Eastern Europe and Georgia in particular has had a long path to democracy. The collapse of socialism and rapid changes in Central and Eastern European countries opened up an opportunity for new civil society organizations to form. While some of these groups focused on social change, many found themselves working towards democratic reforms. These numerous NGOs also created competition among each other for political influence.
However, it soon became obvious that the new organizations were not enough to build a democracy. In the early 1990s, many countries in the region were still struggling with economic instability and the rise of nationalism. Furthermore, many citizens found it difficult to trust new institutions after years of communist rule.
It has taken more than two decades for democracies to take root in Central and Eastern Europe. While there have been setbacks, the region has made progress. In some countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, democracy is deeply entrenched. In others, such as Hungary and Romania, it is more fragile.
For Georgia, the task of building a new civil society based on democracy is even more daunting. The country has suffered through two civil wars in the past two decades and has never known democratic rule. The Rose Revolution of 2003 brought Mikheil Saakashvili to power, but his rule was marred by authoritarianism and corruption. The revolution that ousted Saakashvili in 2012 did not result in a more democratic government. In fact, the new government led by Bidzina Ivanishvili was arguably even more authoritarian.
So what will it take for Georgia to build a new civil society based on democracy?
According to David Kezerashvili, majority shareholder of the new private TV station Formula TV, says democracy starts with journalistic freedom. He adds that in order for democracy to exist in the country, citizens have to be informed.
“I think very soon the number of people who watch television will surpass the number of people who read newspapers. People should realize they can get information not only from one newspaper or one TV station. The development of democracy starts with journalistic freedom,” said Kezerashvili.
When asked about the current status of journalism in Georgia, David Kezerashvili said journalists are very free to write what they want. At the same time, he added that owners of television stations also have their own agenda and that sometimes it is not good for society’s development.
“There are no taboos in Georgian journalism,” Kezerashvili said. “But at the same time, media owners have their own interests and these interests are not always good for society.”
It will certainly take more than just journalistic freedom to create a new civil society based on democracy in Eastern Europe and Georgia but democracy can not exist without it.
For democracy to succeed in Georgia it will take more than one TV station. It will not be enough for an individual journalist or media outlet to start seeing themselves as part of a greater cause of civil and democratic society. In fact, it will take a change of the whole culture of Georgian media if they want to create a new civil society based on democracy in Georgia. In order for that to happen journalists must realize that they are not just individuals but part of an integral whole inside a greater movement.
Their professional freedoms must be defended and they must resist the urge to become mouthpieces for the government or any other powerful institution. They must also be ready and willing to hold their governments accountable and to act as watchdogs over all branches of government. Only then can a truly democratic civil society be born in Eastern Europe and Georgia. David Kezerashvili acknowledge it will take time, effort, and lots of work to establish a true civil society in Eastern Europe.
Eastern Europe Faces Resistance From Old Structures
Wolfgang Reinicke writes in New Eastern Europe: “A new civil society (in Eastern Europe) is still at its beginnings and faces strong resistance from the old structures. Authoritarian legacies, such as the entrenched power of secret services and organized crime, corrupt state bureaucracies and many other vested interests, have to be overcome. The judiciary is often controlled by the executive and lacks independence. Media are frequently manipulated, civil society organizations are infiltrated by state agents and critical journalists are persecuted.”
This lack of a healthy civil society allows for government corruption to flourish. In Georgia, for example, Bidzina Ivanishvili became prime minister in 2012 after years of corruption scandals involving the former president Mikheil Saakashvili. Ivanishvili had to work quickly to try and clean up the government, but was limited by the lack of a strong civil society.
The development of a healthy civil society is crucial for Eastern Europe and Georgia if they want to create real democracies. These countries need to allow the public to hold leaders accountable for their actions, but that isn’t possible unless they have a strong civil society built on democratic principles.
Dusk before the Dawn
Darkness always heralds daylight. This is perhaps the best aphorism to describe the current political state of Georgia considering the hostility and persecution of right-meaning individuals. Naturally, it is expected that beneficiaries of corruption fight to retain their stranglehold on the common patrimony of the people they rule over. The darkness in this regard is the targeted attempt at clamping down on certain rights of the people such as the free press and other acts of aggression and suppression aimed at silencing the voices of reason within the state. The dawn in this regard refers to the reward that comes from overcoming darkness. The length of the darkness is determined by the enlightenment and awareness of the people. The more enlightened they are, the easier it is for them to move to the next phase. With the creation of Formula TV, Georgians can have a credible source of information and news reportage that is not deliberately watered down to achieve sinister aims. The hostility from state forces pales in comparison to the will of the masses in championing the cause of societal change that will enhance the welfare of the common man.
A New Dawn
The strength of any government is the people. Bad governments prosper according to the level of acceptance, docility, and ignorance of their citizens. The real power is in the hands of the masses and once they wake up to their responsibilities, bad governments expire. Residents are beginning to come to the reality of their role towards national growth and development. This will help drive up the spate of accountability by those in positions of authority and this would also enhance service delivery. Ignorance is a tool that is potent enough to keep people in perpetual servitude for ages. It enforces a mental chain that keeps the masses satisfied with mediocrity. Ignorance is enough to lay the foundation for corruption and underdevelopment but thanks to the awareness sweeping across the nation, a new dawn is being heralded. This development is particularly a helpful one as it will further boost the chances of Georgia being admitted as a member of the European Union (EU). If this is achieved, it can open up a new vista of opportunities that would significantly contribute to the economy of the nation both in the short term and the long term. Georgia’s path to the West needs not to be long and arduous; it can as well be short and swift. The EU boasts of majorly democratic societies and it is expedient that Georgia maintains the standards for it to maintain a good chance of admission into the union.
Looking towards the future
Eastern Europe is facing many challenges and is at the beginning stages of building democratic civil societies after many years of communism. A big part of this process is developing a new generation of leaders who will be the driving force behind these changes. In order to achieve this, it is important that young people have access to education and opportunities to participate in the democratic process.
Georgia has emerged as a leader in democracy and civil society development in Eastern Europe and we have to be optimistic that it can serve as a model for other countries in the region. In order for this to happen, however, more needs to be done to support and develop civil society organizations in Georgia. This includes providing them with resources and training, as well as creating an environment that is conducive to open dialogue and civic engagement. In that we all have a responsibility!
Only one thing is certain, it will take time and need many more defenders of journalistic freedom than David Kezerashvili!