What we are seeing today in Georgia is a broken democracy. When the main opposition leader is dragged out of his party’s headquarters on the direct orders of the government, the country has said goodbye to democracy.
What has happened in Georgia is not a sudden development. This has been developing and escalating ever since the country’s lone oligarch, Bidzina Ivanishvili – a man who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s – took power in 2012. At that point, Georgia’s spectacular success in fighting corruption, creating economic growth and increased prosperity – all of which began in the wake of the 2003 Rose Revolution – came to an end.
Since Ivanishivili’s rise to power, Georgia’s democracy has been, step-by-step, undermined. The hope over the last eight years of Ivanishvili’s formal and informal rule has been that the Georgian vision of belonging to Europe, and not being a satellite of Vladimir Putin’s post-Soviet sphere of influence, should be stronger than the authoritarian instincts of Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream party.
Opposition leaders have in the past been jailed and held in detention, without trials, but Europe’s reactions have always been firm and in the end, they have been freed. Elections have been manipulated, but they have at least taken place and have ultimately proven to be a problem for the governing party they have been forced to rig the results as well as persecute the opposition and crackdown on the independent media.
In order to stabilize democracy and clarify the need for the rule of law, the EU has offered cooperation and a closer relationship, but it hasn’t helped. The Georgian government is now, instead, ruling the law and blocking democracy.
The EU must stand firm, otherwise, Georgia risks turning into a new Belarus. It must first call halt the police brutality against the opposition and the immediate release of their leader, Nika Melia. Furthermore, it must also call for an independent inquiry to look into the issue of the rule of law within the Georgian institutions to secure their independence. A new mission regarding human rights needs to be appointed in order to secure broad support for how said rights are defended and democracy safeguarded.
If the Georgian government does not listen, the EU must clarify that it will end the Association Agreement that came into force in 2016 as well as the visa-free travel regimen that came into being in 2017. If the Georgian government says goodbye to democracy. it must understand that it also says goodbye to the European Union.