European integration as an ideology

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.

What’s happening in Georgia?

  • The Prime Minister announced that the members of the previous government / current opposition UNM deserve to be raped
  • A member of the ruling party and the Parliament thinks it would be a good idea if a portrait of Stalin was given a place on the wall in every office in Georgia
  • The Court might transfer the ownership of the main opposition TV channel to a new owner who is backed by the government
  • In the city of Zugdidi the local municipality held a free-to-attend movie night in a public space, showing footage of torture and rape in a Georgian prison, filmed during the previous government
  • The State Security Service declared about the start of a new investigation into an alleged attempt by the leaders of the former government to overthrow the current one

All these is happening in the light of declining popularity of the current Georgian Dream government which hopes to retain its hold on power in the upcoming parliamentary elections to be held in less than a year.

Realist account of Russia’s engagement in Syria

Experts of international politics have been busy trying to explain Putin’s motives behind Russian intervention in Syria for the past two weeks or so. Multiple arguments have been proposed, that Putin wants to teach the West a lesson, that he wants to maintain its domestic popularity by diverting the minds of ordinary Russians from Ukraine to a new blockbuster series on Syria, that Kremlin’s belief in coming high oil prices triggers Russian engagement in the Middle East or the opposite, the intervention will result in increase in oil’s value, and many more. All of these arguments are quite specific and perhaps many of them are right. Or perhaps they are wrong. It’s hard to tell because these arguments are hardly falsifiable since most of them try to guess what’s happening in the head of Putin. A sound explanation, instead, would have relied on the theory of International Relations that was devised as a result of many decades and centuries of observation on the world developments. And there is no theory of IR better qualified to explain military intervention than the realist school of thought.

Realist school in IR theory has taught many generations of scholars how the world works; for some periods, it seemed too outdated in comparison with newer and sexier theories (constructivism, neo-liberalism, etc), but at the end of the day, when things go sour and conflicts emerge on the world map, one can always rely on the good ol’ realist theory. In a nutshell, it is a Tim Duncan of IR theories.

Realism states that three factors guide state’s behaviour on the world stage: anarchy, survival and security. In the anarchic world, where there’s no supreme authority or policeman, might makes right. Therefore, powerless has a slim chance of survival. In order to survive, state has to accumulate comparatively more power than its competitor. Only then can state feel secure. Therefore, scholars of realism define state’s goals in anarchic international arena as a struggle from survival to hegemony.

Power is important aspect in determining state’s behaviour and international relations. For classical realists of early and mid-20th century, like Hans Morgenthau, power was both the means and the end for state behaviour. For later generation of neorealists, such as Kenneth Waltz, the ultimate goal is survival/security and power is used as a means. However, Waltz also argues that distribution of states’ power defines structure of international system. And it is this structure of international system that shapes state’s external behaviour and sets constraints on them. It means that feeling secure at any moment cannot be good enough because if other states achieve more power, it will change power balance and with it, the very structure of international system that kept the state secure. Therefore, achieving more comparative power is necessary for state’s survival and security. This in short is a primary determinant of state’s behaviour on the international arena.

This international arena was pretty much unipolar for two decades after the break-up of the Soviet Union. For the past few years, the Chinese economic growth became hard to neglect and has been turning the structure back to the bipolar system. Russia, meanwhile, once on par with the US, has been diminished to the role of regional power. Even in its own region, what the Kremlin likes to call “near abroad”, former satellites started to turn their back to Russia: Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, similarly to the Baltic states before them, have chosen to align themselves with the EU and NATO; Central Asia has effectively become a commodity market for China, where it is Beijing who is increasingly calling the shots in economies of the Stan countries. One cannot blame Russia for thinking that it is losing ability to project power in its “near abroad” and with it, comparative power not just to the US, which was pretty much evident already in the 1980’s, but to China as well. And then there is this ambiguous actor – the European Union – who in terms of foreign policy is an incoherent mix of 28 states, but if unchallenged, despite its fragile structure, has a potential to become a unified and fully-fledged actor of world politics and define the terms of international security. Such an evolution of structure of international system represents a road to higher insecurity for Russia, which can lead to the situation when the state’s survival is already under question.

To reverse this disadvantageous trend and feel secure, Russia needs to be powerful and influential enough to shape the world order that would suit its needs. Alternative is to live in the world run by others (USA, China) and to constantly fear for survival. Syrian war thus represented a perfect opportunity to re-gain the lost power. After effectively stalling the NATO expansion in the “near abroad”, Russia now has broadened its influence over the Middle East. To Syria, Iran and Iraq, Russia became an ally and a protector. For those within the region, who represent the enemy camp, such as Saudi Arabia, Russia became a force to be reckoned with. The same goes for somewhat neutral actors in the Sunni-Shia confrontation, such as Israel and Egypt, who will think twice before acting against the Russian interests and might even be tempted to cooperate with the Kremlin in certain policy areas. This new (dis)order in the Middle East is relieving the US of its staunchest allies and is turning the balance to the benefit of Russia.

