Potemkin Georgia: Exposing The Lies Of The Saakashvili PR Machine

Despite the unremitting hostility of its Russian neighbor, which crescendoed in a military occupation of a chunk of its territories, plucky Georgia’s commitment to reform and democratic values will ensure its rapid development into a “booming Western-style economy.” Under its charismatic Western-trained President, Saakashvili, it has rooted out corruption, ushered in untold prosperity and freedoms, and left dictatorial Russia in the dust. ““There are barbarians there and civilization here,” summarizes Saakashvili himself, “There they have mongoloid brutality and ideology while here we have the true, the oldest Colchis Europe, the most ancient civilization.”

At least, that’s the picture you might have of Georgia if you read Saakashvili’s speeches, Western op-eds, Russian liberals like Cato Institute flunky and global warming denier Andrey Illarionov, and a sundry host of Georgian ambassadors and lobbyists shilling for all they’re worth in major Western newspapers. But rhetoric and reality can be two very different things. To what extent do objective indicators (e.g. statistics) bear out this neocon vision of Tbilisi as the shining city on the Caucasian hills?

By the numbers… Let’s start with the economy. Saakashvili deserves some credit for maintaining respectable GDP growth rates, albeit they are far from the awe-inspiring figures of China or, for that matter, several other post-Soviet republics. From 2004 to 2011, the Georgian economy grew at an average of 6.0% per annum, which is only modestly higher than Russia’s 4.5%.

However, this comparison becomes much more unfavorable once Georgian growth is adjusted for other factors. First, Russia is already much richer than Georgia – its GDP, however you measure it, is more than three times higher – so by basic economic theory, ceteris paribus its growth rate should be much higher as poorer countries have many more easy opportunities to increase productivity. (Illarionov, by the way, is ignorant of convergence theory, a fairly basic macroeconomic concept; it’s frightening that this “economist”, who is more accurately a libertarian ideologue, was once a major economic adviser to the Russian government). Second, Georgia had by far the biggest and sharpest decline in GDP during the early 1990’s of all the Soviet republics, and even as of this year, its gross output is still 20% below the peak levels of 1989. This should also, in principle, help Georgia grow much faster than Russia – which surpassed its peak Soviet-era output sometime in the mid-2000’s – because in a sense it is still “recovering” from an economic depression.

A much more appropriate comparison would be with Armenia. Both are in the unstable Caucasus region. Georgia has intermittently faced sanctions from Russia, whereas Armenia is under permanent economic blockade from Turkey and Azerbaijan. Unlike Azerbaijan, neither Tbilisi nor Yerevan enjoy an oil windfall. Their GDP per capita is almost exactly the same: About $3000 nominal, and $5000 in purchasing power adjusted dollars. Unlike Georgia, Armenia has recovered its Soviet-era production levels and then some; its GDP is now more than 50% as big as in 1989, so it is well past the period of mere “recovery growth”. Both countries suffered from destructive wars in the early 1990’s, and both remain highly militarized to this day. Nonetheless, with the exception of the past three years, when it was  crushed by the economic crisis, Armenia has consistently clocked up higher GDP growth rates than Georgia. In sum terms, during the 2004-2011 period, both countries grew at approximately the same pace: 6.0% for Georgia, 6.3% for Armenia.

In the graph above, GDP per capita is indexed to 100 at 2003 for a range of post-Soviet countries. It is clear that Estonia and Armenia, despite their deep recent recessions, are highly successful transition economies; both are a lot more prosperous now than in 1989. Russia is only moderately successful. Along with Ukraine, Georgia is still well below Soviet-era peak output levels, and its growth under Saakashvili wasn’t exceptional by the standards of other post-Soviet republics, despite its twin advantages of starting from a low base (unlike Russia, Estonia) and still being in the process of recovering lost output (unlike Armenia).

Another relevant comparison is with the “corrupt” and “nepotistic” Shevardnadze administration from 1995-2003, which was overthrown to great fanfare in the “Rose Revolution”. What was Georgia’s growth rate then? 5.9%. That is within rounding error of growth under Saakashvili. It should furthermore be noted that growth was accelerating throughout Shevardnadze’s Presidency, reaching a peak of 11.1% in 2003. So there are valid questions as to the extent the high growth rates of the early Saakashvili Presidency were due to his neoliberal reforms.

What about life for ordinary people? There is no doubt that the average Georgian became significantly better off, as was the case everywhere in the former USSR during this period. Georgian statistics show nominal wages almost quadrupling from 2004-2010, from 157 lari to 598 lari per month, albeit adjusting for inflation would reduce it to only a bit better than a doubling.

However, higher wages can only be enjoyed by people who actually get them. During the same period, unemployment grew from 12.6% to 16.3%. Despite neoliberal reforms that undercut the bargaining power of labor, unemployment in Georgian urban areas – approaching 40% in the capital, Tbilisi – is now as prevalent as in the most impoverished provinces of the Russian Caucasus. About half of the Georgian labor force is “self-employed” in sustenance farming, which is a higher figure than two decades ago. In contrast, unemployment in both neighboring Armenia, and “corrupt” and “stagnating” Russia is around 6%-7%.

So bearing in mind actual statistics, does Georgia still deserve the status of a “miracle economy” conferred to it by libertarians and neocons? Don’t get me wrong, 6% is not bad. It’s no worse than under (maligned) Shevardnadze, and modestly better than the 4% average growth rates observed in Moldova, the very worst performer in the entire post-Soviet space. But even so, Georgia is not going to catch up with the developed world at its current pace of development – not like China, which has comparable income levels but is growing at 10% rates, or Russia, which is already three to four times richer.

Moving on, Georgia has also been lauded for excoriating previously endemic corruption, and becoming one of the world’s most “economically free” and business-friendly locations.  The latter may well be true; objective ratings such as the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business, which measure the number of days and permission slips required to start a business, place Georgia 16th globally. This seems a genuine achievement, albeit as real world data shows, these things have at best only a marginal influence on economic growth rates, which are primarily determined by a country’s initial development level relative to the quality of its educational human capital.

On the Corruption Perceptions Index, Georgia improved its score from 1.8 in 2003 to 4.1 by 2011, which is a very significant change (in contrast, Russia languishes at 2.4, and Armenia at 2.6). But some Georgian businesses report government agents demanding political “donations” to Saakashvili’s ruling party to avert hostile raids, and in any case it must be borne in mind that the CPI is a proxy of corruption perceptions, not corruption realities per se. The CPI rating can thus be unduly influenced by good PR and lobbying. As a Western-trained lawyer, Saakashvili appreciates their importance, and has over the years paid millions of dollars to PR firms like Aspect Consulting, Orion Strategies, Public Strategies, and the Glover Park Group to burnish Georgia’s reformist, anti-corruption and democratic image abroad.

Other indicators that are not as reliant on the perceptions of anonymous experts show a somewhat different picture. In the Global Integrity Report, which is based on blind review, Georgia does only modestly better than Russia, scoring 76/100 as compared to Moscow’s 71/100. On the Open Budget Index, which assesses the transparency of government accounts, Russia actually does better, scoring 60/100 to Georgia’s 55/100. And according to Transparency International, the same outfit behind the CPI, the percentage of Georgians who reported paying a bribe in the past year in 2004 was only 6%; as of 2010, this had declined to 3%. A positive and appreciable change to be sure, but the data indicates that petty corruption was not that much of a problem in Georgia to start off with.

Didn’t Saakashvili at least democratize Georgia? Well, no. The fact of the matter is that Georgia was already a democracy under Shevardnadze, if a highly imperfect and illiberal one. The same remains true today. Unofficial protests are brutally broken up, independent TV stations have their licenses revoked, and opposition figures have their citizenships canceled or forced into exile abroad. Georgia has also become a revisionist and highly nationalist power under the charismatic President, whose actions have ranged from the petty and incompetent, e.g. blowing up a Soviet war memorial to Georgian war dead, and in the process killing a mother and her daughter in the blast, to the criminally deranged and incompetent, e.g. the invasion of South Ossetia and carpet bombing of Tskhinvali, even though virtually no Ossetian wants to live in a Greater Georgia.

