Democracy in Georgia (the Country) Is Heading For a Crunch. Is the West Paying Attention?

In FOREIGN RELATIONS On

Ani Chkhikvadze, a Georgian journalist based in Washington, is a contributor to Voice of America (VOA). Views expressed in this piece do not represent the opinions of VOA, the U.S. Agency for Global Media or the U.S. government.

The main thoroughfare of Tbilisi, known as Rustaveli Avenue, has borne witness to many a political reversal, from civil war to revolution. Since this summer, the tree-lined boulevard has once again seen throngs of protesters rise up against eccentric billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has ruled the country, both formally as prime minister and informally as the ultimate decision-maker behind his Georgian Dream party, since 2012. The protests are entering a critical phrase this week, and their success or failure could determine the democratic trajectory and geopolitical future of Georgia.

Since his ascent to power, Ivanishvili — an oligarch-turned-politician — has attempted to warm relations with Russia, which occupies 20 percent of Georgia’s territory. He has adapted many tactics from the Kremlin’s playbook to the Georgian context: taking over critical media outlets, persecuting political opponents and tightening his grip on the country’s business environment. He has backed pro-Russian parties. In September, he appointed Giorgi Gakharia, a Russian citizen until 2013, as prime minister. In short, he has presided over what Transparency International has called a slow and steady process of state capture, made all the easier by the absence of Western attention.

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