Shevardnadze’s Kampft - a house of cards or true system?

Starting out almost nowhere 80 years ago – studying in a small village school in West Georgia – Edward Sheverdnazde quickly rose to power thanks to his incredible political resilience. He remained in power until 2003 when was replaced by his protégée Mr. Saakashvili via the Rose Revolution. George Washington was known to have enough public support to become king of the new American nation, but he gave up the power to Congress. This is not true in our case.

While serving as the Soviet’s Union’s foreign minister, Shevy (as he was called in the West) met with all the world’s political behemoths, and he was one of them. On one side of the Berlin Wall, he was thought to be someone who helped free East Germany, while on another side he is considered a man who accidentally destroyed the creation of another Georgian - Stalin.

He was accused of the typical crimes as other ex-Soviet leaders, but he never spent a minute in the court room. This list is not limited only to corruption, nepotism and the like. It includes plotting a coup against Georgia’s first democratically elected president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia; using Russian troops stationed in Georgia to quell the ousted president’s armed supporters; rigging elections on all levels, and cultivating a young and fresh generation of politicians who, tired of his rule overthrew him, but would later sink to the same poor standard of governance, despite having all the options to do otherwise.

Shevy passed away last week, and despite all the craze of the ongoing World Cup and tensions in the Middle East, the late president’s obituary made the front pages of all the mainstream press, and with much praise. Georgian media coverage was controversial, less positive but not too negative or objective either. This is because some believe that you should say only good things or nothing about someone who dies. Over the last few days, I have read many interesting assessments of “his way” and I liked this title the most: “A father of Modern Georgia.” NO, this is a joke! “Modern Georgia” does not need a father, and this is not because I underrate the importance of a strong, democratically elected and honest leader able to strengthen the economy or rule of law. Rather, we simply cannot afford having several fathers in a span of only 20 years, neither biological nor step fathers, even if they receive more than 90% during presidential elections!

GORBI was fortunate to measure public trust of all 4 presidents since the country’s independence (1991). We have seen many ups and downs in Mr. Shevardnadze’s popularity and public support since he returned to power in Georgia in 1992 (popularity at the time was upwards of 50%; other half was still supporting Gamsakhurdia). When he was forced to retire after allegations of election rigging in 2003, his trust rating had sunk to 11%. His departure from politics did not help restore his reputation either. As of just a few months ago, a meager 7% of the adult population still had trust in him. 

Chart 1: “Shevy’s way” based on trust rating

Source: GORBI Georgian nationwide surveys. Answers are given in percentages.

Shevardnadze was a strong supporter and of the personality cult promulgated under the Soviet system, believing in only one god – the communist party. He later converted to democracy and was even baptized, but this did not help. Western politicians praised him because he pacified the situation in Georgia after President Gamsakhurdia was ousted in a very violent military coup. Was Shevy the man who masterminded the coup d’etat? This is a question many would have loved (until recently) a courtroom to have asked.

Georgia gained little under his second leadership (1992-2003) compared to his first term in the office (1972-1985) when he was the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party. He survived easily during the Soviet period, and was promoted as Foreign Minister. There are many unproven stories as to how he actually rose through the ranks to become one of the West’s favorite Soviet officials. However, one thing is certain: by the time he left office in Georgia, the country was a political and economic basket case. GORBI’s corruption barometer survey nicely captures the speed and severity of the decline in trust of his governance before 2003.

From 2001 to 2003, under the first-of-its-kind corruption barometer survey, we asked a representative sample of the Georgian public about its views on how far corruption had proliferated among various institutions. It was based on these results that I titled a newspaper article “Corruption is as widespread as Khachapuri in Georgia,” referring to our famous cheese bread dish found on every street corner and household. 

Table 1: Public attitudes towards the level of proliferation of corruption

 

Most or almost most involved, %

2001

2002

2003

Customs officers

66

70

71

Police officers

73

70

70

Tax officials

70

70

70

Ministers

57

65

64

Public prosecutors

59

63

63

Investigating officers

NAP*

63

62

Judges

56

61

61

Members of parliament

56

63

61

Lawyers

47

54

59

Officials at ministries

54

54

50

Administration officials in the judicial system

46

52

47

Municipal officials

47

49

45

Political party and coalition leaders

30

36

41

Business people

33

37

36

Bankers

36

37

31

Doctors

27

34

29

University professors and officials

21

28

28

Representatives of non-governmental organizations

20

30

23

Teachers

8

16

11

Journalists

10

11

10

 

Combined both terms, he served a little more than 26 years.  Clearly an Alfa Male for Georgia. He didn’t enjoy as much power as Fidel Castro, Kim II sung, Zhivkov or Joseph Broz Tito but he nevertheless played a huge role in shaping the current Georgian state. When Georgian pundits and politicians assess Mr. Saakashvili’s regime, they are only covering his 9 years in office. By leaving out the 12 years that Shevardnadze was in power prior to this, we are unable to understand the underlying factors that caused the phenomenon of Saakashvili.

The bottom line is that although Mr. Shevardnadze thought outside of the box compared to his peers, his biggest achievement for Georgia was installing a hybrid democracy and not a truly authoritarian regime (as in Belarus or Russia). 

As a regional hub for partner organizations and international clients,GORBI isthe only Georgian member of the Gallup International research network to have over two decades of experience in survey research in post-Soviet Union countries, as well as Mongolia and Iraq. Please do not visit our site (www.gorbi.com), it is under construction!

 

Author: The FINANCIAL


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