If one doubts that Saakashvili is in fact rather far from being a nice liberal democrat, all one has to do is look at the indicators of political freedoms. In the Polity IV rankings, the most comprehensive democracy indicators database assembled by political scientists, Georgia increased from 5/10 to 6/10 on a scale from -10 (zero democracy) to 10 (full democracy) under Saakashvili. This is hardly the glorious transformation the Rose Revolution is often made out to be; nor is it very much different from the Evil Empire’s. Russia’s current score is 4/10, for whatever reason down from 6/10 after Medvedev’s election in 2008.

There are however two socio-economic indicators under Saakashvili that did register highly visible, concrete changes. If not for the better.

From 36% in 1991, the tertiary enrollment rate remained steady until the late 1990′s, when it began to grow, reaching 43% by 2003 and peaking at 47% in 2005. Then it plummeted to 25% by 2009, edging up to 28% in 2010. This seems to have been in substantial part due to an increase in the cost of annual university tuition from 500-600 lari in 2003 to 3000-4000 lari by 2009, an eight-fold increase far exceeding the quadrupling of salaries during the same period (even disregarding increased unemployment). Bearing in mind that the average salary was 557 lari in 2009, it is clear that for many families university education became unaffordable. Government grants have also plummeted: From wholly financing the educations of 9,700 students in 2003, by 2009 they were subsidizing only half the tuition costs of 1,000 students. University access has dropped by more than 80% in some regions.

This is particularly catastrophic for Georgia because international student assessments indicate that their schools are almost useless at imparting real world skills. According to PISA 2009, only “31% of [Georgian] students are proficient in mathematics at least to the baseline level at which they begin to demonstrate the kind of skills that enable them to use mathematics in ways that are considered fundamental for their future development.” The equivalent figure for Russia was 72%, and about 78% for the OECD as a whole. On Reading, Math, and Science, Georgian students came, respectively, 67th, 66th, and 70th out of the 75 countries in the PISA assessment. Other international student assessments paint a similarly dire picture. For instance, in TIMMS 2007, Georgian students got an average score of 410 in the Math component, relative to Armenia’s 499 and Russia’s 512. The gap is not substantially different in the Science component, or in the PIRLS 2006 literacy survey. This is unlikely to improve any time soon, as under Saakashvili, the number of public libraries more than halved.

While Georgia was disinvesting in its future workforce, tertiary enrollment has risen in Georgia’s neighbors. In Armenia, it rose from 24% in 1998 to 52% by 2010; the percentage of Russians undergoing university education rose from 55% in 2000 to 76% by 2009. That is because the leaderships of these countries, as in much of the rest of the civilized world, appreciate the importance of human capital to fostering economic growth. In Saakashvili’s world, presumably, praying to the souls of Hayek, Mises and Rothbard would suffice. More education is the road to serfdom.

But in the end, I guess it’s all a matter of priorities. The Georgian army and police are now well fed. Who needs math, science, and literacy anyway? “Military-patriotic education means training in civil defense,” Saakashvili says, “Stimulating soldierly spirit, which historically was always in nature of people in Georgia; as well as courses in Georgia’s military history” is what is really important. Hear hear? Meanwhile, the prison population has tripled from 182/100,000 in 2004, to 536/100,000 in 2011. Under Saakashvili’s democratic guidance, Georgia has acquired the dubious distinction of being the European country with the most prisoners per capita, displacing Russia (the irony!) in the process.

This is not to say that Georgia is a corrupt, stagnant tinpot dictatorship, its tottering foundations stabilized by huge inflows of American capital (though the latter sums, ranging in the billions, are very substantial relative to the tiny size of the Georgian economy). Saakashvili has maintained a mediocre level of economic growth, wages have risen substantially, and corruption has been reduced. Nonetheless, its performance is far less impressive than that of a comparable neighbor, Armenia, and on almost every socio-economic indicator it massively lags Russia. It is a democracy, but the quality of its democracy is not substantially better than that of Russia, which countless Western pundits describe as an authoritarian kleptocracy returning to the USSR.

In place of building the foundations for sustained long-term growth, Saakashvili has instead been busy undermining what little of it exists. No amount of reforms to make life easier for capitalists can compensate for the abysmal quality of the Georgian education system, and Saakashvili’s wanton curtailment of the only partial remedy for it, university access. He is at essence a blowhard, passable perhaps as a mercenary lawyer, but utterly unqualified for the work of statesmanship. He pontificates about building huge new cities on swampland (complete with “seven star hotels”), demands Slavic countries stop calling his country “Gruzia” as they have done for centuries, and arrests Russian tourists who dare holiday in his country for the mere suspicion of having passed through breakaway Abkhazia. Russian language schools are closed down, and the main Tbilisi boulevard is renamed in honor of G.W. Bush, while the latter was still President to boot!

What emerges of Saakashvili is a small, petty and vainglorious man, who blames all of Georgia’s problems on his “Mongoloid” northern neighbor and deflects all criticism of his ham-fisted rule by arresting the critics as Russian spies. He presides over “Potemkin Georgia”*, hyped as a tiger economy of the Caucasus by ideologues and paid-up PR men, but in reality fast becoming an isolated Cuba of the Caucasus.

If the good people of Georgia accede to this, it is of course their right as a sovereign people. It is also understandable that neocons who appreciate his irrevocably pro-Western science, libertarians dreaming of culling labor laws and defunding public services, sundry Russophobes operating on an the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend basis, and plain paid-up PR men would defend Saakashvili’s record. But it is also then incumbent on people of honesty and integrity to publicize the lies of his apologists (Andrey Illarionov, David HamiltonGarry Kasparov, Valeriya Novodvorskaya and Vladimir BukovskyGiorgi BadridzeRandy Scheunemann, Jennifer Rubin, Eli Lake, Melik Kalyan, etc), and continue revealing Saakashvili for what he really is – an emperor with no clothes.

Because even if Saakashvili is hellbent on undermining the future of his own country, he should not be allowed to do the same again to Abkhazia or South Ossetia – or for Potemkin Georgia to be portrayed as a model of good and effective governance for other countries to follow.

* Yes, I’m aware that “Potemkin villages” are probably a historical urban legend. But as the term is regularly and uncritically used as regards Russia in the Western press, I don’t see the problem in turning the tables on them.


  1. Anatoly,

    You write “Russian language schools are closed down…” He closes down the schools for Caucasian Tatars (a recent name is Azeri, invented in 1930s). In the last 20 years 59 such schools were closed down in Borchali (majority Tatars) http://javakhk.livejournal.com/472733.html
    This is worse than under chauvinist-nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

    Similarly, he is limiting the Armenian language studies in Armenian schools in Javakh (historically inhabited by Armenians), stops Armenian textbooks at the Armenia-Georgia border (so much for tolerance and freedom of movement of goods).

    He does not allow the Bible to be translated into Mengrelian (a separate language). http://antigeopolitics.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/the-myth-of-mingrelian-separatism-%E2%80%93-a-reply-to-guram-sharia/

    In addition, there is corruption in upper echelons of power. Here is an example of Mishiko’s friend and former minister (with a little salary) who “purchased” 45% stake in a TV company (“Imedi”). http://pluto9999.livejournal.com/?skip=30

    Recently, the parliament refused to open investigation of the corruption of Saakashvili’s family.

