Levan DOLIDZE: “Policy that divides public into foreign agents, patriots, and betrayers weakens the country”

Levan Dolidze
 (Caucasian Journal) Caucasian Journal continues our series of interviews with the leading Georgia’s political experts: Our speaker today is Mr. Levan DOLIDZE, the founder of the Georgian Center for Strategy and Development (GCSD). 

Along with many positions Mr. Dolidze held throughout his career, he was Georgia’s ambassador to NATO and the First Deputy Defense Minister of Georgia.

▶ ქართულად:  Read the Georgian version here.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ:  Welcome to the Caucasian Journal,  Mr. Dolidze.  For a start, may I ask you about the recent visit of the German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to Georgia? How would you assess its political significance and purpose?

Levan DOLIDZE: First of all, thank you for your interest and this opportunity. The visit was significant both in terms of timing and the political messages voiced within it. Germany is among those Western European states whose leaders have always been more cautious in their statements about Georgia's prospects for joining the European Union. Today we see a notable shift in this regard. The statements made by the German Foreign Minister in Tbilisi are a proof of transition of the EU’s policy regarding the dynamics of the three EaP countries' integration, including Georgia. The minister's statement that Germany wants to see Georgia in the European Union shows the historical opportunity given to the country. 

As expected, the minister spoke about the problems, the steps to be taken by the government, and the progress achieved in certain areas, however, it also became apparent that the support of the civil sector in Georgia and the need for cooperation between the government and civil society were the main cornerstones of her political position within the framework of the visit. In summary, this visit once again showed us the unprecedented support that Georgia has from Germany on the way to European integration and clearly outlined the areas where the government needs to be more careful and, at the same time, should demonstrate more progress, considering the responsibility it has for the country's history and future generations.


AK: You mentioned the Eastern Partnership's (EaP) three countries; therefore, I would like to ask you about the Associated Trio (Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova). Is it still existing “in concert", or became three separate solos? In general, what would you say about the importance of this format for Georgia?


LD: The history of the EU's enlargement demonstrates that its interest is increasingly focused on regions rather than individual countries. Therefore, it is critically important for Georgia to remain involved in the Black Sea basin countries' integration process. This is one of the main reasons why Georgia should make maximum efforts to get the candidate status this year to avoid creating the risk of distancing itself from the relevant regional context. That is why I believe that this challenge is of greater geopolitical implications than taking another step on the path to integration. Besides, I think maintaining the Trio and its actualization is essential for all three countries and the EU, as it can bring many political and practical benefits for all parties involved. Of course, the current problems between the Georgian and Ukrainian governments negatively affect the efficiency of the format as well. 


AK: I cannot help asking you about the political situation related to the initiation of the "Foreign Influence Law" by the parliamentary majority. How much damage do you think the passage of this law would do to the country and its European aspirations? In general, what risks do you see, taking into account the political processes developing in the country after drafting the law?


LD: The draft law's withdrawal allowed Georgia to prevent additional harm, which would have been irreversible in case of its adoption and would affect heavily the relationship with the EU and the internal situation. Also, there are still risks of harm if the policies that the ruling party is pursuing today towards the civil sector, including the rhetoric it uses, are maintained. The EU is, in the first place, a political actor, and it will not assess the government policy only according to the laws adopted. Of course, statements and actions by the government are also duly considered. I also believe that the problem of this draft law and other processes related thereto should not be discussed solely within the EU integration context. Any policy that divides the public into foreign agents, patriots, and betrayers does nothing to solve the problems of our citizens and severely weakens the country against the challenges it faces in many directions, including security. Our country has seen the dire results of such a policy, and we do remember where it can lead us. Everybody must give proper thought to this issue. 


AK: Following the withdrawal of the draft law by the parliamentary majority, we have heard a number of diverse initiatives by the opposition, including calls for snap elections. Do you think the opposition will be able to reach a consensus on this issue? And what specific steps may be taken by the opposition today to support the country in its quest for candidate status?  


 In case of appropriate and reasonable steps, there is greater chance of achieving progress on the EU's 12 recommendations than several months before.

