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Opinion

Georgia President Saakashvili: Russian hostility won't sap our commitment to democracy

Mikheil Saakashvili says Russian hostility has helped turn Georgia into a democratic laboratory for the region, and argues that true security cannot be separated from democracy.

By Mikheil Saakashvili / April 19, 2010



Tbilisi

In 2003, the Rose Revolution in Georgia was the first of a wave of popular standoffs against authoritarianism, fraud, and corruption in the post-Soviet area.

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Seven years later, some people might think the recent events in Ukraine or Kyrgyzstan have sparked a re-evaluation of the so-called colored revolutions, believing that they have failed to radically transform our region.

In light of the profound transformations in my country, I strongly disagree.

Of course, the challenges of building democracy and stable institutions are many, and the path of reform is not always easy to navigate.

Changing leadership is possible, seizing a parliament is spectacular, and waving flags in the street is gorgeous – but changing systems and institutionalizing those changes is profoundly difficult. Nevertheless, this process of reform is what constitutes a true revolution, not the colorful images on TV.

In Georgia’s case, we pursued our reform agenda while facing serious external threats to our security, including the August 2008 invasion by Russia. Our democracy had no choice but to grow at gunpoint – in the face of occupation and chronic threats to our government.

Today, over 20 percent of our territory is occupied; Russian tanks stand just 30 miles from our capital. And the Kremlin has long taken the view that our democratically elected government must be changed by whatever means. But our new institutions are robust and will not collapse, our will to reform is unwavering, and our economy is growing with renewed vigor.

In fact, the threats we face have only strengthened our commitment to democracy and nation building, because we understand that the best – if not only – guarantee of our security is a democratic Georgian state that has built lasting partnerships with Western institutions.

Security, in our view, cannot be separated from democracy. They are two sides of the same coin.

Security is knowing that we can freely choose our future.

Security is knowing that responsible governance can yield tangible returns.

Security is poverty alleviation; it is education; and it is health care. It is systems of social responsibility that ensure the benefits of our development reach all our citizens.

Security is the creation of economic opportunity through steadfast reforms that create a transparent and attractive investment climate.

Security is freedom of expression, vibrant media, and a vocal civil society.

Security is diversity and tolerance; it requires inclusive policies for minorities, a commitment to a multicultural and multiethnic government, police, army, and judiciary. Because when your state is not run by security forces, your best security is the support of the people.

Security, finally, is knowing that if your leaders fail to deliver on their promises, you can replace them without taking to the streets. You can rely on rule of law and electoral processes to channel popular demands.

Our democracy cannot flourish without security, but our security will never be achieved without democracy.

It is for this reason that our partnerships with the United States and European Union have been so crucial to our progress: Our democratic reforms are strengthened by our engagement with our Western partners, and vice-versa.

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