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.
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Watching how Georgian democracy has evolved, it’s clear to see how it drove our reforms.Skip to next paragraph
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When Georgia was confronted with a complex arsenal of economic measures designed to crush our economy, we responded by deepening our reforms, learning the true value of economic independence.
It is for this reason that our early reforms were so bold and fast. We had no other option if we were to stimulate our economy and ensure that the tangible benefits of our democracy were visible to Georgia’s citizens.
In just six years, we have gone from a stagnant post-communist economy to a modernizing free market. A series of reforms to increase transparency, streamline business registration, and facilitate investment has catapulted Georgia to No. 11 in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” ranking, ahead of the rest of Central and Eastern Europe.
We also successfully tackled corruption. Today, Georgia has made more progress on Transparency International’s corruption index since 2003 than any other state in the world.
Where others sought to limit dissent, we chose to strengthen political rights and freedoms. When protesters took to the streets in Tbilisi in April 2009, I did not crack down but waited for the demonstrations to stop, and I let the more radical opposition groups know they could come to the negotiating table when they were ready.
We have invested heavily in building true rule of law: Judges are now selected by an independent merit board and will soon have lifetime appointments that insulate them from outside pressure. We will begin our first jury trials in the coming months.
And we are continuing to reform electoral laws to deepen our participatory democracy. In May, we will have our first-ever direct elections for mayor in Tbilisi. We have worked to ensure that all candidates have equal access to the media to make their case to Georgia’s voters.
From Belarus to Kyrgyzstan, our region today is at a crossroads. Despite Georgia’s successes, we know our democracy is not perfect and is still a work in progress.
But we have demonstrated that the choice of governance is not limited to either unpredictability and chaos, or authoritarian order – that a third path is possible. Georgia’s example proves that the only way to achieve lasting stability is to base it on respect for fundamental freedoms. Ironically, the Kremlin’s persistent hostility to our democratic experience has turned Georgia into a laboratory for the region.
Building democracy requires consistent engagement and support from allies and friends. Georgia can be an eastward anchor of democratic ideals – a bridge to other eastern neighbors aspiring to transatlantic integration. But for this to succeed, our security and democracy must be viewed as two parts of the same challenge – both by ourselves and those who would help us.