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Georgia's Democratic Challenge

In his 1991 book “The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century”, the famous American political scientist Samuel Huntington (1927-2008) identifies three global democratization waves in the history of humankind. The first wave was the creation of the classical democracies in the United Kingdom and North America and the ongoing democratization process of the 19th century in France and other European countries. The second democratization wave refers to the time after the Second World War, when some latecomers (Germany, Italy, Spain etc.), joined the community of democratic nations. Finally, the Third Wave (capitalized because it has become a dictum in political science) was comprised of those democratizations that occurred in the latter part of the 20th century. Georgia is a Third Wave democracy.

Considering the evolution of political systems throughout history reveals that the path toward democracy is usually not straight, and often it is not successful. Huntington emphasizes that in the first and the second waves successful democratizations “significantly outnumbered transitions in the opposite direction”. In the first wave, four of seventeen countries that adopted democratic setups between 1828-1926 years retained them through the 1930s. And in the second wave, only one-third of 32 countries that had developed democratic institutions in 1958 had reversed to authoritarian governments by the mid-1970s. But what about the Third Wave?


THE ROUGH ROAD TO DEMOCRACY

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, most of the newly established independent countries started moving towards liberal and democratic governance. Yet after 22 years, it is clear that the Third Wave of democratization is more ambivalent than its predecessors. According to the 2012 “Nations in Transition”- report of the American Think Tank Freedom House, only three out of 15 former-soviet countries, namely the Baltic states, managed to fully establish liberal democracies. Eight out of the 15 countries are considered as “consolidated authoritarian regimes” and the remaining four are currently in limbo between authoritarianism and democracy. According to Freedom House, Georgia belongs to this latter group of four countries.

At first glance, one might say that the success of Baltic countries is primarily determined by their advantageous geographical locations. Neighboring countries exert influence on one another, and if the neighbors are well-established democracies, this will foster the development of Western civil society and Western political culture. Yet is this the only reason why democratization in Georgia seems to be a rather rough road, while it proceeded so smoothly in the Baltics?

The influential political scientist Dankwart Rustow (1924-1996) was the first to develop a model of the transition of countries to democracies. According to Rustow, the prospects of a country to transform into a democracy and the duration of the transition process primarily depend on the political history of that country. According to him, “democracy in particular involves a process of trial and error, a joint learning experience.”

In Rustow’s view, the democratization process requires not only the establishment of democratic institutions like parliaments and free courts that live up to fundamental principles like the famous “separation of powers”. It is not enough to have free elections, freedom of speech, and the right to demonstrate. To come to its real fulfillment, democratization requires a change in the values and the attitudes of the members of society, and this is the most difficult part to achieve, because, unlike the institutional changes, it cannot be decreed by an enlightened political elite.


WHERE DOES GEORGIA STAND?

In his seminal 1970 paper “Transition to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model” (Comparative Politics 2, pp. 337-362) Rustow postulates that a society has to go through four stages for achieving democratization. The first stage is the emergence of a sense of national unit. The second is a phase of “prolonged and inconclusive political struggles”. This phase is the most dangerous during a transition process, as there may be competing groups in a society and there is a threat that one group takes control of the state and establishes an authoritarian regime. In this stage, it can easily happen that a society drifts into civil war and bloodshed.  The third stage is the “decision phase”, where a general consensus among all competing groups is established that collective decisions will be made according to democratic rules. The final phase, referred to as the “habituation phase”, is where democracy becomes a habit.

The continued sharp conflicts between different political groups and the high tension between political forces in Georgia indicate that in Rustow’s model Georgia is somewhere between Stage 2 and Stage 3. At Stage 2, fears of democracy reversal are well-grounded – examples are provided by the Arabic countries. It is far from clear that the “Arab Spring” will result in the establishment of democracies in Egypt, Libya and the like. But even if a country is already closer to Stage 3, there is still a high risk of democracy reversal, as exemplified by the essentially failed “Orange Revolution” of Ukraine.

A lack of democratic attitude, or, more plainly, a lack of democrats, are not only a problem on Stage 4, but may also reduce the prospects of successfully passing through Stages 2 and 3. Living under the Soviet-Union changed peoples’ attitudes. Their success in life and their positions in the society were almost exclusively determined by the government. As a result, political conduct and many social characteristics were adopted so as to fit life in the Soviet Union, fostering servility, suppressing criticism, and avoiding the expression of dissent.

Whether Georgia will accomplish the long way to democracy will depend on its people.

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Guest - makachitanava on Friday, 25 October 2013 14:23

Very nice post Ia, however I would like to see more discussions about Georgian case. What can be reasons for Democracy reversal in our case? Will we ever reach "habituation phase"?

Very nice post Ia, however I would like to see more discussions about Georgian case. What can be reasons for Democracy reversal in our case? Will we ever reach "habituation phase"?
Guest - Till on Friday, 25 October 2013 15:09

It would be interesting to read a blog about how the % of Georgians describing democracy as the best political system has evolved over the years, using CRRC survey data.

It would be interesting to read a blog about how the % of Georgians describing democracy as the best political system has evolved over the years, using CRRC survey data.
Guest - Jeff on Friday, 25 October 2013 20:35

Setting aside Huntington and Rustow, we may look straight to American history for a parallel. 10 years after the USA elected its first president, the second President, John Adams, attempted to purge all of his opponents. The country nearly lapsed into civil war. We came through it when the country rejected Adams's policies and elected his rival, Thomas Jefferson.