    It is so sad that a little, pathetic, lying, tie-eating loser like Mishiko is put up as a “hero.” He is a war criminal, a corrupt politician and a demagogue. His place is in prison, where hopefully he gets a big, fat boyfriend… 🙂

  2. Georgia also ranks very near the bottom of the Earth Institure’s World Happiness Report (Jeffrey Sachs), Curiously, Turkmenistan seems to be the happiness leader in post-soviet sphere.

  3. Doug M. says:

    Not to threadjack, but Armenia is probably not that good a comparandum.

    First, Armenia’s economy has always been very different from Georgia’s; Soviet policy was to keep Georgia (along with Moldova) an agricultural republic, while Armenia received massive investment in heavy industry. By the 1980s Armenia was, per capita, the most industrialized republic in the USSR. This set it up for a disastrous fall in the 1990s — the combination of war and rapid deindustrialization cut real incomes by well over 50% — but it also meant that, long term, Armenia inherited various endowments that have served it well. The most obvious is education: Not only were Armenians overall much better educated than Georgians, their educational attainments tended to be concentrated in stuff like science and engineering. Armenia also inherited an impressive (if much decayed) industrial infrastructure — not just factories but rail spurs, pipelines, power plants, you name it.

    Second, Armenia has benefited from a regular cycling of gastarbeiter back and forth to more developed countries. I’ve mentioned this before, yes? Yerevan is full of thirtysomething accountants, managers, and engineers who spent three or five or ten years abroad and then returned home with money, skills, and experience. This happens in Georgia as well, but much less — partly because Georgians can’t easily be guestworkers in Russia, but mostly because Armenians have always been much more mobile in this way.

    Third, Armenia’s war, while very serious, was less traumatic and destructive than Georgia’s loss of Abkhazia. Abkhazia had been integrated into the Georgian economy and was a major revenue source for both the Soviet republic and the new Georgian nation; not only was it the most important center of tourism in the region, but it also produced almost half of Georgia’s electricity from the Inguri Dam. (This is why Georgia had a decade of shortages and rolling blackouts, until an agreement was reached to restore the dam to full operation and divide its output.) Furthemore, the end of the war sent nearly a quarter of a million ethnic Georgian refugees into Georgia, imposing a massive burden on Georgia’s economy. (The 2008 war sent another wave, in the middle five figures, out of Ossetia and the Gali region of Abkhazia.) Since Armenia won its war, it never had any comparable problems with Nagorno-Karabakh.

    Fourth — and probably most important — Armenia has the diaspora. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this. The diaspora has brought billions of dollars of investment back to Armenia, and has enabled it to become a (relatively) successful export economy. Both Armenians and their rivals the Azeris will say “Azerbaijan has oil, but Armenia has the diaspora.” They don’t mean it the same way — the Azeris think that France and the US Congress are controlled by the global Armenian conspiracy — but the underlying point is valid. An Armenia without the diaspora would be much poorer. (And maybe smaller too — it’s an open question whether they’d still be holding onto N-K.)

    So while I think you have the right idea, I don’t think Armenia is the place to look.

    Where then? Well, nothing in the fUSSR was very close to Georgia, but I’d argue that the closest was probably Moldova — another agricultural republic that saw war and territorial loss in the 1990s. It’s far from a perfect comparison; Moldova (especially the part outside Transnistria) was much more agricultural, and its war was much less destructive.

    This comparison does make Georgia look better, because Moldova’s post-Soviet experience has been, until quite recently, pretty dismal. If it helps, I would lay about half that difference at the feet of Vladimir Voronin:


    Which reminds me that I did a piece on Georgia too, back when:


    I note that the Second Balkan War didn’t do for Tsar Ferdinand; it took WWI to get rid of him. So we may be stuck with Saakashvili for a while to come.

    Doug M.

  4. Thank you Anatoly for making the effort to check all this out. I have long been sceptical of SK’s claims both as to economic growth and corruption.
    I also have long been of the opinion that Georgia plays a very large part in the anti-Russia view and has done do since long before SK.
    BTW the “(maligned) Shevardnadze” was an Official Democratic Hero in his time too: awards, troop contributions and “strategic partnerships”. Ironic eh?

    And for you Americans out there, your tax dollars are re-cycled to American PR firms that lobby your government to spend more. Your tax dollars at work!

  5. Dear Anatoly,

    An absolutely outstanding article in every respect. I have nothing to add to it so far as Georgia is concerned.

    I should say that until the South Ossetia war I had largely bought into the “Georgia miracle” myth. Why after all should I not? That war and Saakashvili’s eccentric behaviour before and during it made me look both at Georgia and at him far more closely than I had done previously and thereafter I started to become much more skeptical.

  6. Dear Doug,

    I am not an expert on Armenia but a close acquaintance of mine, Bert Vaux who is a linguist at King’s College in Cambridge and who is one of this country’s top Armenian experts, does. He travels to Armenia on a very regular basis and knows the language and the people well. He is admittedly a linguist not an economist but I trust his impressions.

    I think I do not misrepresent his views, which are that Georgia was a much richer republic with a much higher standard of living than was Armenia when they were both part of the USSR. If the weight of Armenia’s economy was more heavily tilted to heavy industry that was more a reflection of its much poorer agricultural economy caused by poorer soils and much harsher weather. Also it seems that Georgia unlike Armenia had more sophisticated industries covering such fields as aircraft production (MiG21s and SU25s were built there) and shipbuilding (eg. hydrofoil construction). Bert Vaux would I think also take issue with your view that Armenia had a better educational system than Georgia. The best technical higher education institutions in the Transcaucasus in the Soviet period were anyway not in Tbilisi or Yerevan but in Baku. For what it’s worth I would have thought that in so far as Armenia had a heavy and presumably capital and labour intensive industrial basis that would tend to make economic recovery in conditions of the USSR’s fragmentation more difficult rather than less.

    One comment you make where I think Bert Vaux would certainly take issue with you is in your view that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict has been less traumatic for Armenia than was the conflict over Abkhazia and South Ossetia for Georgia. Bert Vaux has frequently travelled to Nagorno Karabakh and has described to me a community under virtual military siege. Unlike Georgia Armenia is landlocked and is surrounded on all sides by hostile states (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey) and constantly feels itself threatened by countries that are militarily much more powerful than itself. Like Georgia it has also had to absorb large numbers of refugees from Azerbaijan. Armenia also finds itself in a state of virtual economic blockade and unlike Georgia it is haunted by memories of the Armenian genocide of the beginning of the twentieth century which its most powerful potential enemy Turkey perpetrated but does not acknowledge.

    As for the benefits Armenia obtains from the Armenian diaspora, these of course do exist but it is important to remember that there is also a sizeable Georgian diaspora (including by the way in Russia). Also is financial support for Armenia from the diaspora really greater than the very substantial financial support Georgia gets from the EU and the US?

    Lastly, on a comment of John’s, Bert Vaux has complained at length to me that Saakashvili follows strongly discriminatory policies in Georgia against Armenians and this may fit in with John’s comments about Saakashvili’s closure of minority language schools.

    • Doug M. says:

      Alex, I would not call myself an “Armenia expert” — but I did live in Armenia for two years, 2006-2008.

      “Georgia was a much richer republic with a much higher standard of living than was Armenia when they were both part of the USSR.” — no, not really. According to the Statistical Yearbook of the USSR (Goskomstat — remember them?), in the last years of the USSR (1987-90) the two republics had almost identical income levels: $2,168 for Armenia, and $2,295 for Georgia. Georgia was about 6% richer, which is noticeable but not ‘a much higher standard of living’.

      The economies of the two countries were quite different in structure. Armenia had 20% of its population working in agriculture, 55% working in industry, and had an urbanization level of 64%. The comparable numbers for Georgia were 28% in agriculture, 42% in industry, and 51% urbanization. Georgia did have some heavy industry, but the biggest chunks of industry there were light industry and agricultural processing plants.

