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Georgia: Not All Rosy One Year After Revolution

Tuesday, November 23, marks the one-year anniversary of Georgia's peaceful "Rose Revolution," which swept long-standing leader Eduard Shevardnadze from power and ushered in pro-reform opposition leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, as the new president.

It was heady days in Georgia in the final two months of 2003. The people, spear-headed by opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili, brought to an end more than 10 years of rule by President Shevardnadze, a leader they had increasingly grown to see as disengaged and corrupt.

The revolution grew out of several weeks of massive street protests against what Mr. Saakashvili and the West said were massively flawed parliamentary elections. But the protests quickly spiraled into more wide-scale protests against the Shevardnadze regime as a whole.

The final sequence of events saw thousands of unarmed Georgians storm parliament, despite the presence of equal numbers of armed Georgian troops outside. Many who took part, and others who watched from abroad, say it was in that instance Georgians took back their future and the parties in the street began.

But the heady days of revolution have since been replaced by the difficult reality of establishing democracy, according to the Director of the independent Caucasus Institute for Peace and Democracy, Ghia Nodia.

"I think [the] Georgian people were extremely enthusiastic after the revolution, not only because they hated [President] Shevardnadze and he was removed, but because they saw some kind of new power in themselves," said Ghia Nodia. "But now the sense of euphoria is, in part, replaced by some level of disappointment because expectations were extremely high and they were so high that they could not possible be met. So, I think Georgian people have made clear [a] clear choice in favor of democracy. But still, it is not quite obvious whether we have enough human institutions and resources for [a] stable and consolidated democratic regime."

Mr. Nodia says President Saakashvili is helped by the fact that he still has the overwhelming support of the Georgian people, as well as the total absence of any real political opposition.

The director of the Soros Foundation in Georgia, David Darchiashvili, says one of the key areas in which disappointment is growing is in Mr. Saakashvili's handling of his key campaign pledge to fight corruption.

Mr. Darchiashvili says corruption has indeed become less visible in the highest levels of Georgia's government, but he says that does not mean the battle has been won.

"People are more scared to be corrupt, but it does not mean they will not go back to corrupt practices if more kind of serious changes do not take place," said David Darchiashvili. "So far, it is based on fear. The process of fighting corruption and organized crime sometimes deviates from the principle of the rule of law. So, [the] government's main slogan is still anti-corruption campaign, while the NGO's [non-governmental organizations] are more and more advocating for rule of law."

Mr. Darchiashvili says early moves to stem corruption were not always transparent and if things don't change, he says, the Saakashvili government risks creating new ground for new corruption. Analyst Nodia attributes this problem and others to what he calls a still young and inexperienced government.

"The government has some kind of revolutionary impatience, or propensity to revolutionary justice," he said. "So, in many cases, some efforts justified by [the] fight against corruption were based on neglecting law, neglecting due procedures and sometimes they are accompanied by pressure on courts."

Mr. Darchiashvili says there are other problems as well.

"People complain about their unsolved social, economic problems. " he said. "[There is] still unemployment, poverty. [The] budget is now better than it used to be. Some areas in salaries and pensions are being paid, but those salaries and pensions remain on a very low scale and, again, they do not help those unemployed."

Mr. Darchiashvili says there has also been a massive downsizing of the public sector in the last year, costing thousands of people their jobs from police to civil servants. And he says the opportunity to relearn new, more marketable job skills is still far too rare.

Mr. Darchiashvili says perhaps the biggest problem President Saakashvili faces is in how to fulfill his pledge to once again unite Georgia and bring the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under central control.

"What is seen in Georgia, that is still widespread ethnic nationalism and religious xenophobia and if [Mr.] Saakashvili does not seriously deal with that, then we might face unification of all corrupt elites with those young Xenophobes and new anti-reform front, which will make it much more difficult if the problems are not solved in nearest months," said David Darchiashvili. "It will make it difficult to push through painful reforms in the future and we then might face [the] danger of a new revolution, which might just be [a] counter-revolution if we consider the ideas of this movement."

But for the time being, Mr. Darchiashvili says Georgia under President Saakashvili is making progress toward democracy, though slower than the people of Georgia might like. Mr. Nodia agrees, saying the proof is in the fact that this year Georgia was named as one of the 100 most promising new democracies.