July 1, 2008

Transition in Georgian Foreign Policy: Reply to Bucharest Summit

Nino Ghvinadze graduated from Tbilisi State University (B.A.) in 2008. She studied International Relations in the Faculty of Social and Political Studies. In 2007-2008 Nino completed the Prometheus Programme on Transition Studies, at the European College, University of Tartu.

One of the positive sides of living and studying abroad is that you get the chance to look at the processes in your home country from distance. It gives the possibility to assess every event in accordance with both – the perceptions abroad and inside the country, making a sort of combination and comparison of these two. Otherwise it is quite hard to escape the clichés and pressing opinions existing within the local society.
Coming back home from Estonia, one of the pleasant surprises was the last developments in Georgian foreign policy representing a reply on Bucharest Summit.

Georgians, as every other people on the earth, are often pictured according to certain stereotypes. Among them emotionality is the most often cited I guess. Even policy analysts refer to it, while facing difficulties in explaining the unexpected turns in Georgian foreign policy.
Emotionality often goes hand in hand with the radical decisions and strong nationalistic attitudes characteristic for Georgian internal and foreign policies already from late 1980s and especially in the early years of re-independence.
This created a certain cliché – “uncontrolled and unbalanced policy of emotional Georgians” – most often manipulated with by Russian politicians.

Nino Ghvinadze graduated from Tbilisi State University (B.A.) in 2008. She studied International Relations in the Faculty of Social and Political Studies. In 2007-2008 Nino completed the Prometheus Programme on Transition Studies, at the European College, University of Tartu.

One of the positive sides of living and studying abroad is that you get the chance to look at the processes in your home country from distance. It gives the possibility to assess every event in accordance with both – the perceptions abroad and inside the country, making a sort of combination and comparison of these two. Otherwise it is quite hard to escape the clichés and pressing opinions existing within the local society.
Coming back home from Estonia, one of the pleasant surprises was the last developments in Georgian foreign policy representing a reply on Bucharest Summit.

Georgians, as every other people on the earth, are often pictured according to certain stereotypes. Among them emotionality is the most often cited I guess. Even policy analysts refer to it, while facing difficulties in explaining the unexpected turns in Georgian foreign policy.
Emotionality often goes hand in hand with the radical decisions and strong nationalistic attitudes characteristic for Georgian internal and foreign policies already from late 1980s and especially in the early years of re-independence.
This created a certain cliché – “uncontrolled and unbalanced policy of emotional Georgians” – most often manipulated with by Russian politicians.

Of course every stereotype has a certain share of truth and our case is not an exception. But I would say that discontinuities and inconsistencies in Georgian politics was rather the matter of inexperience in policy-making circles, than the inevitable “emotionality”, which comes with blood and is always there.

I think that the post-Bucharest developments in Georgia have proved that lessons can be learnt. As well as every other field in current Georgia, diplomacy and foreign policy is also undergoing a transition and is becoming more sophisticated and aim-oriented than before. It is not composed of merely “emotional” reactions on the processes instigated by others sides any more.
Even thought the ruling party and the entire Georgian governing elite, as well as other supporting countries, were quite optimistic about the Bucharest Summit, wide masses and the opposition inside the country were rather distrustful. Of course this tendency was strengthened by the refusal on Membership Action Plan (MAP).

The distrust is coming from the fear deeply-rooted in Georgian society. An apprehension that “the Europe does not need us” or that “the countries like Georgia will always lose in the trade between big empires” is strongly influenced by the national memories constructed during the centuries.
Georgia had to cope with bigger kingdoms and empires all the time; for instance, throughout the XVIXVIII centuries it was divided into two parts – Eastern Georgia controlled by Persia and the Western part occupied by Ottoman Empire. The two empires were permanently fighting over the revision of the dividing line and were carrying out endless battles on the expense of Georgians; and this is just one episode of the whole story.

Of course, modern international relations have changed significantly since that. But these kinds of memories are feeding the deeply-rooted stereotypes and fears of Georgian society; especially when generations are taught these stories during the entire process of their socialization (at school, at the university, etc). We can call this the complex of small nations, or may be “the complex of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact”.

Such stereotypes were inspiring Mr. Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s (the first president of Georgia) statements that we, Georgians, need neither Russia nor the West; that we have to survive alone, etc. This mistrust was one of the reasons of Eduard Shevardnadze’s unclear foreign policy – switching the east-west orientations from time to time. This, in the end, led to the disappointment of both the U.S. and the Russian Federation.

Unfortunately, the public opinion is largely the same today. After Bucharest some were predicting and even urging on the step back from Europe and the development of more balanced policies between Russia and the West. However, the ruling team is quite settled about Georgia’s choice.
Of course a thorough look at the Georgian diplomacy can reveal some other weaknesses and it is not surprising. For me the most important problem is that it is still facing a lack of professionals. In that sense situation is the same as it was during the presidency of Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze, when the entire Georgian diplomacy rests upon the president and few persons in his surroundings.

The time passed since Bucharest Summit is too short to fully assess its impacts on Georgia. But from the current stance it seems that Georgian foreign policy became much more diplomatic and sophisticated due to the lessons learnt in Bucharest.
Contrary to the pessimistic predictions, Georgian diplomacy became more insisting and goal-oriented. I am referring to the increased focus on bilateral relations with Germany and attempt to involve German side in three-stage conflict-resolution plan more actively.
Georgian side is working out more and more initiatives in relations with Russia and obviously is proposing a new-type relations to Dmitri Medvedev. Even the recent meeting (on June 26, 2008) between the president Medvedev and Mr. Baghapsh (the separatist leader of Abkhazia) was assessed by the President and the Minister of Reintegration Mr. Temur Yakobashvili in moderate terms, even though this meeting went beyond any ethically and internationally agreed norms. Normally these kinds of moves are demonstrations of good will and readiness for cooperation.

Establishing dialogue with Russia and making more accents on bilateral ties with Germany – these are the obvious attempts of Georgian government to redirect its foreign policy focus and adapt to the new requirements, which became evident on the Bucharest Summit.
It is also worth noting that a dialogue between Georgian and Abkhaz sides was arranged in Sweden about two weeks ago (June 15-17, 2008). The negotiations went without Russia’s participation. Such precedents are the best proves that Georgian-Abkhaz conflict can be negotiated without Russian side sitting on the top of the table. Showing such precedents to international society is much more effective than desperately requiring the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers.

I understand that all the above described are steps taken only by the Georgian side; it is another question, if they will be welcomed and supported by their counterparts. But the only fact that Georgian foreign policy does not show apathy after the Bucharest refusal but has become more active and insisting is a quite clear demonstration that the priorities set by Georgian government are quite firm and stable.

Filed under: BlogTagged with: ,

No comment yet, add your voice below!


Add a Comment