LD: The interest that united the young people and a large part of general public participating in the protest was rather explicit. In the first place, it was related to protecting the country's European future. The increasing focus falls on the special role of young people in this effort, which is indeed indisputable; however, this process also threw light upon the huge gap between the youth and the political actors - a problem that, albeit to different extents, plagues both the government and the opposition. Judging from this and many other reasons, the opposition parties should not have high expectations for support by the public - especially by the youth - concerning the political protest expressed in the streets that go beyond the issues of Georgia's EU integration. Diverting public attention from the EU candidacy to any other topic will be a great mistake. Moreover, this pressing issue merits immediate and considerable attention and effort from the entire civil sector and the opposition parties. The analysis of the ongoing political events makes me think that, in case of appropriate and reasonable steps, there is greater chance of achieving progress on the EU's 12 recommendations than several months before.

AK: What are the grounds for your opinion? What are the recent changes that back your judgment? 


LD: Firstly, the increased citizens’ confidence that open expression of their views and a high level of civic involvement may bring concrete benefits to the country. Of course, this is mainly due to results achieved with regard to the draft law. Despite its inflammatory rhetoric, the government must have also better understood the political price of an action that is publicly perceived as a barrier to the EU integration process. No one [from the ruling party] admits it, though it is indeed difficult to believe otherwise. The political embarrassment that some majority members experienced when they had to reject their draft law, I suppose, will make them show greater consideration in similar circumstances. While this may not be true of everyone, the position taken by a small number of MPs is enough to make a difference in some situations. This is what I think, regardless of the recent announcements that those several MPs who disagreed with the majority are now leaving the parliament.


Further, it is also noteworthy that the scale of civic engagement concerning the Foreign Influence Law sent another very explicit message to the EU about the European aspiration of our citizens, and these messages are supposed to have a relevant impact on the clarity of the EU's current and future political messages to Georgia's government. All this considered, the opposition's statements that seek to replace this pressing issue with other less relevant topics on the country's political agenda are very much in line with the government's intentions. It is also important to note that no specific outcomes can be achieved by simply setting and maintaining priorities. Plunging into a whirlwind of mutual allegations, which is usually more about surging emotions than the actual content, will never come to any good. The potential for achieving the result will increase if the government has to respond to the consolidated position of the civil and political sectors, supported by a majority of citizens. No signs of this are present today. The inconsistency of actions of the greater part of the opposition, as well as their announcement of unrealistic plans and the subsequent failure, puts the government in great comfort and triggers increasing nihilism in the society. 


 AK: Many people in Georgia – and, in fact, abroad – are very much concerned about Georgia's Western orientation and prospects of Georgia's engagement with NATO and the EU. Do you think the country's strategic vector may change? If yes, do you think this is the result of 'short-sighted' internal political conflicts, or a part of a big game? 


LD: Our aspiration to become fully-fledged members of Western institutions stems from deep historic roots; it is connected with the extremely challenging path the country had to go through and issues of vital importance for the country's future. Thus, I am always careful with any assessments in this regard; however, there is something I feel sure of - the level of confrontation that exists currently between the ruling party and our strategic partners negatively impacts the process of Georgia's Western integration and stimulates multiple concerns both within and outside the country. Notably, Georgia's internal political process is now almost entirely connected to the country's international agenda, and, of course, statements made by the government regarding those topics often serve internal political purposes. Also, the government frequently emphasizes the importance of caution in light of the war in Ukraine, sometimes quoting this as a reason for the worsened relationships with the strategic partners. Although it is impossible not to share the government's concerns with the importance of caution, I am sure it is achievable without damaging the country. 


On the surface, it is possible to assume that the government is trying to avoid integration-related reforms, which it views as substantial threats to its power and authority. Citizens in Georgia have manifested great support for EU integration, and the events of March 7-9 serve as ample evidence that any attempt to consolidate power, which endangers the country's national goals, poses risks to both the government and the country's welfare. 


AK: You served as Georgia’s ambassador to NATO. Is it correct that Georgia used to be much better prepared to joining the Alliance then Ukraine or Moldova, in terms of technical preparedness, military standardization, etc?


