Dr. Levan Berdzenishvili
Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow
With comments by
Dr. Miriam Lanskoy
National Endowment for Democracy
Fueled by ideals of democracy and human rights, Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution initiated a period of hope and possibility unknown since the country gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union. This hope quickly turned into disillusionment, however, as many of the initial reforms proved unsuccessful.
Lack of political freedom, a defunct parliament, high levels of unemployment, and tensions with Russia over disputed territories have continued to plague democratic development, causing Georgia to resemble more of a semi-autocracy than the mature democracy promised by the Rose revolutionaries. Georgia also remains no closer to fulfilling its aspirations of joining the European Union and NATO than it was before citizens took to the streets.
The country’s authoritarian legacy, traditional mentality, and strong nationalist sentiments remain key obstacles to democratization, and neither the current government nor the Georgian Orthodox Church, the most trusted actor in Georgian society, seems able to promote democracy and good governance. Without efforts to consolidate democracy and realize the ideals that offered so much potential only seven years ago, Georgia risks a drift toward authoritarianism.
In his presentation, Dr. Levan Berdzenishvili explained why Georgia has yet to realize many democratic aspirations—including fair elections, healthy opposition parties, and a strong civil society—and offered recommendations on how to make progress towards these goals. His presentation was followed by comments by Dr. Miriam Lanskoy.
Dr. Levan Berdzenishvili is founding president of the Republican Institute, a think tank focusing on civic education and democracy building in Georgia. Following his involvement in the establishment of the underground Republican Party of Georgia in 1978, he spent three years in the Soviet gulag (1984–87). Before and after his arrest, he was a professor of classical philology at Tbilisi State University. In 2002, he helped to found the United National Movement of Georgia, along with future president Mikheil Saakashvili. From 2004 to 2008, he was a member of the Georgian parliament, serving on the Committee for Education, Science, Culture, and Sports. He is the author of several books, including Human Rights and Georgian Culture (2004, in Georgian). During his fellowship, Dr. Berdzenishvili is studying the historical and cultural challenges facing democracy in Georgia, including legacies from the Soviet era, the role of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and developments in modern political rhetoric.
Dr. Miriam Lanskoy is director of the Russia and Eurasia program at NED.