      Better educational system != better education at the tertiary level; Armenians were one of the most mobile ethnicities in the fUSSR, and tens of thousands of them went to school in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tbilisi, and, yes, even Baku.

      I’ve been to Nagorno-Karabakh, too, and it is indeed in a state of virtual siege. But most of Armenia is not N-K.

      More in a day or two if time allows —

      Doug M.

      • Dear Doug,

        I obviously failed to explain myself properly. I am not disputing that Armenia had a more heavily industrialised economy than Georgia in the Soviet period. What I don’t follow is why this would better equip Armenia than Georgia for the challenge of the post Soviet world? Intuitively I would have thought the contrary. I find it difficult for example to imagine Armenia as a competitive producer of heavy industrial goods. In the closed conditions of the Soviet planned economy there might for example be a demand for Armenian made chemicals or machine tools but who would want to source their chemicals or machine tools from Armenia today?

        Incidentally I realise that in one respect I misread your original comment for which apologies. You were not I think comparing the Armenian and Georgian educational systems in Soviet times so much as individual Armenian educational achievement as against Georgian. On this point doubtless you are correct and for what it’s worth I also have the impression (and it is only an impression) that Armenians put a higher emphasis on scientific and technical education than did Georgians. Certainly most Georgians I have heard of have tended to make their mark in the arts rather than the sciences. No doubt the better scientific and technical education amongst Armenians partly explains their relatively greater economic success but again I am not sure why that invalidates the comparison Anatoly is making between the two countries? Also it is depressing in that case that according to Anatoly student numbers in Georgia have fallen.

        PS: Are you sure that Georgian GDP per capita was only 6% higher than Armenian in the last two years of the USSR? If I have read Anatoly’s article correctly he is saying that today Georgian and Armenian GDP per capita is about the same but that Armenia has surpassed its Soviet peak whilst Georgia is still 20% below it. This would suggest that Georgia was substantially richer than Armenia in the Soviet period. Could a possible explanation be that from 1987 the political and economic situation in Armenia was already depressed as the country became increasingly unstable in part because of the Nagorno Karabakh crisis but also because of the effect of the earthquake.

        • Dear Doug,

          A million apologies but I got called away in the middle of my last comment.

          Anyway to resume, could an explanation for the GDP per capita statistics for the last two years of the Soviet period be the political unrest and the earthquake in Armenia caused living standards to fall there at the same time as the rise of political unrest and the Presidency of Gamzarkhudia caused living standards to fall in Georgia? My recollection of that period was of a descent into chaos across the entire Transcaucasus affecting all three of the Transcaucasian republics, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, which must have affected economic conditions and depressed living standards across the entire region. If so then it might be risky to put too much weight on figures from that period.

        • What the Georgians should have done back in the early 90s was to take stock in a hard-nosed way of their assets and debits. Something like this
          Our old economy is gone with the dissolution of the USSR and the gradual appearance of real prices. The days when a Georgian could fill a couple of suitcases with flowers, fly round trip to Moscow, returning with a profit are gone forever. Most of our previous prosperity came from playing in the cracks of the Soviet “economy”.
          What do we have to sell? Wine, mineral water, fruits, flowers, beautiful holiday scenery.
          We have excellent name recognition for these in the fUSSR but nowhere else.
          So keep the markets we already have, modernise production/hotel facilities up to international standards, expand into Western markets (gotta have the quality to make that work — how much Georgian wine do you see for sale in the West today?): so, keep what we have, improve it and find new markets.
          As to Abkhazians Ossetians & Co, imitate Kiev on Crimea and accommodate their concerns, let them have their Soviet-era autonomy and persuade them that they’re happy in the new Georgia.
          What did they do instead? Georgia for the Georgians, King David fantasies, Russia is the problem, pretend we are in some other part of the world (who a century ago would have ever considered
          Georgia to be “European”?). Vide independent Georgia 1918-21: same same.
          In short, follow the fantasy, ignore the reality.
          So here we are today.

          • Der Patrick,

            I agree with all of this.

            On the subject of Georgian wine, as I am something of a wine buff (long ago one of my clients was a top wine merchant) I decided to try some as I had heard a lot about it. I found a Russian shop in Queensway in west London which sold Georgian wine and about a month ago I bought two bottles each made by a different producer or grower of a semi sweet red wine called something like Khvanchkavara, which I had been told was Stalin’s favourite and which is supposedly one of Georgia’s best wines. Of the two bottles one was barely tolerable and the other was simply frightful, tasting like a kind of alcoholic Ribena. In no sense could either bottle compare with really good sweet or semi sweet red wines one can find on the market such as the Reccioto from Verona. If the Georgians want to make a successful export out of their wines then they will have to do a lot better.

            • Personally I know less than nothing about wine and don’t drink it. But I have heard good things from others. Perhaps you got forgeries or adulterations. Which has been a major problems and also with Borjomi mineral water.

            • @Alex,

              I one tried a Khvanchkavara, also in Britain, and had the same impression. Perhaps Russia’s ban of Georgian wine imports isn’t entirely political.

              Actually it seems the Georgians themselves agree. Irakli Okruashvili, former Defense Minister: “Many [Georgian] wine producers exported falsified wine to Russia, because Russia is a market where you can sell even fecal masses.”

              They’re not going to go far on the global wine markets with that attitude to their customers.

              • Borjomi mineral water has gone through an extensive refit — upping quality control, getting a grip on labelling and tracking down counterfeiters. See my latest Sitrep. But the market for it is still mostly the FUSSR where they already knew about it. See these ads (but still focussed on the FUSSR) http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=borjomi+water+commercials&oq=borjomi+water+commercials&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_nf=1&gs_l=youtube-psuggest.12…7660.8459.0.10778.
                (but this one mystifies me http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AF51iOp2BG8 “which can only be found in the mountains of Russia”???????)
                There have been similar wine problems in Georgia. See
                Probably explains your experiences.
                Many say (And I again stress that I know the square root of squat about this) that Georgia was the very first place to make wine. But they have a serious quality control problem (which is not necessarily their fault. After all, what’s easier to counterfeit than wine? get a bottle, fake a label, fill it with something and it’s only when the buyer tries to drink it that he finds out what’s in the bottle.)
                But with all the flapdoodle about nasty Russians, I still do not find any in my local boozerie. (BTW the Liquor Control Board of Ontario – which is the government monopoly from which we Ontarians have to buy – is the LARGEST buyer of French wine on the planet and has hugely expanded the countries from which it buys wine.) (Also Scotch – which I drink in immoderate amounts).
                In my dip days I had a conversation with Moldovan dips who have a similar problem in getting their wine (another ancient producer) into world markets. But I have occasionally seen Moldovan wine in the LCBO. Armenian brandy is another drink that hasn’t hit the West much.
                But it’s easier for the lazy MSM typists to hit the alt-Russia-monster key than to actually wonder whether we allow the stuff into our own countries.

          • Patrick,

            Funny you mentioned “King David fantasies.” The young king, actually a
            teenager, ascended to the throne of his father through a bloodless coup. Just like young Mishiko (Saakashsvilli) threw overboard his “adopted father” and former (duly elected by 70-80% of the votes) president of Georgia Shevarnadze and took power in a coup.

            Further, Georgians live in a myth, substituting it with the reality. One such myth is that King David, the most famous king, was Georgian. Actually, he was NOT Georgian at all. His grandmother was Armenian (Mariam); his mother was Alan, i.e. Ossetian (Borena). His father… who the heck knows, but surely he was a mix of different ethnic groups and surely did not have “pure” Georgian blood. But just mention the facts and Georgians get into an unhealthy mix of rage, angst, hate, antagonism and mysticism. LOL If you want to add insult to the injury remind them that historically Georgian Bagratids (to which David belonged) were the offspring of Armenian Bagradits and all hell breaks loose. There is something sick in the Georgian soul, more like pathology. The Bagratids, who ruled Armenia (as well as Georgia), according to the foremost Armenian historian, Movses of Khorene, had Jewish blood; however Armenians don’t take it in a hostile or unhealthy way. So what, they were Jewish… On the contrary, Georgians get into apoplesy – how can Armenians rule us and bring Georgia to its Golden Age. It is unacceptable!?
            Just stating the historical fact that Tiflis, presently Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, was an Armenian town, with majority Armenian population for many centuries, makes you a public enemy number one, especially among the “academics.”

