Op-ed: why are Georgia's disgruntled citizens not taking to the streets?
Since the parliamentary elections on October 31, which opposition parties and their supporters consider rigged, a discussion continues in Georgia about why, despite the total discontent with the authorities and furious indignation on social media, the people in Georgia do not come out en masse against the government with which it is so dissatisfied.[The elections on] October 31 already showed that it is extremely difficult to give vent to anger, even through civil means.
It seems that Georgia is not yet Russia – demonstrations are not prohibited in Georgia, people are not imprisoned for posts on Facebook, and opposition channels work where the authorities can be scolded 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. Nevertheless, instead of actively expressing their opinion and position, people prefer to leave the country. As in Russia.
The first reason is the tradition of the change of power in Georgia
Historically our governments have always been personified by one person. And only another equally strong personage has been able to change who is in power. There was first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and then Eduard Shevardnadze came. He was later kicked out by Mikheil Saakashvili. And then Bidzina Ivanishvili drove him out.
In the minds of most of our population, a protest can only be successful if there is a Leader. Who knows everything, understands everything, and will do and think everything for everyone. If this is not the case, then you should not try. Only a new superhero can drive out Ivanishvili.
For Mikheil Saakashvili’s supporters, he is still a superhero who can do anything. But the trouble is that the so-called ‘Mishists’ are still a minority. And the rest of the population, including those dissatisfied with the government, do not recognize him as a leader and some even hate him more fiercely.
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Not seeing a new potential Leader, such people will stay at home and will not go to protest, no matter what the authorities do.
This is the striking difference between Georgians and Ukrainians, who did not need leaders to get together. And I have seen more than once that when the leaders of the protest spoke, the majority of the protesters standing next to them were indifferent to them, either laughed or even whistled.
Ukrainians have a different historical background and have a tradition of self-organization.
After the bloodshed on Maidan, Western mediators forced the leaders of the protest to sign an agreement stating that Yanukovych would remain president until the end of the year, and this was announced on the Maidan, a man named Parasyuk came out and said that he did not care about this agreement and was going nowhere. People on Maidan supported him. Yanukovych fled the same night.
In Georgia, for example, many participants in the last big opposition demonstration expressed dissatisfaction with the leaders – they say they have no plan. But for example, it never occurs to anyone not to disperse when leaders call to disperse, that is, to act according to their own mind and on their own initiative.
Of course, I’m not talking about everyone, for example, young people have learned to organize themselves perfectly. We saw this during the floods in Tbilisi, during the “club” protests and protests in the Saralidze case. But here we come to another reason for the passivity of our society.
The second reason is nihilism among youth
As the events of June 20, 2019, as well as previous youth protests have shown, youth do not need “charismatic” leaders to actively fight.
Another thing is that for political reasons, young people do not come out to support any party or the idea of a change of power.
And this has a pretty simple reason.
It’s been 18 years since the Rose Revolution. Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream have been in power for over 8 years. The generation of 20-25 year olds simply do not remember the time when the country was rapidly changing for the better.
The topic of ‘Saakashvili’s reforms’ does not exist for this generation. Everything that these reforms brought – the absence of corruption in universities, safety on the streets, more or less developed infrastructure, etc. – has always been with them.
It is taken for granted, not as an achievement.
And the present problems have always existed for them too, thinking: ‘now things are bad, earlier they were also bad.’ This means that there is no hope and it is better to look for an opportunity for emigration.
It is we, the “old people”, who know how the country changed in its time and see the potential to change everything radically again. They do not. They don’t believe in the possibility of a change for the better. At least they do not believe that current politicians are capable of this.
In Georgia, no Alexei Navalny has appeared, who could in a creative form convey to young people the need to fight.
Zurab Japaridze is the leader of the Girchi party, the only one who tries, and he does well. But his agenda is radical libertarianism and the legalization of marijuana, too narrow to captivate young people en masse.
So, in our country the change of generations does not work the way we would like, and the new generation in our country does not go to the barricades, but joins the ranks of nihilists. Who trust no one and nothing.
At a time when exactly the youth should be the main engine of change and the main ally of progressive political forces.
This is, in my opinion, the main challenge for our future.
But I am an optimist, and not because I want to deceive myself. The laws of the development of society are unshakable like the laws of physics, and sooner or later, when this nihilism is overcome, the inevitable avalanche will cover our would-be rulers.