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Political polarization and its consequences in Georgia

August 23, 2016
Aleko Tskitishvili

Gap between political parties and their extreme polarization has been believed to be one of the obstacles for the development of the state of Georgia. European Union, Council of Europe and OSCE underlined that the political polarization is very serious problem in Georgia. The situation gets particularly acute before the Parliamentary Elections, when the confrontation between the parties turns into bloody battle and voters also take part in the fights. 

NGOs, experts and the representatives of the political parties agree that Georgia has to overcome current level of the political polarization. It is crucial for the country to have more diverse, pluralistic political environment in the new stage of the development, where not only two rival political forces design the political agenda, but other parties will also be actively involved in the strategic decision-making processes. 

On July 18-19, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association organized a two-day discussion dedicated to these issues in the hotel “Hualing Tbilisi”. In order to have more sincere discussion, the parties agreed beforehand, to avoid the leak of the opinions in media. respects the agreement and presents only few positions, upon which the participants mostly agreed with each other. 

The participants of the discussion underlined that the history of independent Georgia is the history of the political polarization. The overthrow of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Tbilisi Civil War, armed confrontation in the west Georgia, ethnic conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, political persecution of political opponents and several waves of political prisoners, the change of the government through bloody or Rose revolutions – similar radicalism was leitmotiv for Georgian state before 2012, when the governmentnwas changed via elections. However, before the 2016 parliamentary elections we see again the confrontations, which happened in the village Kortskheli of Zugdidi Municipality during by- elections on May 22. 

The civilized, democratic opposition between political parties means the relationship when the opponent is not presented as bloody enemy or destroyer of the country, but somebody with whom the cooperation is possible. However, such kind of tradition does not exist in Georgia. 

The politicians, who are actively involved in the political processes since the restoration of independence in Georgia, believe the main aspect of the polarization is enemy perception based policy. They say that during last 25 years two political perspectives and forces always confront each other. The enemy perception was born in early 1980ies inside the national movement, when a politician with different opinion was declared as “the agent of Kremlin” or “the agent of KGB”. Since Zviad Gamsakhurdia came to the power, it became the main narrative of Georgian politics, when the ruling political force was refusing any cooperation with the opposition, which was perceived to be  “the agent of Kremlin and KGB”. The same type of polarization continued during the presidential years of Shevardnadze and after – during the rule of the National Movement, when the ruling political force intentionally was creating the enemy icon from the opposition, therefore, justified the strive with any methods.

The experts point out the main problem of the political polarization: the dominant political forces are intolerant towards different opinion and they intentionally try to marginalize the oppositions’ political unions. “After the victory in the elections, everything is mine and the rival must get zero!”- the ruling party with this credo refuses to accept any initiative from the opposition, even though it might bring positive results to the country. At the same time, electorates behave as the political parties and it raises aggression. “The victory at any cost!” – the pre-election campaign under this motto intends to present the opposite side as violator, criminal union and justify winning even via falsification of elections or use of  violence. 

One of the speakers during the discussion said that in this tense environment the population of one village might more severely confront each other, than the parties. The political parties may find common language and create political blocks in future, but the conflict in the village often stays open wound and the confrontation between the neighbors continues for a long time. 

After the discussion, Ana Natsvlishvili, the chairwoman of GYLA, mentioned in the conversation with that the electorate again witnesses artificial bipolarization before the 2016 Parliamentary Elections, when two political forces are main actors and media mostly broadcast their activities. 

“Probably, the result of such two-pole political polarization is pre-election publick polls, which say that the majority of the voters do not plan to go to the elections. At the same time, the hot news, such as, for example, the incident in Kortskheli hides very important topics for the country, for instance, the education reforms, children’s rights etc. Electorate is disappointed, when he/she sees that the country goes round. If the violence is not eliminated from the political arsenal, the politicians do not stop to create artificial enemy icons and elections are not conducted in fair and free environment, we will still stay for a long time in the vicious circle”, - clarified Ana Natsvlishvili.  

“As long as the political parties keep on throwing stones at each other, we will always have polarized environment”, - MP participating in the discussion noted. He/she thinks the main political -parties feel better in the polarized environment, therefore, they need incidents like Kortskheli in order to impress electorates. 

The member of the newly established political organization has the same opinion. He/she evaluates that nowadays one of the reasons of the polarization is Georgian bipolar policy, when the Georgian Dream and the National Movement try to gain voters through tense confrontation and they are not interested to support the creation of multi partial environment. 

The representatives of the human rights organizations think that thousands citizens, who are victims of miscarriages of  justice system are one of the main outcome of the polarization. Their majority is victim of so called zero tolerance policy, torture and inhuman treatment. Human rights defenders think that it is possible to overcome those consequences only through restoration of rights and elimination of miscarriages of justice system. It is important, that the government supports the process and creates concrete mechanisms in order to give the opportunity of legal and psycho-social rehabilitation to people.