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The Chechens—The Sons and Daughters of the Mountains

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“These Chechens…They are like wolves coming down from the mountains… I am afraid they will come after me…”, the Turkish character of Vigo Mortensen’s Eastern Promises movie ushered.

This brief yet strong statement concerning the imagination and representation of the Chechens as a wolf pack was what first intrigued me about the so-called Chechen’s warrior culture. Besides the reports of Chechens fighting in Ukraine and Syria, and now that we have recently read that Putin critic Boris Nemtsov was apparently murdered by Chechen hitmen, the Chechen warrior reputation will only prolong itself even further. In this opinionated article, I will briefly describe some anecdotes and stories while researching the warrior culture of three Russian republics (Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan). However, I will limit this article to my experience with the Chechens, coupled with a few anecdotes—there are way too many stories to be shared that, unfortunately, this article would not be enough.

ds1The Caucasus is one of the most diverse places in the world, both ethnically and linguistically. There is a story about Alexander the Great and The Caucasus. The story tells of the fierce resistance Alexander and his men faced while venturing in Vainakh (Chechen and Ingush) lands. Because of this, The Greeks tired of fighting the Vainakh tribe, decided to turn around and march towards modern-day Dagestan. A potential explanation of why you find more tribes and diversity in Dagestan than the more uniform Ingush and Chechen clans. And a potential explanation of why the Russian North Caucasus nations have been, throughout the course of history, more territorial than many other nations in the world, for history makes no distinction: you are either conquered and colonized, or you simply aren’t. The Ingush and Chechens, in reality, never were.

Each republic in the Russian Caucasus is as diverse as the other—politically and culturally. The Ingush, for instance, though physically similar and ethnically related to the Chechens, have had different problems, specifically, because of land ownership and territorial boundaries, with their Christian neighbors, the North Ossetians. And, well, Dagestan, I would describe it as the most diverse of all republics, from its landscapes and its peoples. Dagestan is a world of its own—with numerous ethnic groups and different idiosyncrasies (from Wahhabis to secular-inclined villages).

When I asked a Chechen highlander, in the breathtaking, mountain village of Tazbichi, about why have the Chechens historically fought the Russians for so long, he simply replied with a proud-looking face and a smile: “We are the sons and daughters of the mountains”. Not another word more, not another word less. Only that profound statement. At first, I didn’t understood what that meant, but then I truly understood his meaning: This landscape, this environment, these mountains, what you see and feel, is and has been our home; we have lived and hunted in this land for hundreds of generations. The mountains are our family.

The question most likely, by now, you are probably wondering is: How did some guy from Guatemala end up in Chechnya?

ds2Before telling you my story, first, I would like to ask you a few questions: Have you ever been curious about the unusual, exotic, remote and untraveled landscapes? When you look and read the morning news, about places that have been labeled as ‘failed states’, like Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and so on, but despite of how bad the situation seems to be, still, have you ever wondered what it would be like to talk to a Yemeni tribal elder from an important, politically powerful tribe? Or listen to what the local Mexicans have to say about how the Mexican cartels support the local economy and communities, despite of the violence ravishing Mexico? And, lastly, have you ever been to places (which I’m sure many of my American, European and Canadian colleagues have), such as the beach resorts of Cancun, south Spain and Punta Cana, where there are hordes of tourists, fighting for the few beach chairs and umbrellas? Where you ought to wait until someone, hours later, leaves his chair and umbrella? Well, I have experienced these types of landscapes—from researching conflicts in ‘failed states’ to enjoying a nice beach vacation in a five-star resort. In my case, I prefer the former: the remote, the untraveled, the unknown and the war-torn spaces; I have been writing and personally researching, what I call the ‘warrior culture’ of a place—and eventually looking forward to write a book, about the stories and essence of these dark and remote places. But, I know what you are thinking: this guy is completely crazy. What does adventure-writing has to do with geopolitics or whatsoever? My response: a lot—I will explain this at the end of the article.

