The FINANCIAL — Georgia began its own October Fest with a brilliant salute to democracy.
The FINANCIAL — Georgia began its own October Fest with a brilliant salute to democracy, putting this nation at the forefront of nations still struggling to get to grips with violent processes in changing governments.
For international observers of the lead up to the elections and the election itself, this is a highly significant triumph for Georgia, irrespective of who won or lost. In the passages of Georgia’s history, what will be recorded is that Georgians freely and willingly changed a Government. In the eyes of the international community, the previous government did deliver spectacular results in changing the image of Georgia from a disorderly, crime-driven state to one of a liberal, crime-free and orderly state in economic and social transition. The October first election however is the cream on the cake.
When I decided to move to Georgia a few days after the 2008 war, I was advised by some of my very close friends that Georgia may not be the safest place for me to think of residing. Indeed the travel advisory notes from the UK, US and Australian embassies did warn its citizens to be aware of breakdown in law and order and pockets of terrorism. I moved to Georgia and what I have experienced thus far, just as a number of my expatriate friends here have, is that Georgia is a far more safe and accommodating nation than a large number of the countries that I have worked in across five continents.
Georgia now has a new government, about to take over the management of this low-populated but strategic nation, with a unique geo-political sensitivity which requires a deft balancing act between the giant neighbour Russia, dealing with European and NATO interests, and ensuring that, at the rural poor level, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s government delivers the goods in order to avoid a revolution of rising expectations. For most Georgians I have spoken with, Ivanishvili single-handedly steam-rolled the elections. It is his charisma, wealth and dedication to a highly focussed agenda of the Georgian Dream that touched the heart strings of Georgians. Expectations are high and there is a somewhat innocent feeling that all Georgians will now have total freedom, jobs, economic prosperity, low tariffs and taxes, and that the dream will continue. And many expect all this within months, more or less, without much effort.
Saakashvili show-cased Georgia to the world. He did create an impact. Ivanishvili wishes to go beyond show-casing to actual delivery of goods at the door steps of people who need them. He has massive credibility in this personal and national agenda as he has contributed to some $100m a year in Georgia, from his private wealth, to support a number of social, economic, religious and developmental initiatives.
Georgia now is at the classic turning point of either becoming a very self-centred, content and happy nation which constantly looks inwards or a nation that uses its strategic location and position in the region to drive Georgia to the top list of emerging economies – in agriculture, technology, manufacturing, education, the arts and sciences – and to become a major hub in the Caucuses region.
When a nation has a low population, but is strategically located without being land-locked, and has a number of strategic advantages such as road access to two neighbours, Azerbaijan and Armenia, which do not have cross border routes, trade or any economic relationships, the ideal plan is to make it a significant, neutral player, providing a needed platform for regional trade and investments. While accelerating a program of agriculture and agro industry, competitive manufacturing and creation of new and important technology development, Georgia could well move into a new age of dynamism in which it develops human capital, core competencies, leading edge capabilities which will attract a different set of investors to come to Georgia.
I have once said in this column that Georgia, by and large, is an under-performing asset. It is still very much true if one considers that Georgia is still a consumption oriented economy and its capacity to earn the dollars through exports is much limited. The 2008 war and the curbs brought about on Georgian exports of wine, apple, water, nuts and other agricultural produce across the Russian border have greatly hampered the rural economies. Any break-through in a negotiated settlement which will allow Georgian exports into Russia would certainly boost the Georgian economy.
Most overseas investors I have been talking to during the last three years have always asked the question regarding the political stability of Georgia in the context of the existing acrimony with Russia over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For many overseas, guns are still smoking and although they may not publicly declare their fears, the stability question is always at the heart of investment decision making. Just this morning, during a conversation with one of the largest agro industry companies in Australia, the question was posed again to me: “ how solid is Georgia’s independence from Russia”.
Georgia’s foreign policy initiatives, its long standing aspiration to be part of NATO and eventually be part of EU, its commitment to freedom and democracy and its will to sustain as an independent nation, have helped the nation to be a model for the ex-Soviet countries. Developing a foreign policy which adheres to all above aspirations and still allows a greater level of rapproachment and working relationship with Russia would no doubt be of significant importance to Georgia’s long term well being. The mere geographic nature of Georgia being Russia’s neighbour is of critical essence in Georgia’s attempt to re-define its foreign policy.
Those who know and love Georgia would wish to see the nation grow and prosper. There is also an underlying knowledge that Georgia has substantial potential for development and that the current policies of an open and free market economy are highly attractive. Statistics of unemployment and poverty however do not do justice to the enormous potential Georgia has. Something has not quite happened in Georgia to manage the poverty paradigm.
If this is Georgia’s turning point toward a highly dynamic society where especially the educated young find life ahead more promising, meticulous planning at the national level should address every aspect of nation building, from education and human capital development to agriculture, agro industry and the elimination of rural poverty. It is a long road and needs total human synergy.