. Ivanishvili’s comeback and popular protests are just symptoms of this process.
Over the last three years, we have been seeing a serious decline in the situation in the districts [of South Ossetia] mainly populated by ethnic Georgians.
There was a social media campaign two years ago [in Abkhazia] encouraging people to boycott the funerals of anyone who died after seeking medical care in Tbilisi.
Renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine is quickly turning into a litmus test of Russia’s intentions in backing Ukrainian separatist rebels, and the real willingness of the West, in particular the United States, to support Kyiv. Fears over Washington’s wavering may also cause positions to harden in the protracted conflicts in Europe’s East, most immediately in Georgia.
Unresolved conflicts and breakaway territories divide five out of six of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership countries, most of them directly backed by the Russian Federation. But a policy of isolating the people living in these conflict regions narrows the road to peace.
Originally published in Today's Zaman