            My story with the Chechens and Chechnya began in a hot, humid, typical Florida day, at a Russian-owned deli shop, in the summer of 2010, in Daytona Beach, Florida.

It was the first time I walked into a Russian deli shop. As I walked in, I encountered a well-endowed, tough-looking, mature, bold, white-bearded person, whom the customers—in Russian, of course—seemed to ask many questions, thoroughly putting attention to whatever the old man replied; as if you would see someone asking his grandfather or a respected elder for an advise.

The deli shop, resembled like those picturesque mom and pop stores, in Brighton Beach, New York, given its unofficial label, by the Russo-Ukrainian community, as ‘Little Odessa’. This store, felt exactly like that: the menu was written in Russian, with mouth-watering pictures of fresh rye bread, borscht, Siberian pelmeni; and needless to say about the amazing selections of black tea, vodka, caviar, and other fine Russian products. As I stood, while waiting in line, and listened to the TV—in Russian, of course—I felt I was in a complete different country, since the owner and customers, seriously, glanced at me, silently implying: “Are you lost, son?”.

 

            Priviet…What can I do for you?” very seriously, the owner asked me.

“What would you recommend me? I’d really like to try something authentic and traditional”, I shyly asked.

“Well, I recommend you the borscht…you cannot get more Russian than that. However, this is Ukrainian type of borscht; we are not only Russian but Ukrainian as well; Russia has all kinds of people, with all kinds of different foods”…

Although as ironic as it seems—in light of the current conflict between Russian separatists and Ukrainians—my initial journey into the Caucasus started every Tuesday at lunchtime, whenever on occasional basis, while eating a sandwich or potato salad, the owner decided to talk to me about his experiences in the Soviet armed forces; moreover, his experience relating to the people from the North Caucasus.

ds3By hearing the owner’s stories, regarding his experience in the North Caucasus region, I, in turn, used my own geographical imagination—about the mountains, the valleys and peoples, and how mysterious and culturally untouched it must be—based on the representations and descriptions the owner told me. The owner originally served as a cook in Soviet submarines, as well in the infamous North Caucasus Military District, which oversaw the diverse republics and borderlands of the then-Soviet empire. And that’s when my curiosity for the Russian North Caucasus skyrocketed. The first thing the owner commented was the hardcore nationalism he saw and encountered when dealing with Ingush and Chechens, especially. But what captivated me the most was his narration of inter-clan feuds in Chechnya and Ingushetia, particularly the Chechen interpretation of vendetta.

“Regardless if you were in the army, and were protected by your rank and uniform, like many of my colleagues were, if you ever decided to lay your hands upon a Chechen girl, you would have to think it twice. If one of her relatives would find out, that she’s dating a non-Chechen and non-Muslim, they would intimidate you—and her—regardless of your rank”, the owner once told me.

“Chechens still think and act like a tribal society and each family, has its own patriarch or head of clan—just like that Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart, but in modern times”, the owner pondered with a serious look, finishing his cigarette.

“It’s even worse if you are fighting them and you kill one of their members; doesn’t matter whether it’s a brother, a cousin, an aunt, a relative, or the dog as far as I am concerned”.

The owner went on: “the head of the clan, will choose one of the members of his clan to avenge the killing of his family member; the person he [the patriarch] chooses, will sleep on the floor, grow a beard, and until his family member’s death has been avenged…only then, he will be able to sleep in a normal bed, shave his beard and continue with his life. The Chechens value blood and honor”. Scratching his bald head, in a soft, paused, tone, the owner leaves my table, goes back to the kitchen, silently suggesting: I have too many memories about the Caucasus that I do not want to talk or share.