Setting aside Huntington and Rustow, we may look straight to American history for a parallel. 10 years after the USA elected its first president, the second President, John Adams, attempted to purge all of his opponents. The country nearly lapsed into civil war. We came through it when the country rejected Adams's policies and elected his rival, Thomas Jefferson.
Guest - Dace on Monday, 28 October 2013 14:08

I just want to add that the road to democracy in the Baltic States (Latvia, in particular) was not so smooth. The main problem, as I see it, in both Latvia and Georgia, is a true separation of powers. A difference that makes a big difference, is the role of the nature of media. The media in Latvia is a force that needs to be taken into account, while in Georgia it is a weak voice at best and a political instrument at worst.

I just want to add that the road to democracy in the Baltic States (Latvia, in particular) was not so smooth. The main problem, as I see it, in both Latvia and Georgia, is a true separation of powers. A difference that makes a big difference, is the role of the nature of media. The media in Latvia is a force that needs to be taken into account, while in Georgia it is a weak voice at best and a political instrument at worst.
Guest - Ia on Monday, 28 October 2013 20:44

Thank you Maka for your question. This question is very interesting, especially after the announcement that the president of Georgia is going to be George Margvelashvili, a person from the ruling party. At first glance, we can think that the most critical phase of political struggles is going to its end. Still, the threat that governing party can take control of the state to establish an authoritarian regime is well grounded.

What determines the possibility of democracy reversal in Georgia?

As I claimed above transition process to a democratic political system requires changes in different aspect of society to match the requirement of new political system. One of the influential political scientist Francis Fukuyama claims that the effective implementation and functioning of new political regime, such as liberal democracy are highly dependent on collaboration, truth, values and aspiration of the members of society, known as social capital. In his famous paper “Social Capital, Civil Society and Development” he claims that “if a democracy is in fact liberal it maintains a protected sphere of individual liberty where the state is constrained from interfering. If such a political system is not to degenerate into anarchy, the society that subsists in that protected sphere must be capable of organizing itself” (Third World Quarterly, No.1, 2001). This means that with freedom of democracy comes a huge responsibility. Now, we can discuss whether Georgian society is ready for taking this responsibility or not.

As I suggested above living under the Soviet-Union changed peoples’ attitudes. Their success in life and their positions in the society were almost exclusively determined by the government. These processes suppressed people’s creativity and self-organizing ability (essential components of liberal democracy), made people more ignorant and disordered. As a result, most people’s education, knowledge and characteristics, which were modified to fit the Soviet Union were out-of-date and useless under the liberal democratic system. According to Fukuyama we can presume that such society are not ready to organize their freedom rationally and in most cases government excessive intervention becomes necessary, which destroys the basis of liberal democracy. Recent decade’s political history of Georgia can serve as a good example of the chain: lack of civil society –excessive intervention – destroyed basis of liberal democracy.

For overcoming the above-mentioned trap of liberal democracy, for reducing the chances of democracy reversal policy makers should try to start promoting civil society and social capital as “civil society serves to balance the power of the state and to protect individuals from the state’s power” (Francis Fukuyama, Social Capital, Civil Society and Development, Third World Quarterly, No.1, 2001).

Only after strong civil society is developed in Georgia, we can discuss about more advanced phases of democratization.

Thank you Maka for your question. This question is very interesting, especially after the announcement that the president of Georgia is going to be George Margvelashvili, a person from the ruling party. At first glance, we can think that the most critical phase of political struggles is going to its end. Still, the threat that governing party can take control of the state to establish an authoritarian regime is well grounded. What determines the possibility of democracy reversal in Georgia? As I claimed above transition process to a democratic political system requires changes in different aspect of society to match the requirement of new political system. One of the influential political scientist Francis Fukuyama claims that the effective implementation and functioning of new political regime, such as liberal democracy are highly dependent on collaboration, truth, values and aspiration of the members of society, known as social capital. In his famous paper “Social Capital, Civil Society and Development” he claims that “if a democracy is in fact liberal it maintains a protected sphere of individual liberty where the state is constrained from interfering. If such a political system is not to degenerate into anarchy, the society that subsists in that protected sphere must be capable of organizing itself” (Third World Quarterly, No.1, 2001). This means that with freedom of democracy comes a huge responsibility. Now, we can discuss whether Georgian society is ready for taking this responsibility or not. As I suggested above living under the Soviet-Union changed peoples’ attitudes. Their success in life and their positions in the society were almost exclusively determined by the government. These processes suppressed people’s creativity and self-organizing ability (essential components of liberal democracy), made people more ignorant and disordered. As a result, most people’s education, knowledge and characteristics, which were modified to fit the Soviet Union were out-of-date and useless under the liberal democratic system. According to Fukuyama we can presume that such society are not ready to organize their freedom rationally and in most cases government excessive intervention becomes necessary, which destroys the basis of liberal democracy. Recent decade’s political history of Georgia can serve as a good example of the chain: lack of civil society –excessive intervention – destroyed basis of liberal democracy. For overcoming the above-mentioned trap of liberal democracy, for reducing the chances of democracy reversal policy makers should try to start promoting civil society and social capital as “civil society serves to balance the power of the state and to protect individuals from the state’s power” (Francis Fukuyama, Social Capital, Civil Society and Development, Third World Quarterly, No.1, 2001). Only after strong civil society is developed in Georgia, we can discuss about more advanced phases of democratization.
Guest - David Nizharadze on Sunday, 03 November 2013 00:11

This is quite a different view. Stages and nature of countries’ democratization are presented in a very interesting way but it would be preferable to mention Russian influence on ex soviet republics including Georgia preventing the development of democratic processes Finally, it can be said that the present paper gives a clear picture of the democratic challenges facing to our country.

This is quite a different view. Stages and nature of countries’ democratization are presented in a very interesting way but it would be preferable to mention Russian influence on ex soviet republics including Georgia preventing the development of democratic processes Finally, it can be said that the present paper gives a clear picture of the democratic challenges facing to our country.
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