A few days ago, the Georgian people succeeded and forced the government to withdraw the Russian-style law on “agents of foreign influence”.
This success is important because it curbed the Georgian Dream’s rampage against the civil society and even more importantly, restored public's faith in their own power.
For Georgian democracy to celebrate its return to the European family, this faith should not just be preserved but the energy we saw in the streets must be turned into support for an alternative-democratic agenda for the next elections.
Public opinion polls have long suggested, and these protests have clearly confirmed that a substantial part of protest voters do not trust the political class at large and do not believe that we represent their interests.
This mistrust makes democratic transition extremely hard, if not impossible. Political parties are essential for democratic change, and they need to be strengthened by the trust of the citizens.
The ruling party is conducting an aggressive, multi-channel campaign with the aim to confuse and distract the Georgian public. In these circumstances, for political parties to gain the trust, it is vital to correctly manage expectations, be accountable to the citizens and have consistency and clarity of message.
Indeed, the clarity of message played a decisive role in the success of the recent protests - the Georgian civil and political elites and our strategic partners spoke very clearly, consistently, and unequivocally about the incompatibility of the Russian law and Georgia’s European future, ultimately rendering the regime’s propaganda powerless.
Now, we need such clarity in the general assessment of the regime as well, from the Georgian political and civil elites and from our strategic partners.
The notion that successful protest has not only pushed the regime to withdraw the Russian law but went as far as to create room to force the political leadership towards a meaningful democratic transformation is confusing, damaging and very much out of touch with reality. The protests did scare the regime, but they did not transform it, and the ongoing and intensifying campaign against Western partners and local critics proves this.
To overcome the crisis, instead of creating false expectations, we need to face the reality:
- A regime that portrays the West as an enemy is incompatible with a European future;
- This Russian law is just one, albeit an ugly and vivid symptom of this diagnosis;
- We can limit the damage through effective street protests but that cannot change the nature of the regime, we need to change the regime itself.
A vast majority of Georgians see Georgia’s future as part of the West. The Georgian Dream has a difficult task - it cannot maintain power without misleading at least a tangible part of pro-Western voters. They need pro-Western voters to do the anti-Western job and for this balancing act strategic ambiguity is vital.
By suggesting to the public that through pressure and dialogue with this regime, we can achieve actual democratic changes and push the ruling party to pursue membership of the EU and NATO, we help the oligarch create that exact strategic ambiguity. That real progress can be achieved without changing this government is simply not true.
We understand that dialogue is needed between opponents, even adversaries. However, any worthy process should have a realistic goal. We cannot change the nature of the regime through dialogue, what we, political parties rather need is a dialogue with the Georgian people, in order to achieve democratic regime change. Yet again, the prerequisite for a successful dialogue with the Georgian people is clarity.
Western support for Georgian sovereignty and democracy is of paramount importance and has no alternative. At the same time, no ally can or will do our job of democratic transformation. That job cannot be done unless the wider Georgian public see themselves as the main drivers of political change in the next elections. This will not happen without a systemic reset of Georgian political parties to gain trust of Georgian citizens.
In that process, just like in the case of Russian law, clarity of message by political parties, civil society and our strategic partners will be crucial – the course and the essence of Georgian Dream and Georgia’s European future are irreconcilable.