Déjà vu for Georgia?

Freelance journalist based in Paris. My writings focus on international politics.

Have you ever seen or heard of the sculpture by Vera Mukhina representing the worker and peasant on a farm, reaching towards the radiant future, waving hammer and sickle?

This vision of the USSR (visible at the entrance of the Exhibition of Moscow) is shared by many Russians who are unhappy with their current living conditions, and who tend to have a shorter memory than their democratic counterparts might like. In recent weeks, this vision has been emulated in neighbouring Georgia. Taking advantage of this slip in moral, the main opponent of Mikhail Saakashvili, Franco-Georgian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, has campaigned on a promise to rebuild such a state that was identical to Georgia during the Soviet period.

“We should very quickly build a state based on democratic institutions, so that there is again a very interesting life in Georgia, as was before. Remember, in the Soviet Union, everyone wanted to go to Georgia? We must follow that model,” said the leader of the political party “Georgian Dream” during a TV show last week.

Bidzina Ivanishvili plays on the denial and underestimation of the real weaknesses of the Soviet world (almost universal deficit, mass constraints, queues, corruption, repression of free thought and dissent etc..), while exaggerating its merits (social justice, stability, security, low cost, affordable housing, education, health etc..). He may be one of the richest men in the world, yet he finds many virtues in the USSR.

Since the launch of “Georgian Dream”, his political party created to gain him the Georgian presidential seat, the billionaire recalls a golden age, with a mix of most xenophobic conservatism and Bolshevism.

Ivanishvili has repeatedly targeted Muslims living in Georgia. “It is unacceptable that a mosque be built upon the decision of Mikhail Saakashvili,” he stated in one of the nation newspapers, Asaval Dasavali, in order to oppose the construction of mosques in Ajaria.

Ivanishvili is a staunch defender of the Russian Orthodox Church, and supporters of the oligarch regularly target Armenian Catholics in Georgia. Gubaz Sanikidze, one of Ivanishvili’s allies, declared that “the Georgian and Armenian churches have the same status. Armenians have more money, they will eventually eat us! ”

For his part, Bidzina Ivanishvili regularly states his pro-Russia declarations, as evidenced by his position on Georgian-Russian relations. He defends, with subtleties of language, the interference from Moscow, and stated several times that he felt that the powerful neighbour was much more democratic than Georgia.

Inevitably, such a risk of outdated and conservative ways making their way back is cause for worry for many of Georgia’s western partners. This is one of the reasons why Wilfried Martens, president of the European People’s Party, and former Prime Minister of Belgium, published last week in “Le Monde” a column calling for others to support Georgia’s current President Mikhail Saakashvili. In addition to calling for support, Martens warned against the risks of populism and the drift towards an authoritarian power, if Bidzina Ivanishvili gets elected next year.

Georgians now have the choice between Europe and the return to a past they think hope might better, this time around. The world remains sceptical.

 

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