View: Opposition MP Khatia Dekanoidze argues that rampant, unchecked corruption and an overreliance on the Kremlin will continue to be an obstacle to Georgia's EU membership until something is done about it.
Less than two months into the new year, the world faces a reality that is drastically different from that of 12 months ago.
The major lines are still there — we are still dealing with a pandemic, democratic institutions around the world are under threat, climate change remains a major challenge for humanity, and Russia is still seeking to destroy international order. And yet, nothing is the same.
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world has seen with its own eyes the true brutality of the Kremlin, something we in Georgia had been warning about since 2008.
We’ve also seen the strength of the unity and resilience of the Ukrainian people, fighting for their independence and freedom.
The response by the Western world has been one of true unity. Putin sought to divide Europe, yet instead, the European Union came together and showed that through togetherness, it could meet the most dangerous challenges.
In June 2022, the European Council granted Ukraine and Moldova the EU membership candidacy status, one of the most concrete proofs of solidarity and ambition.
Georgia, however, was left out.
Once leading the pack, now an outsider for EU membership
In July 2021, when the Presidents of Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova signed a joint declaration pledging cooperation on the path to European integration under the watch of European Council President Charles Michel, Georgia was largely seen to be at the head of the pack, implementing democratic reforms since 2004. But within a year, Georgia was left behind.
We were given until the end of 2022 to adopt a series of reforms and take steps to fulfil 12 recommendations issued by the European Commission.
Among them, an electoral reform to make sure the next elections would be free and fair, judicial reform to put an end to the cabal of centralised decision-makers that threaten Georgian democracy, and an end to public corruption.
The list of priorities also included freedom of the media, moves towards depolarisation and deoligarchisation, strengthening civil society involvement in public decisions, and electing a new Public Defender through an independent process.
Instead of these reforms, the Georgian people witnessed a struggle between the ruling party and the President over selecting a new Chair of the Central Election Commission.
The judicial clan gained new powers, and its most controversial figures were appointed to higher positions. Government-affiliated media and organisations have launched public attacks against civil society, and Parliament failed to elect a new Public Defender.
Imprisoned political opponents and 'aggressive verbal attacks'
Meanwhile, Nika Gvaramia, the founder of the opposition channel Mtavari Arkhi, remains in prison. His sentence has been condemned by civil society and our Western partners.
The country remains gripped with the fate of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who remains in prison after more than a year and whose health continues to deteriorate.
Recent revelations that traces of arsenic and mercury found in his system may be tied to poisoning have led to nationwide and international calls for his transfer abroad for treatment — calls that have been ignored by the Georgian government.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was among those who joined those demands.
On 14 December, the European Parliament adopted a report calling on leaders in Tbilisi to release Saakashvili, stop their “aggressive verbal attacks” on European politicians, and address the many issues where Georgia continues to fail in its democratic progress.
Meanwhile, the ruling party has used procedural tactics to strip the parliamentary opposition of its leverage by removing one by one the mandates of elected MPs.
To be clear, if Saakashvili were to die in prison, that would benefit one person only: Vladimir Putin.
How long will EU membership remain a pipe dream for Georgians?
All these developments are taking place at a time when the international community keeps raising concerns about Tbilisi's position in the midst of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Georgia itself suffers from the occupation of 20% of its territories by the Kremlin in South Ossetia, regular kidnappings of our citizens, dire violations of human rights in the occupied territories, and the “borderisation” crisis that sees Russian forces erect barbed wires in the heart of Georgian land to divide its households and villages.
Yet, the Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili has been very vocal about his refusal to join sanctions on Russia, while the Georgian economy has become increasingly dependent on the Russian market in 2022.
Instead of showing public signs of solidarity towards Ukraine, Georgian government officials continue to refuse to name Russia as an aggressor, spend more time bashing Kyiv leaders, and have even threatened to strip Georgian volunteers fighting for Ukraine of their citizenship.
Georgia is at a crossroads. The path to European integration has never been as open as it is now for our country, yet we keep failing to pounce on this opportunity.
We need to realise that candidacy for EU membership will remain just a pipe dream for the Georgian people as long as the judiciary remains in the hands of one man, the oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, as long as corruption continues to be rampant in the high levels of government,
The EU will remain out of reach as long as there is no guarantee for the next elections to be held in a free and fair environment, as long as Mikheil Saakashvili and Nika Gvaramia remain in prison, and as long as the Georgian authorities continue to give mixed signals on where its foreign allegiance stands.
Europe should know that it has a true and trusted friend in the people of Georgia. Polls have continuously shown that 80% of the population wants to be part of the European family.
And that support will not end, no matter the rhetoric issued and the steps taken by a misguided government.
Khatia Dekanoidze is a member of the Parliament of Georgia. She served as Chief of the National Police of Ukraine between 2015-2016 and as Minister of Education and Science in Georgia in 2012.
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