Eventually, the Russian deli shop, out of the blue, without previous warning, closed—no goodbyes, no nothing. A part of me was sad—I wanted to learn more from the mysterious, white-bearded, bald, Russian person. Yet it was that conversation (blood, feud and honor in Chechnya) that struck me as if you would of encountered an old, battle-hardened American cowboy from the mid 19th century, telling you stories about the Apache tribe. Whether his anecdotes were true or not, I still wanted to know more about Chechens and Chechnya—the landscape, the place, their culture, codes of honor and values, and their so-called tribal mentality.

It was the fall of October 2013. And now instead of being in sunny Florida or in my homeland—Guatemala—I was in the cold, wet, British town of Egham. After living four years in Florida and one in China, I decided to apply for a master degree in geopolitics at a top British university. I wanted to study, reflect and research geopolitics, specifically taught from a geographical point of view. This was one of the principal motivations on why I wanted to study geopolitics. I wanted to focus more on the ‘geo’ than in the ‘politics’. (Needless to say it was in the U.K. where geopolitics internationally aroused—Halford Mackinder’s Geographical Pivot of History, is the best example). Besides academic purposes, there was also another side of the story on why I chose Britain: London Heathrow would be my traveling hub into conflict-ridden countries on which I wanted to personally research. Heathrow would be my gateway into what Mackinder would of called the “World Island”. But Vladikavkaz would be the entrance into the wild, mysterious, Kavkaz (Caucasus).

Guatemala, the place, the country—most commonly and derogatorily labeled as the ‘banana republics’—on which I was born, has been ravished by war and conflict since the post-colonial period, which, in turn, has prompted me to study—academically and personally—world conflicts, particularly in the world region that I love the most: The Global South. From the guerrilla conflicts in Central America—i.e. Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua—to more unheard conflicts in places like Guadalcanal Island, in the Solomon Islands. But apart from the fact that I come from the ‘Global South’, let me tell you, my dear reader, that there is also a little bit of ‘Global South’ in you. Yes, in you. In the coffee and tea you drink; in the fruits, vegetables, and chocolate you eat; the fuel your car uses; the cobalt mineral inside your smartphone; and, in the tacos and kebabs you eat after a crazy Friday night out with your friends. Regardless whether you live in New York, London, Vienna, Toronto or Tokyo, you experience on a daily basis the Global South. And, though Russia can be labeled, based on physical geographical terms, as a ‘northern’ country and ideologically as an ‘eastern’ country (apart from Moscow and St. Petersburg), Russia, can be, essentially, considered a part of the Global South. This was the impression I had when I first was at Vladikavkaz airport in North Ossetia and Alana—manual baggage handling, no gates, a very short and bumpy runway followed by the taxi drivers standing literally next you, as you waited for your luggage—oh yes! The warmth and kindness of the people made me feel just like I was somewhere in the tropics; however, without the heat and mosquitoes.

Vladikavkaz is the invisible border inside the Russian North Caucasus, indirectly making North Ossetia and Alana a Christian enclave nestled between Muslim neighbors—primarily because North Ossetia borders Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia, which are of Islamic majority. Locally—Vladikavkaz, that is—is known as the entryway towards their ‘badly’ behaved, rebel neighbors, Ingushetia and Chechnya. I say badly, because the 2004 Beslan Massacre, was still well and alive inside the hearts and minds of the North Ossetians, more notably, all Russians. Vladimir Sevrinovsky, whom I met through another Russian acquaintance, was my guide, friend and expert for this expedition. (If you would want a guide for the Caucasus, Vladimir, was the perfect guide—he thoroughly knew the most remote places of Russia and, more importantly, Russian ethnic idiosyncrasies).