            Moreover, Georgians were Russophobes for a while now. They actually supported Chechens in their struggle agaisnt Russia, including actual recognition of the “Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.” Think about that…

            In addition, King David’s distinguished achievement was taking part in the Crusades by defeating the Seljuks (i.e. present day Turks) with the help, guidance and patronage of the Crusaders (i.e. today’s NATO). But today, the little prick and a big loser, Mishiko Saakashvilli is taking part in a new Crusade against Russia with the help of his old-new patron (NATO). Ajara, the autnomomous region, has been occupied all but in name by Turks. The little boy, called “king Saakashvilli,” did not study history well. His history is rusty, as is most Georgian “academics” and “historians.” But he failed in math as well, by not calculating properly the balance of power in Caucases. So, yes Georgians don’t excell in either math/science or liberal arts.

            Furthermore, I can write more about Ossetians and Abhkazians, and the “benevolent dictatorship of the brotherly Georgians,” but this will suffice. For now.

            Lastly, it is very likely (80% odds) that Russia will intervene militariliy in Georgia during or after the upcoming parliamentary elections. Sadly, Kremlin still thinks it can control Georgia “intact,” which is unlikely based on the Georgian antagonism or outright hate against the “barbarian occupiers from the north.” A much better strategic outcome would be to create small buffer states, by dividing Georgia and creating the Republic of Mengrelia, The Republic of Ajara, The Republic of Javakh (or outright reunion with Armenia, including certain adjacent areas), The Republic of Borchali (or outright renion with Azerbaijan); expand Ossetia (through Gori and the surrounding areas, where Ossetians live) and create a land bridge to Armenia (Russia’s only ally in Caucasus) and further connect to Iran, Iraq and Syria (to complete the Shi’a crescent) against the Sunni semilunar geographic mass. This will make MS dream of turning Georgia into Singapore come true; Georgia will become a city state with Tbilisi and a few surrounding “uezds.”

            • @John: I read in a biography of Stalin that in his final years he only trusted Mengrelians around him. (Beria was Mengrel, of course.) Seems odd, though, because of the traditional rivalry between Kartvelians and Mengrels. Caucasian politics = complicated.

              • Dear Yalensis,

                I think this has to be wrong since one of the last purges of the Stalin years was the so called Mingrelian Affair of 1951 and 1952, which targeted Mingrelians within the Georgian Communist Party. They were accused of harbouring secessionist tendencies and of being in contact with the anti Soviet Georgian diaspora, which was at that time based in Paris. It seems that lots of Georgian officials of Mingrelian background were arrested though all were rehabilitated after Stalin died.

                As I understand it there is considerable uncertainty as to the motive behind the Mingrelian Affair. Beria himself was a Mingrelian and it used to be assumed (and by many it still is) that he was its ultimate target. According to this theory Stalin was becoming increasingly suspicious of Beria and the Mingrelian Affair and the Doctors’ Plot were supposedly part of Stalin’s plan first to discredit and then to destroy Beria. I have never understood the logic of this given that as we now know Beria had plenty of opponents within the security agencies so that Stalin could presumably have dismissed him or had him arrested and could have appointed someone else to his place whenever he wanted. I gather that an alternative view now sees the Mingrelian Affair as the result of a power struggle within the Georgian Communist Party organisation. Either way there is no doubt of Stalin’s personal involvement, which makes it difficult to think that he trusted Mingrelians more than others or indeed at all.

            • Dear John,

              Thanks for this.

              I don’t know what will happen but what I would like to see is for Georgia to remain united and to become a stable, democratic and prosperous country, which I think it can. A glance at the map shows why it would also be a good idea for Georgia to develop good relations with Russia. Certainly I don’t think the fragmentation of Georgia serves anybody’s interests least of all Russia’s, which can hardly want a swarm of unstable and perpetually feuding ethnic statelets spread across the Transcaucasus.

              • Dear Alexander,

                In geopolitics hopes and wishes do not count. It is what it is. So there are two
                options: (1) Georgia in the Russian orbit of influence, (2) Georgia in the anti-Russian orbit of influence. It is not in Russia’s interest to have a state which not only supported Chechens in their bloody war against Russia, but formally recognized the “Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.” That, my friend, is a DANGER of immense magnitude! Russia’s loss of North Caucases will be devastating… If you look at history, you see that this region is so important, so critical that Ivan IV, the real founder of the Russian empire, who understood geopolitics well, advanced south from Muscovy. If you look at the present, Russia’s leaders repeatedly state that it is unacceptable to have NATO bases in Georgia. There are several theories of the 080808 war, but regardless of the motives and intentions, having a foreign state (Georgia) bomb and kill your (Russian) peacekeepers does not guarantee your security. Now the best outcome Russia’s generals wish or hope is to have a “united” Georgia under its “zone of special interests.” The defeat of MS and his nationalist party in the upcoming parliamentary elections is the surest way to achieve it. Sadly, it is UNLIKELY (and the switch from presidential to parlimentary elections was a shrewd move by Georgian nationalists). They are steadily marching toward Brussels and away from Moscow. It was correctly pointed out that economically Georgia would be better off trading with fUSSR; but that’s not what the majority of Georgians want. Again, the rational approach is to trade with Russia, et.al, but the hatred of Russia (having a president of a neighboring state call you a “Mongoloid race”) is almost pathological. You should read the Georgian forums, oh boy … I share your concern about a unified Georgia, but the facts do not support that. Thus, the ONLY other way to prevent foreign bases in your southern border is to create additional buffer zones (like South Ossetia or Abhkazhia). It is not the ideal solution, but it is the PRACTICAL solution. We shall see how the events unfold, but the future in the Caucasus is not promising!
                P.S. I am not mentioning the Sunni vs. Shi’a alliance and the orchestrated attack on Syria, Iran, etc. which is contrary to Russia’s interests and in accord to US plans. Guess who is stopping the land bridge between Russia and its Shi’a allies? You guessed it – our friend Georgia.

                Best regards.

        • I got my historical GDP figures from Angus Maddison (1990 International Geary-Khamis dollars).

          In 1990, Armenia was at $6066, Georgia at $7616. (No national figures for 1989, but total USSR economy declined by 2% in 1989, so I used that for all nations for that year). Armenia reached a trough in 1993 at $2979; Georgia reached a trough in 1994 at $2222. Armenia overtook its Soviet-era peak in 2003; Georgia was still below its Soviet-era peak at $5984 by 2008. Data for growth for the past three years was taken from the IMF and applied to each country.

          (For comparison, Russia started with $7779 in 1990, troughed at $4475 in 1998, and recovered to $9111 by 2008).

          I find these figures credible. There is a stereotype that Georgians enjoyed well above average living standards in the USSR, and when both Putin and a Georgian prof writing for a Russian liberal newspaper agree on that, there probably isn’t much room for argument.

          • Dear Anatoly,

            I have to say from everything I have seen and heard these figures look completely credible to me as well.

          • Doug M. says:

            My figures are using 1995 dollars and a nominal exchange rate (which is why they’re like half the size of yours, I expect). They’re also for 1987, which could explain part of the discrepancy — by 1990 Armenia had already been hit by the the earthquake. I don’t think mutual ethnic cleansing between them and Azerbaijan had really hit high gear yet, though, so refugees shouldn’t have been a major issue.