LD: First, I would like to note that Russia's invasion of Ukraine significantly impacted NATO's actions and plans. NATO revised its objectives on the Eastern flank, prioritizing the protection of the allies and, at the same time, putting military support for Ukraine on its agenda. This step may be assessed as a change in paradigm, which triggered the significant geopolitical shifts we are now witnessing. A year and a half ago, it was almost impossible to imagine that Germany would provide Ukraine with tanks in the war against Russia. The process also led to inviting Sweden and Finland to the Alliance. These countries always remained partners and had not officially expressed any interest in membership despite their military capacities. Notably, Sweden and Finland have their unique geopolitical context and a very different history of relationships with NATO, which does not permit any apt comparison between their experience and Georgia's integration dynamic.


Ukraine's success in the war against Russia will largely determine Georgia's security in the future. NATO's future enlargement also largely depends on the results of this war.

As part of the effort that Georgia has made on its path to integration, in 2014 the country joined NATO's Enhanced Opportunity Partnership along with states of strong defense capacity like Sweden, Finland, Australia, and Jordan. A good level of interoperability was one of the criteria that got Georgia included in this group. Later, Ukraine also joined the format; however, considering the current reality of Ukraine, I do not think parallels with Ukraine would be accurate either. Ukraine and Georgia have faced common challenges, which, at different times and to different extents, grew into existential problems for both countries. Ukraine's success in the war against Russia will largely determine Georgia's security in the future. I think the issue of NATO's future enlargement also largely depends on the results of this war. Regardless of problems in its relationship with the strategic partners at the political level, Georgia maintains collaboration with the Western structures at the institutional level, which is particularly true of the country's defense system. However, of course, if the existing barriers at the political level are not overcome in time, it would affect institutional cooperation.


AK: If you were in power, what would be your first free decrees? Generally, if there is anything that you would like to add for our readers, the floor is yours.


LD: In the view of the major problems the country is currently facing, I think it is more a matter of changing the political position than issuing decrees.  I believe the country's political agenda is the biggest problem, which is largely dominated by radical narrative. Today, the political process resembles a polygon for contradiction, where parties are oriented towards destroying each other. I believe this has nothing in common with the interests of most citizens.


Given the challenges and threats the country faces, it is essential to unite the society in achieving its security and foreign policy goals. In this process, all sides of the political spectrum have their role, and unfortunately, we see problems from both the government and the opposition. Of course, the government's responsibility in this regard is unique and incomparable. Unfortunately, the steps taken by the government contain serious risks. Today we see that the topics we mentioned (security and foreign policy) have become not the main subject of unity but confrontation.


Apart from security issues, the country faces multiple challenges in many other directions. I believe the full accomplishment of the EU's twelve recommendations would lay a solid foundation for achieving tangible progress in many fields. This concerns not only our national goals at the international level but also the overall improvement of the political environment and the solution to the most critical problems our citizens are confronted with. Issues like corruption, independence of the court, pre-election environment, efficient functioning of state institutions, etc, affect not only our European aspirations but also everyday life in Georgia.


I think it would be particularly beneficial if all political actors with any role in the current discussions around the EU recommendations spoke more actively about the direct impact their full implementation can have on our citizens.


It also has to be mentioned that the efficiency of the dialogue format in the political process – especially given the high level of polarization – does not depend solely on the strength and credibility of the arguments provided during the discussions. The process usually proves most fruitful if supported by active civic engagement. 


Finally, despite the many problems that our country has gone through, we have achieved significant success at all stages of our recent history. Ongoing political events endanger those results that cost great effort and the work of generations of public servants and politicians, including those from the ruling party. The country needs a political process in which all changes will be associated with maintaining the progress achieved as a foundation for building a better future. Thus, building on the achieved progress is the formula our politicians (both the government and the opposition) should focus on. The more citizens see a proper understanding of this by politicians, the better it would be for the political forces themselves and the country.


Thank you once again!


 AK: Thank you very much for the answers!


Read the Georgian language version here

You are welcome to follow Caucasian Journal at:

Google News  *  Twitter  *  Facebook  *  Medium  *  LinkedIn  *  YouTube  *  RSS

To request an email subscription to Caucasian Journal, enter your email address:

No comments:

Post a Comment