Saturday, November 13, 2010

Notes from Tbilisi, part three

The Ethnographic Museum, Tbilisi (photo by me)
I praised Tbilisi and Georgia in my previous posts (here and here), therefore here is – by popular demand - my critique.

Tbilisi is not a heaven, surely. Rather, one of my impressions of the city is poor old ladies and gentlemen begging in the streets and urinating in the underpasses - even in the one just below the Courtyard Marriott in the Freedom Square.

Problems with police are almost gone. Actually when I came out of the Tbilisi-Baku train in the Central Railway Station of Baku, I saw more policemen in the train station than I had seen in whole Tbilisi during all previous week. Therefore, a gypsy child can bit your leg just in front of the Georgian Parliament and a beggar can urinate in the underpass just below the Courtyard Marriott .

However, one cynical drunk visitor of Nali pub in Perovskaya district would rather say here: yes, the police don't have rights to chase away gypsy children, but see what happens if opposition tries to stage something. And today, in the OSCE RoFM South Caucasus Media Conference, listening to a presentation by a brave journalist Shorena of, with facts and cases carefully outlined, one sees a different Georgia that is not visible during a merry walk along Rustaveli avenue.

So when I was asked by a Georgian TV journalist who was interviewing me at the conference, not to talk about government pressures on media and especially on the Internet, “because we also are a government channel, and we can't air that,” I was not surprised.

And here are my short conclusions from two separate visits to Georgia:

1 – Saakashvili wiped out corruption and bureaucracy and successfully reformed police, but situation regarding democracy is still a serious challenge. I suspect the current government thinks the real democracy in Georgia would be a deathly threat to their fundamental reform agenda. Frankly, I don't know how true their assumptions are.

2 – Georgia seems to lack any real economy and thus sufficient revenues. Without foreign aid, they are doomed to fail. I had a feeling that all development and improvement in the country would be jeopardized if some bureaucrats in the State Department would think Georgia is no longer loyal to democratization or its government undermines US interests.

3 – Georgia's progress is vital for Azerbaijan's progress. The Azerbaijani government can ignore comparisons with distant Europe or US, but it is infuriated when it loses a comparison with poor Georgia. Only the pride damaged by such comparison can force greedy, arrogant Azerbaijani ruling elite to make reforms or at least, to stop ruining the country.

However, my impression is that the Georgian government is more susceptible to taking some not-so-good Azerbaijani practices rather than the Azerbaijani government taking some good Georgian ones. Very minor example – that kitsch bridge and restoration trends in the historical Tbilisi.

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