            My figures show a 6% difference; yours show a 25% difference. Did the earthquake really whack 15% off Armenia’s economy? Hm,

            Also, don’t forget that figures for Georgia are including South Ossetia and Abkhazia. South Osettia’s contribution to the Georgian SSR’s economy was pretty minimal, but Abkhazia’s was significant.

            Doug M.

    • I have also read a lot of articles about Saakashvili discrimination against Armenian minority. Actually, in the Gruzian administrative region of Samstkhe-Javakheti, ethnic Armenians are in the majority, to the tune of 54%, as this Wikipedia article explains. This region actually borders Armenia, so by all rights the Armenian border should have been drawn to include this area.
      I noted in a previous post on Mark’s blog, that Bolsheviks took ethnic “right to self-determination” very seriously, this was a core value of the Leninist ideology, and (unlike the British, who in their colonies deliberately drew inappropriate boundaries to keep different groups at loggerheads with each other), Bolshies were very serious about drawing appropriate boundaries that everybody could live with, regard as fair, and reduce conflict. In fact, Stalin’s expertise in the “nationalities” issue was one of his trump cards and helped him rise high in the Communist Party hierarchy. And, even though I don’t like Stalin much, I did concede that overall he did a pretty decent job of crafting these borders. However, he did make a couple of mistakes. One of them, I believe, was this Armenian region. By every definition (even Woodrow Wilson’s), Samtskhe-Javakheti should have been part of Armenia. Instead, the Armenians there got stuck with being part of Gruzia. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, except that Saakashvili really has been pretty mean to the Armenians. Not killing them, or anything like that. But petty meanness, like suppressing their language and schools, stuff like that.

      • Dear Yalensis,

        I think another mistake Stalin made was in giving Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The reason this happened was twofold. First the Red Army when it advanced through the Transcaucasus did so from Baku. The result is that it because it occupied Nagorno Karabakh before it reached Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh was “temporarily” attached for administrative purposes to Baku instead of Yerevan. The Bolsheviks promised the Armenians that Nagorno Karabakh would be transferred to Armenia but this never happened because of opposition from Kemal Attaturk’s government in Turkey with which the Soviets were at that time in de facto alliance, which did not want a strong Armenia even within Soviet borders.

        The Armenians never reconciled themselves to the separation of Nagorno Karabakh and I gather that shortly before he died Stalin decided to revisit the question and appointed Georgi Malenkov to investigate the matter. However Stalin died before the matter was decided and no subsequent Soviet leader had the authority to force through the change in the face of Azerbaijan’s opposition.

        • Alexander,

          I’m not sure if this is correct. The Red Army occupied and conquered Azerbaijan in April/May 1920. They then took Armenia seven months later, in November and early December of that year. The Armenian campaign was nearly bloodless and was over in a single week, so I don’t think it’s very significant that the advance took place through Nagorno.

          Also, the independent Armenians had been vigorously trying to ethnically cleanse the Azeris out of Armenian regions in 1919-20. The campaign in Nagorno got stopped early because the British (during their very brief period of influencing affairs in the southern Caucasus) had ordered General Andranik to cut it out. Andranik, for complex reasons of internal Armenian politics, did not enjoy the support of the Armenian government in Yerevan, even though he had just finished a brisk bout of ethnic cleansing in Zangezur (what’s now southern Armenia). So he had to call it off and march away, leaving the Azeris unslaughtered. This is why a large Azeri minority remained in Nagorno-Karabakh for another 75 years. But the Armenians weren’t too happy about it. So the initial assignment of the province to Azerbaijan may simply have been because assigning it to Armenia would have resulted in a bloodbath as soon as the Soviet authorities were distracted.

          Doug M.

          • Dear Doug,

            You must discuss it all with Bert Vaux one day. As I said he is the expert on Armenia not me. As with all these questions there is obviously bitter dispute but I do not think your account and mine actually contradict each other.

    • Also is financial support for Armenia from the diaspora really greater than the very substantial financial support Georgia gets from the EU and the US?

      Actually, I think this is a very relevant point. Georgia’s GDP is only about $12 billion or so. It is getting more than $1 billion from various donors per year since 2008. These are gargantuan sums relative to its economic size; I find it hard to imagine the Armenian diaspora contributes relatively more.

      • Jennifer Hor says:

        Over US$1 billion per year in financial support for a small country with a GDP of US$12 billion is tremendous and makes me wonder where most of that aid is going. The idealistic right-hemisphere side of my brain wishes it’s going towards improving infrastructure, social services and education at tertiary, secondary and primary school levels, investing in agriculture and industry, and forming trade links with other Black Sea countries. The hard-nosed, left-hemisphere side of my brain reckons much of the aid is getting locked into contracts with the US and EU countries to buy military technology and playing host to US and Israeli military advisors.

        Georgia will find itself in the same mess as Greece is in now, being forced to fulfill its contracts to buy military technology from the same EU countries (France and Germany) that are telling it to reduce spending on education and social services.

      • Well from the tertiary enrollment statistics above (which are confirmed by the Georgian stats office itself), it’s pretty clear that tertiary education is one place where they are NOT going.

        You’re probably right on the military stuff. After all, a big chunk of their hardware was smashed up or captured in 2008, it has to be re-established if Saakashvili still entertains hopes of getting S. Ossetia/Abkhazia back (which of course he does judging by his speeches).

        • Jennifer Hor says:

          I’d say the military technology and training will not only replace what Georgia lost in 2008 but will also prepare Georgian soldiers to participate in a US-led invasion of Iran should that happen.

          I was aware already that Georgia had soldiers serving in Iraq – I saw that stupid Renny Harlin film “5 Days of War” where a Georgian military unit rescues a group of reporters in the opening scenes – so I’m not surprised that President Obama has proposed to Saakashvili that the US will support him in his re-election presidential bid in 2013 if he will allow American troops to be stationed in Georgia. The link is here:

          Having American troops in such a compliant ally as Georgia with the aim perhaps of establishing a permanent military base there would be convenient for the US in the event Kyrgyzstan refuses to renew the American lease on Manas air base in 2014 which seems likely.

          • Thanks for Rozoff article, @Jennifer, this is interesting stuff. I had read in other sources about current military preparations and building spree going on in Gruzia. Speculation that Gruzian territory has been picked as staging ground and also to receive wounded soldiers back after land assault on Iran. However, I wonder at the numbers of hospital beds: Rozoff quotes Gruzian oppositionist the number of 30 new military hospitals with 20 beds each. If I do my math correctly, that is only 600 beds. Surely there will be thousands, if not tens of thousands of wounded soldiers in such an assault? Anyhow, it seems to me that Americans regard Gruzian territory and people as completely disposable.

            • Jennifer Hor says:

              I just checked that reference again myself and that’s the number of hospitals opened in Georgia last December. The analyst did also say that other new military sites were being built and current ones being modernised in Vaziani, Marneuli and Batumi so these might have clinics and hospitals added to them. Probably the most serious casualties will be flown to Landstuhl military hospital and similar hospitals in Germany. There’s the possibility that the US will rely more on drone attacks than it has done so far in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. I’ve never been to Iran – my cousin went there once with her then boyfriend to meet his family but that was more than a decade ago – but from I what I hear, it’s very mountainous in the north near the border with Azerbaijan and the Americans won’t wish to risk sending soldiers or pilots there. I agree with you, the Americans are treating Georgia and Georgians like trash.

          • I’m pretty sure Sack o’ Shvili cannot stand for election again as president owing to constitutional limits on presidential terms; he’s already in his second. I understood that to be why he has been beavering away at constitutional reform, with a view to making the president mostly a figurehead while the bulk of power is vested in the Prime Minister – which office he intends to occupy.

            It’s only sick and evil when Putin does it.

