There is a little analyzed aspect in Georgia’s process of European integration. For the last decade or so, this process has been acquiring so much attention that everything else has become unimportant. Or somehow linked to it. This constant buzz about European integration helps the local politicians avoid doing their actual job. Politicians and political parties do not debate with each other on the merits of policies, on the ways of addressing the numerous economic and social challenges the country faces. Georgian media and population has started to evaluate their elected officials based on what their preference is between the EU/NATO and Russia; and not what are they going to do to address economic hardship, unemployment, absence of rule of law, empowerment of citizens and their economic activity, and development of democratic governance. These issues, that are of prime interest to any electorate in most of the countries, have been sidelined by the debates on Georgia’s foreign policy orientation.
Georgia’s foreign policy has itself become an ideological dimension. For example, the executive manager of Rustavi 2 recently mentioned that the TV channel’s editorial policy is based on certain values; interestingly, the only value he listed was European integration. And just as it happens with other more ordinary ideologies, every little issue is linked, explained or justified by European integration. The elections are fought along the foreign policy lines. For example, Saakashvili’s government demonized their opponents before the 2012 elections by labeling them as Russian “fifth column” in Georgia. The policy decisions are made by citing the European integration. The Georgian Dream government has been successfully using the EU demand as a justification for its unpopular policies. The most absurd of those was the Ministry of Interior’s decision to change the car plates by arguing that the old ones did not correspond to the EU standard. Even the personal disagreements in the Georgian Dream coalition, one of which resulted in former Defense Minister’s sacking, as explained by the latter, Irakli Alasania, was Bidzina Ivanishvili’s attempt to reverse European integration process. Another example of this foreign policy hysteria is NDI, known as a source of interesting public opinion polls. Its latest poll doesn’t provide any data about Georgian population’s attitude towards economic or governance issues, about democracy or rule of law. Instead, around 70% of the political part of its latest poll focuses on Georgia’s foreign policy choice between the EU/NATO and Russia/Eurasian Union.
It is easy to blame the EU, Russia or the USA for creating such a tense geopolitical atmosphere. And I don’t doubt that Georgia’s role in the international arena does affect its internal development. The European integration will probably help democratization in Georgia; and bigger Russian influence is more likely to produce more of a Putinistic model of government inside the country. However, we needn’t exaggerate the potential external impact on Georgia’s domestic politics. For a country to become more democratic, it only takes a strong political will coming from the political elites; Brussels and Washington cannot create democracy if Georgia does not want it; nor can Moscow really hinder it, if there’s strong will and consensus. However, instead of independently discussing the policies for creating more democracy and addressing other political and economic issues, the politicians and the media have transformed political debates into “trivial discourses about Georgia’s aspirations for European integration”.
The traditional left-right ideological competition in Georgian politics never really materialized in the two decades and a half since the independence. Political parties do not really have a proper, visible left-right ideological orientation. Instead, the foreign policy became the defining factor of ideological structure of Georgia’s political scene. However, this is not an equal competition between the rival ideologies. Instead, the situation in Georgia resembles to that of McCarthyism in the USA when the alternative viewpoint of dominant foreign policy ideology is forcefully marginalized and demonized.