ds4At the airport, when I picked up my luggage, Vladimir already had hired a taxi driver. Our taxi driver had a thick, dark mustache, almost resembling to that of Josef Stalin, with an impeccable shave, a medium-sized height and a chubby figure. Our taxi driver, a North Ossetian, was extremely friendly and happy to see a foreigner who had come all the way to Kavkaz (Caucasus). The taxi driver drove us to many interesting points in Vladikavkaz—for free. However, when he understood the true reason of why I was in the Caucasus—the Ingush, Chechen and Dagestani warrior cultures—he automatically told Vladimir that he had to take me to the cemetery to pay tribute to the departed hostages that died. His smile, friendliness and happiness, suddenly turned into a grumpy, serious look. He wanted me to see what the Ingush and Chechens did to the North Ossetians (the terrorists that participated in the school takeover, apparently were of Ingush and Chechen ethnicity). What our taxi driver really meant was: Before you even dare and study these ‘savages’, you must first see what they did to us, to our people and to all of Russia.

What 9/11 was for the entire American and Western world, the Beslan Massacre was the 9/11 Russian version of tragedy—I respectfully paid homage to the deceased. No questions, only silence. The beginning of my expedition was filled up with more questions than answers, notwithstanding. If the Ossetians were majorly Christians, why weren’t they so opinionated against other Islamic republics—Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia, for example—as they were against both the Ingush and the Chechens? Were the Ingush and Chechens perceived as the same belligerent group? Or were they perceived differently amongst their fellow Caucasus neighbors? What do the Dagestanis had to say about the Chechens and Ingush? And what did the Ingush had to say about the Chechens?

After an adventurous week in Ingush tribal lands—the militarized, Dzheirakh valley—along Vladimir, we changed course onto Chechnya, where I was received with the highest honors and welcoming by our Chechens hosts (Murad and Ruslan). “In Chechnya, in this fine land, that Allah the all mighty gave us, you are most welcome”. Murad continued, “in this land, you are our guest, thus you are protected by our highest codes of honor: the guest is sacred and untouchable”.

When I asked, Murad what he meant by ‘untouchable’, Murad bluntly replied: “This means that even if someone would try and do you harm, they would have to fight us first. Here in Chechnya, you are under my clan’s protection. We have rules; we have codes; we have the Adamallah…”

What do tribes and clans have to do with geopolitics? My response: Islamic extremism often grows in tribal societies within the Muslim world; for example, whether they are the Kanuritribe of Borno State in Nigeria, who make up the leading structure of Boko Haram; whether they are the Syrian and Iraqi Sunni tribes who, out of discontent with the Iraqi-Shiite government, joined ISIS, by allowing them to settle from Al-Raqqa to Al-Anbar; whether they are the Ghilzai Pashto tribes of South Afghanistan, who eventually became the all-powerful Taliban; whether they are the Al-Houthi rebels from Yemen, who have recently wreaked havoc in all of Yemen; or whether they are members of Abbu Sayyaf fighting in the islands of Mindanao and Basilan in the southern Philippines, it is important to understand tribal structures and their internal codes to further understand their interpretations of warfare. By understanding tribal dynamics and codes, we are, in fact, delving into the geopolitics of political identity—and the repercussions that come with it. In a nutshell, the Islamic world is still a tribal society. And for us, in the Western world—or Latin America in my case—if we really want to understand the geopolitical effects of a tribe in grief, the cases of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, should give us a good head start.

In his book The Spirit of the Wolf, Shaun Ellis talks about how wolf packs were admired by the Native American tribes, considering them as another type of respected tribe. According to Native American folklore, there is a story that narrates how the Native Americans considered that to kill a wolf, was to eventually challenge the wolves to kill one of their own members. Therefore, they made a deal: to respect the wolves, so the wolves would respect the Native American tribes, and split the hunting grounds. In Chechnya, I realized that earning the trust of the Chechens is like earning the trust of a wolf pack. This means to earn the trust of a Chechen clan. At first you will be sniffed to make sure that you are not hostile. Secondly, you will be growled to make sure you are not easily intimidated. And thirdly: they will protect you as one of their own…

The rest, my dear readers, I will leave it to your imagination…

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Eastern Europe

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

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Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

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Eastern Europe

Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

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Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

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Eastern Europe

Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

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Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

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