  7. I must say I first really started noticing Georgia’s coming nightmare at an otherwise forgettable conference at the Univ of New Brunswick back in the late 80s. We were addressed by a Georgian politician . He told us, quoting Hegel of all people, that national identity was the prime component of the human psyche, that Ossetians were as foreign to GE as Cameroonians would be in Kent, the Abkhazians were living on Georgian territory as was evidenced by the number of churches there and the Ajars were just Christian Georgians who had turned Muslim. I was the summing-up speaker and said that the 19th Century form of nationalism (one language one people one territory) was obsolete in Europe but had been frozen by ML and was now appearing. I watched him as I spoke and could see that he was thinking what does this dumb Canadian, whose ancestors were living in trees and eating each other when Georgia was a mighty civilisation, know about anything? This guy is still intermittently active in the crazy opposition — he thinks SK is a Russian stooge.
    I thought to myself that the future of an independent GE is not going to be a happy one.

  8. Senor Equis says:

    DR/AK, just an FYI that Senor Equis has been hit with the ban hammer over at Streetwise Professor. I guess he got tired of me challenging his Twitter buddies, including the Cointelpro wannabe/Ron Paul libeler Reginald Quill and Liberty Lynx, to a cage match on who’s tougher on Uncle Sam when it comes to civil liberties, the Constitution and all those things they pretend to care about.

    Mr. X

    • LOL. I just checked, and I appear to have been banned too. It’s all for the better though, trolling the SWP hive was getting addictive. More time to produce original content here.

  9. Senor Equis says:

    Also I would guestimate he did not like me pointing out the creeping ties between Moscow and Jerusalem, including, if that story about Israeli use of Azerbaijan bases had any validity, that Moscow winked at that. And perhaps the Russian 58th army received crates of ultra modern equipment with Hebrew lettering on it…

  10. I wrote something about this back in 2008. Hang on a sec… ah, here we go.

    “Saakashvili was young, energetic, and started off making all the right moves. Does anyone remember when he fired all the traffic cops? That was brilliant. And then there was the whole Ajaria thing. Hardly anyone has mentioned it, but Saakashvili managed to finesse one separatist region back into the fold without bloodshed. And he made a major dent in corruption — which is to say, it dropped from “universal and crippling” to “nearly universal and a huge problem”. And he said all the right things about liberalization and modernization and planting the seeds of European values in the stony soil of the Caucasus.

    “But then…

    “The first straw in the wind — the first thing that made me say ‘uh-oh’ — was his treatment of the Armenian minority. There are two or three hundred thousand Armenians in Georgia, and they’ve been there since forever. They’re not very assimilated, but they are very well integrated — bilingual, tend to be educated and employed, don’t make a lot of problems. They’re no sort of threat to the state: they have no separatist ambitions (for one thing, they’re too geographically dispersed), and Armenia has made it clear that it wouldn’t support anything like that. They did have some modest and negotiable requests: more autonomy, Armenian-language schools, the usual minority stuff.

    “Well: Saakashvili just dumped on them. Gave them nothing. Smacked down their requests — treated them as borderline treasonable — and tightened the screws on small but symbolically important stuff like bilingual testimony in court, double citizenship, and the use of the Armenian alphabet in public. Basically made it clear that he wanted them to assimilate or get the hell out to Armenia.

    “That was the first thing. The second thing had zero practical impact but, for me was a huge red flag. Combined with the treatment of the Armenians, it’s what made me say “okay, wait a minute, I think there’s a problem here”.

    “The second thing was when Saakashvili rehabilitated Gamsakhurdia as a national hero. Which is the official line today: Gamsakhurdia was the noble, misunderstood father of free Georgia. Sure, he made mistakes, but his intentions were always the best! And it was evil outside (Russian) influences that brought him down.”

    — Context: this was part of an article discussing Gamsakhurdia, who I think wins the hotly contested prize for “most incompetent first generation post-Soviet leader”. Seriously: Gamsakhurdia was such a huge, horrible, and obvious disaster for Georgia that any attempt to rehabilitate him was a huge sign that Something Was Very Wrong. And this came on top of the Armenian stuff, which suggested either a very narrow and rigid mind at work (bad) or someone who felt threatened very easily (worse). In retrospect, it looks like both were true. Alas for poor Georgia, a perfectly nice country!

    Doug M.

    • Dear Doug,

      Thanks for this. It corroborates what Bert Vaux told me.

      Am I right in thinking by the way that Gamsakhurdia was also something of a literary figure, possibly a writer or a critic? I say this because there is so much about modern Georgia that reminds me of Greece where reverence for the national literature (which is actually very fine both in its ancient and modern form) far too easily morphs into xenophobia and hypernationalism.

      • He was a philologist (and so, as I recall, was the guy I mentioned above. Seem to be a lot of philologists in GE (I’ve met others as well I think).
        As to incompetent post-Sov leaders, you shouldn’t forget Landsbergis.

        Each BTW was a certified dissident in the Sov days

      • Gamsakhurdia was not only a literary figure himself — he was the son of one of Georgia’s greatest 20th century writers. As a result, he had a bad case of Great Man’s Son Syndrome.

        Gamsakhurdia was also a dissident, in that Brezhnev-era literary / nationalist dissident sort of way. As a teenager, he got thrown in a Soviet psychiatric ward for a while; as an adult, he did some time in jail; in both cases, Daddy’s influence probably saved him from more serious consequences. Meanwhile he built a modest career as a writer and translator while constantly, endlessly feuding with other Georgian literary figures. It’s a very late Soviet kind of biography.

        A lot of literary figures ended up becoming prominent in the first generation of post-Soviet leaders.

        • [comment cut off]

          Some literary figures turned out OK (Vaclav Havel) while some were mediocre (Rugova down in Kosovo). Gamsakhurdia had all the worst qualities of a provincial intellectual and none of the redeeming ones.

          Doug M.

      • Viktor Orbán too was a certified dissident. The Kaczyńskis. I can understand the Russophobia, but what is it with most of them turning into raging nationalists and authoritarians once they come to power?

        • Some did, some didn’t. Havel did okay. Ibrahim Rugova was stubborn, vain, and not very bright but he wasn’t any sort of authoritarian and he was about as close to a moderate non-nationalist as you could find in Kosovo. (Not very close, fair enough.)

          In Bulgaria, Zhelyu Zhelev — intellectual, writer, and dissident who had spent most of the 1980s under house arrest — became Bulgaria’s first post-Communist President. He served two terms, and by all accounts did a perfectly decent job. No cult of personality, no authoritarianism, not even especially corrupt. Went into a quiet retirement and works for the World Justice Project.

          Oh, and everyone has forgotten it, but Germany’s current President — Joachim Gauck — was a dissident in East Germany, back in the day. His father was a Gulag survivor, which would entitle him to be a raving Russophobe, but no — he’s a sensible, likable guy, politically moderate by German standards (which puts him well to the left of almost anyone in the US, of course), and with no particular biases against any nation as far as can be seen. — Well, he is still pretty anti-Communist, but that’s pretty understandable. Anyway, neither a raging nationalist nor an authoritarian.

          Viktor Orban… well, jackass nationalism was one way to express dissidence, and vice versa. So the two got grafted together, and could only slowly be untangled. Same with Gamsakhurdia.

          But really, the key variable is the political system. Look at Yugoslavia. Milosevic was a party apparatchik, Tudjman an army officer who had danced right along the edge of acceptable (nationalist) dissidence, and Izetbegovic was an outright dissident. Once in power, all three turned into raving assholes.

          Doug M.

    • And he made a major dent in corruption — which is to say, it dropped from “universal and crippling” to “nearly universal and a huge problem”.

      I’m not sure that’s a valid characterization.

      Background: Ages ago, I was under the vague impression that Georgia was very corrupt, more so than Russia itself. (That’s an old general Russian stereotype of Georgia, and almost certainly inaccurate). So back then I’d have agreed with you. Obviously when I got access to concrete data I changed my mind.