Many thought that Russia’s intervention in Crimea and Donbas was due to Ukraine’s traditional importance to Moscow. Nobody has doubts about the role Ukraine plays in the Russian psyche. However, this was not the prime determinant of Russia’s behaviour. What mattered was the Kremlin’s need to shape order, first, in its own backyard and then on the wider world stage. This is why Russia didn’t stop there and has moved beyond its traditional “near abroad”. After securing higher degree of influence and power base in the Middle East, nobody should think that Russia will stop there and will not try to seek new opportunities to undermine the American power. Or Chinese, for that matter. There’s still some work to be done before Russia can feel secure again.

Who is Turkey fighting against?

A few days ago, after bombing in Suruc town near the Syrian border, Turkey decided to grant the US right to use Incirlink airbase for strikes against ISIS in Syria. Turkey’s air forces started to hit the ISIS target as Erdogan has commenced his own war on terror. Media portrayed these two decisions as game changer in the Syrian war. But they are not.

What seemed to be a more robust war effort against ISIS ended up being an attempt to decimate the Kurds both within Turkey (PKK) and in Syria (YPG). Turkey’s goal here is to prevent any possibility of self-governed Kurdish entity in Syria’s north, bordering Turkey’s south east where Kurds are in majority as well as Iraq’s north provinces, where Kurds have de facto created their own state.

Kurdish YPG is the leading ground force in Syria and as long as Obama keeps his anti-ISIS contribution limited to air power, YPG effectively operates as the US’s boots on the ground. Without Kurds, ISIS is going to have a field day in northern Syria as well as in northern Iraq. And Turkey’s effort to weaken Kurds within and across the border, does undoubtedly empower ISIS.

Turkey’s increased role certainly made things more complicated. “One hand giveth the other taketh away” pretty much sums up Turkey’s role in Syrian war: one the one hand, Turkey is cooperating with the US to defeat ISIS. And the US is cooperating with the Kurds in its targeted bombings of ISIS. But on the other hand, in this campaign against ISIS, Turkey is fighting the Kurds, who are the main rivals of Islamic State and who are supposed to be the key allies of Turkey and the US in their war on IS terror. And by doing so, Turkey is helping ISIS.

რამდენიმე სურათი NDI-ის ბოლო გამოკითხვიდამ

NDI-მ ისევ გამოაქვეყნა მორიგი გამოკითხვა, რომელსაც წელიწადში 2-ჯერ მაინც აკეთებს ხოლმე. ერთი-ორი სიტყვით ამ გამოკითხვის ჩემთვის საინტერესო ნაწილს მიმოვიხილავ.

1. დავიწყოთ ქვეყნის შიდა საკითხებით. Continue reading

ზიზღი

ცოტა უცნაური შეიძლება იყოს, მაგრამ 1995 წლის ფრანგული კინო La Haine, რომელიც პარიზის გარეუბნის პრობლემებს ეხება, ყველაზე უკეთ აღწერს უკრაინაში მიმდინარე მოვლენებს. ფილმი ზოგადად პოლიტიკური ხასიათის არის და ფრანგული საზოგადოებას კრიტიკას წარმოადგენს. ფილმში ნაჩვენებია თუ როგორ არის გარეუბნის ახალგაზრდობა გარიყული იმ პარიზისგან, რომელსაც მთელი მსოფლიო იცნობს და ეტრფის. მაგრამ ფილმში არსებული თემები ზუსტად აღწერს და პასუხობს იმ ძირითად კითხვებს, რაც დღევანდელი უკრაინული კრიზისის გასაანალიზებლად არის საჭირო. Continue reading

ოკუპაი მაიდან!

იმის გამო, რომ ევრომაიდანზე პარტია “სვაბოდა”, “პრავი სექტორი” და ბანდერას შავ-წითელი დროშები დომინირებს, ქართველ მემერცხენე ტიპებში გაჩნდა ამ უკრაინული პროტესტების საწინააღმდეგო განწყობა. ისინი ამ ევრომაიდანს განიხილავენ როგორც ნაციონალისტური ძალების აღლუმს, რასაც საერთო არაფერი აქვს ევროპასთან. ლოგიკა და სიმართლის მარცვალი არსებობს ასეთ მოსაზრებაში, მაგრამ მაინც მგონია რომ ევრომაიდნის მოძრაობის სწორხაზოვანი და ზედაპირული შეფასებაა, შესაბამისად საერთო ჯამში არასწორი. Continue reading