An Interview with Louise Shelley on the Political Crisis in the Country of Georgia

Posted: February 15, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jim Greif

Louise Shelley
Louise Shelley
Photo by Jocelyn Rappaport

Louise Shelley, Mason professor of public policy, provides some insight into the ongoing problems in the country of Georgia in the book, “Organized Crime and Corruption in Georgia.” Shelley was a co-editor and contributor to the book, which was published in November 2007.

The president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, was re-elected last month after opposition protests led the government to call early presidential elections in the hope of resolving the situation. Saakashvili still faces an uphill battle in his second term as a nine-party opposition coalition continues to protest the efforts and legitimacy of the current administration. Major concerns of the protestors include continued government corruption and a low standard of living despite high economic growth rates.

“If the Rose Revolution was the first anticorruption revolution, the recent protests were motivated by the Georgians’ continued desire for uncorrupted and accountable government,” Shelley says. The Rose Revolution was a nonviolent coup in 2003 that deposed President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Shelley is the founder and director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at Mason. Since 1995, Shelley has run programs focusing on organized crime and corruption in Russia, Ukraine and Georgia with leading specialists. She has also been the principal investigator on large-scale projects in the region related to money laundering and law enforcement training in human trafficking.

Shelley recently talked to the Gazette about her new book and the current situation in Georgia.

You state that President Saakashvili won the 2004 presidential election with his charisma and promise to change the system. However, you predicted some of current problems that the current administration is facing and that he would have an uphill battle. What other insight does the book have regarding the current crisis?

First, the book makes it very clear that the results of the Rose Revolution are neither clear nor solidified. Although there have been tangible improvements in daily policing, in the levels of corruption in the system of higher education, and in revenue collection, many parts of the system remain unreformed. Furthermore, the number of personnel dismissed from the government without a social support system provided a large number of discontented individuals who were dissatisfied with the revolution.

You mentioned the unrealistic expectations of the Rose Revolution. What hasn’t been accomplished that was expected to be accomplished?

Much of the justice system remained unreformed. Although reform was carried out at the lower levels of the police, similar reform did not go on at the upper levels. Moreover, the failure to reform the justice system meant that there was much unfairness and abuse in the administration of both civil and criminal justice. This resulted in many scandals in the government as well as discontent with the way the government abused the rights of individuals arrested for corruption under the old regime.

A rise in salaries of the state officials was an attempt to limit corruption. Has it worked? Why or why not?

The rise in salaries of officials has resulted in a reduction in daily corruption. Georgia, according to data from the most recent surveys of Transparency International and of the World Bank has shown dramatic improvements in the level of corruption relative to other former Soviet states. There is now a highly significant difference between indices of corruption for Georgia and all other Soviet successor states that are not part of the European Union (i.e., Baltic states).

What role does the economy play in the current protests and unrest?

The rapid economic growth of the recent period has been accompanied by very high level corruption that is certainly behind the recent protests. Furthermore, the rapid growth of prices in real estate as a result of a limited number of large investors has displaced many ordinary citizens and led to popular discontent.

What changes has Saakashvili implemented? Why haven’t the changes fixed many of the problems that led to the protests? What more can be done?

He improved daily policing, reduced corruption in higher education and improved tax compliance. He could reform many other sectors that are in need of profound reform. Many problems remain in the sphere of privatization.

What role does the United States play in preventing corruption in Georgia? What about the European Union or United Nations?

The United States helped much in developing anticorruption programs prior to the Rose Revolution. But in the recent period, many of these programs that supported nongovernmental organizations and journalists were stopped. Instead, assistance focused on the government almost entirely, which contributed to the problems after the Rose Revolution. Other countries and the European Union did not do enough to compensate for the change of U.S. policy after the Rose Revolution to help ensure that pressure was maintained on the government to continue the reform process.

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