      A look through TI’s Corruption Barometer data would indicate that the percentage of Georgians giving bribes in 2004 was 6%, 7% in 2005, which is very low by both CEE and developing country standards, and at First World levels of 2% in 2009 and 3% in 2010. For comparison, Russia and the more corrupt CEE countries like Hungary or Romania typically range in the 20%’s; 18% in Greece, 13% in Italy, 5% in the US, 1% in the UK.

      These stats indicate to me that despite its poverty, for whatever reason corruption, or at least petty corruption, was never a major issue in Georgia like it is in virtually all its neighbors. I don’t know why but there it is. The already very low figures in 2004, before Saakashvili had a chance to do anything, implies that the petty level corruption problem was already mostly solved under Shevardnadze, if it had ever been an issue in the first place. So what it implies actually happened is that corruption went from being a minor annoyance to not even that.

      Granted, the Corruption Barometer doesn’t measure elite level corruption, but estimating that is all guesswork and supposition. I.e., unreliable. I would imagine high level corruption is in any case correlated with petty, as stealing a lot would be harder to get away with in an essentially honest society.

  11. Dear Patrick and Doug,

    All this is very sad. I have never been to Georgia but a lot of people in Greece I know have and many Greeks used to live there in the Soviet period though I suspect most have now emigrated. The accounts I used to get were highly favourable and I used to think after the USSR collapsed that it might be one ex Soviet republic that would do well as an independent state.

    Touching on what Patrick Armstrong is saying, the delusional quality he refers to is unfortunately sadly familiar to someone from Greece. There too and for far too long we have engaged in a flight from reality, believing that the achievements of our ancestors thousands of years ago mean something in the hard modern world of economics and international diplomacy when in truth they mean almost nothing.

    • @alex: I have been to Gruzia, well, just to Tbilisi (and just for a couple of days), so I can’t claim to be a big expert. All I have is my impressions, which were extremely positive, Great scenery, nice people, wonderful food.

      • Dear Yalensis,

        Thanks for this. It is entirely in line with what I have heard.

        I have had Georgian food in Moscow and London (it was better in Moscow) and I also thought it was wonderful.

  12. And lo and behold today even the NYT (usually the very last place to learn something) has a piece about SK that is not at all flattering. Slowly slowly reality overwhelms the propaganda effort.


  13. Senor Equis says:


    Yes. And I say that as someone who didn’t like your AGW comments, but I’m sure that Lord Monckton isn’t worried about folks like you as opposed to Eurocrats with real teeth. I’m surprised they haven’t kicked Nigel Farage out of the European parliament. In any case, SWP has truly gone off the Russophobic deep end after a somewhat moderating start.

    • I only go where the facts lead me.

      I try not to pay attention either to conservative taboos (e.g. on AGW), or liberal taboos (e.g. on gun rights, or HBD).

      If some people dislike that, well, then can always go read other blogs. 🙂

  14. Senor Equis says:

    And apparently paranoid conspiracy theories from SWP’s Twitter pals re: Ron Paul supporters being closeted Commie/Nazis and goldbugs as agents of foreign powers were fine and dandy, as was Anders’ poorly written stuff. But at least he got my jokes about him posting at 3:30 a.m. Oslo time right on schedule.

    • I think what sent SWP off the deep end was Obama’s election. You could talk seriously to the guy then.

      Imagine your political faction owning *all* power at the federal level (The presidency, both the House and the Senate, and the Supreme Court), only to be down to the Supremes in 2009.

      The first indicator of irrational hatred of Obama was his slamming candidate Obama’s positions on Afghanistan while having no criticism of the Bush policies *that were visibly losing the war*

  15. “I think what sent SWP off the deep end was Obama’s election. You could talk seriously to the guy then.” Sounds about right. He clearly has little to no problems with the continuities from the Bush Administration to the Obama Admin i.e. Gitmo, TARP, mass drone killings, bribing Pakistan to keep supply lines open to Afghanistan despite ISI’s complicity in killing Americans (anything to avoid relying on the hated Russkies for Afghan logistics), John Warner Defense Authorization Act getting upgraded to the NDAA, or scorn for the anti-war Right, which is not supposed to exist and ergo must be secretly totalitarian or agents of a foreign power cuz Ron Paul liked RT’s Dina Gusovsky.

    And that’s just a short list. By Russophobic deep end, I mean any theory no matter how cockamamie gets some credit by him so long as it makes the Kremlins look bad. For example this latest Jamestown Foundation (a front for CIA wannabes, if not people who were deemed comptetent enough to actually work for the Agency) screed he cites about the Russian 58th Army securing the Russian bases in Armenia by rolling tanks through Tblisi. It makes absolutely no sense from a mil or logistics point of view, much less politically.

  16. The unemployment figures for Georgia are inconsistent with economic growth. This must be some new economy voodoo where everything is rosy but you have depression level (20%) unemployment levels. What is Georgia’s economic growth based on? Has there been an increase in manufacturing? How about wine production and other exports?

    With economies this small, it is easy to produce large effects with small capital flows. That billion dollars in aid is likely not the whole story and even if it ends up back in the west’s pockets it can still raise the GDP level.

    Potemkin economy, indeed.

    • Official stats indicate an approximately threefold increase in industrial production from 2004-2011.

      I don’t think they’re necessarily inconsistent with the poor employment stats. Saak was firing people right, left and center during 2004-07, and then the crisis approached and offed some more. I would also venture to say that Georgian youth is becoming less employable in general, if the education stats are anything to go by. That said, those who actually managed to hang onto a job appear to be doing relatively well.

  17. Leon Lentz says:

    Some of the article’s assertions could be published in “Da Russophobe”, especially statements like: “Georgian democracy is not much better than that of Russia.” Georgia has acquired and used a crowd control weapon from US which burns human skin, imprisoned almost all dissidents, attempted to genocide South Ossetian population, murdered children in the hospital there, participated in the aggression wars together with US and they are better than peaceful, completely democratic Russia? Georgia is even worse than US which passed Hitler style NDAA laws and the “patriot Act”, the eminent domain. With 90% of its history being either slavery, segregation or Indian genocide, with recent brutality against OWS movement, US is one of the worst civil rights disasters in the world and Georgia is not much better. Do not touch Russia with the unclean hands of warped Western propaganda.

  18. Leon Lentz says:

    Concerning all the talk about “democracy”: according to the West, especially US, it is an all encompassing term which in reality means “everything our large corporations want from you is delivered to us”. Yeltsin, who had an artillery and tanks fire at the democratically elected Duma is a “democrat” , because he gave free reign to Mafia thugs who, in turn,allowed the US a free access to Russian oil, gas and foreign policy. In the recent admission of Medvedev, Zyuganov was the real winner in 1996 Russian Presidential election which was falsified with the American help. James Carville, the Clinton campaign and PR stooge, was called, just before that election, to Russia to “repair” Yeltsin’s 12% positive rating. Apparently, all the propaganda and American style media spins were not enough and US/Mafia had to resort to an incredible mass scale election fraud, just as in the infamous 2000 US Presidential elections. On the other hands, Putin, who is supported by the clear majority, falsified the elections according to the West. And Khodorkovsky, a murderer and a thief, who, in the eyes of the Nuvo Riche despising Russian public opinion got what he deserved, was ostensibly a viable challenger to Putin. What a joke! He would have gotten 10% of the Mafia vote at best which would translate into a fraction of one percent. Russia is being attacked in a malicious distorting propaganda war in the Western media. The goal is to weaken Russia’s independence, to steal her dignity of the only real winner in WWII and ultimately take control of her mineral wealth. All this is the American grand design to control the world, to turn all people into slaves of US and West’s financial and economic powers, which brainwash, dehumanize and debase people all over the West and murder and rape in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.