Georgian Study Visit to Berlin

Nine participants from Georgia spent the first week of July touring the institutions of Berlin to learn about political pluralism and the German experience of building a consensual political culture. Three of the participants were members of DRI’s partners in Georgia, ForSet and Georgia’s Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), one was the winner of GYLA and DRI’s competition for articles on media and polarisation, and five were winners of the communicathon organised by DRI and ForSet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The group attended meetings with leaders from different civil society organisations, think tanks, media groups, political parties and government institutions. The topics ranged from the role of media in pluralised atmospheres, the current political environment in Georgia and Germany’s history with political polarisation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the places the group visited included:

The participants all left Berlin feeling like they had a stronger idea of German political history. One participant said that they felt the “German example of reflecting on [the] past and creating a functioning pluralist democracy serves as an incredible lesson for young democracies such as Georgia.” Another lesson taken away from the week was that improving democratic tendencies inside Georgian political parties and equipping party members with the necessary tools to combat polarisation is key. The group was additionally very impressed by their meetings with the various media watchdogs and fact-checking organisations like Correctiv, Die Medienanstalten and Deutsche Welle. Overall, the participants left feeling that while they can not copy the German solutions to extreme political polarisation and paste it onto Georgian politics, they can interpret bits and pieces that they learned through the Georgian context.

The study visit was organised as part of the project “Strengthening political pluralism in Georgia – phase III”, part of the German governmental programme “Expanding Cooperation with Civil Society in the Eastern Partnership Countries and Russia”, which is funded by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.

Photocredit: DRI

DRI Annual Report 2018

Our Annual Report 2018 is out. It gives an overview of our activities and our organisational development.

In 2018 we continued our work on local governance, constitutions, human rights, rule of law and human rights. Social media monitoring during elections has become an important part of our activity across the countries we work in. Last year we worked with different actors, including government, civil society, election administration and universities.  We regularly consulted and engaged them in discussions to identify their needs and support them in their work to strengthen democracy.

Download the DRI Annual Report 2018

Read the 2018 annual audit report here.

Polarised Country and Sacrified Democracy

“It’s them that I have a problem with – how they poured water over the United National Movement’s mill.”

This statement was made by the leader of the ruling party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, during an interview with TV Imedi on 9 April. The state was made about the MPs who left his team, in particular Eka Beselia, Gedi Popkhadze and Levan Gogichaeshvili. These three MPs had been actively opposing the United National Movement (UNM) during their time as the opposition, later while in government, and recently again after leaving Georgian Dream. Their opposition comes even though they share similar opinions with UNM regarding the appointment of judges in the Supreme Court.

On the other hand, the opinion of UNM and this trio on this particular topic coincide with opinions of many political powers and non-governmental organizations. The government refers to them as the ones “pouring water on UNM’s mill”. Many statements made by Georgian Dream regarding the appointment of judges can be cited to prove the similarities in opinions. The campaign launched against the non-governmental sector is especially interesting because it shows that neutral institutions who are critical of authorities are a supporter of the UNM and an enemy of the ruling party. What people fail to mention is that this is a joint opinion and has nothing to do with supporting the UNM in particular. In reality, the ruling party is on one side and everyone who does not share the Georgian Dream opinions on every issue a-priori unconditionally is on the other. This side is deemed “the enemy” by Georgian Dream.

In this case, it is easiest not to include judiciary reform benefits or disadvantages because it is an entirely separate topic. Instead, there is greater interest in the attitudes of judiciary reforms towards those who disagree with their opinions. The issue of appointing Supreme Court judges can demonstrate the polarisation of Georgian political (and non-political) spaces. Analysis of the polarisation in Georgia can help identity factors contributing to the problem, which can in turn point to a potential solution.

“Those who are not with me are my enemies.”

The popularity of this phrase has been observed in many aspects of everyday Georgian life, from politics to current media to human relations. Regarding academia, there are numerous international research publications and reports that assess the current situation in Georgia as alarming. These reports often find Georgia to be one of the most polarised democracies in Europe: a sentiment that has even been repeated by European Council resolutions. The International organization, Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders), recently published their annual report on global freedom of press. This document recognized the polarisation in Georgia as a significant problem facing press freedom.

Additionally, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and Democracy Reporting International have published a joint report on the country’s extremely polarised environment and ways in which to improve it.

Although polarisation is currently a very acute problem, it is not new to Georgia. Instead, the problem has very deep roots that likely extend back to the Soviet period where anyone with opposing views of the government was considered the ‘enemy’. This was also problematic because there was no free press to discuss differing views openly. After the restoration of Georgian independence, the polarised political situation remained when UNM came to power. A deeply entrenched resentment towards different opinions has led UNM to distrust even their own supporters – a situation that has been taken advantage of by the Russian Federation. Although the political polarisation in Georgia is ultimately a very broad issue, a critical factor is the ruling party’s perception of differing opinions has resulted in significant feelings of animosity. This political divide has also affected societal relations – going so far as to cause divorces amongst married couples.

Radicalized confrontation continued since the Soviet era, and the aforementioned quote has helped even current governments come into power. In October 2011, Ivanishvili was quoted saying “middle should be rooted out” during a political campaign interview with Ia Antadze. The is the idea that a person can only be on one side or another and therefore anyone who is not aligned with the ruling party is a “National” or an enemy.

Even though the problem is not a new one, there has been evidence of its recent escalation. While some analysts argue that over-discussion of the problem makes it seem more pronounced, the issue is indeed older and thus more complicated.

Gia Nodia, a political scientist and professor at Ilia University, pointed out that politics in Georgia have always been polarised, but that the topic was discussed at greater length when the term polarise was introduced. “There was a time when people used to be more apathetic, although, in general, more or less activism results in deepening of the polarisation.” Nodia attributes the lack of public trust in the political elite as the main reason for polarisation.

“Criticism of politicians is generally quite popular, and politicians attempt to gain trust through negativity rather than positive issues. Politicians believe that you should attack the opponent in order to obtain scores. The best competition method is to be the most uncompromising towards your opponent.” Nodia notes.

Polarisation in Georgia

Polarisation is not a phenomenon unique to Georgia. Even the labelling of political systems as “left” and “right” is a consequence of this radicalization. However, in western civilizations, it does not imply that the whole country is confronting itself on every level.

Nowadays, the call for ‘rooting out the middle” goes beyond the confrontation between political parties and affects society in many ways. Thus, when discussing polarisation, a primary question is what causes the formation of the so-called Georgian polarisation phenomenon. Emzar Jgerenaia, a sociologist, explains this phenomenon in relation to the behaviour of society.

“Generally, public thinking is a very complex phenomenon with a lot buried deeply. For instance, today in society you can meet the supporters of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Eduard Shevardnadze, Mikheil Saakashvili and Ivanshvili, but we can only see two opposing sides. The reason for this is that every individual considers their own needs and assesses what benefits each political party can offer them. These individual perspectives is one of the reasons that polarisation is created within the society.” Jgerenaia points out.

Political scientists associate the sociological factors to the lack of alternative ideologies that is commonly featured on polarised political environments.

Bakur Kvashilava, Doctor of Political Sciences and a professor at GIPA, points out that “due to political culture peculiarities, a political party may try to demonstrate that it is the only unconditional portrayer of society and people’s will. Accordingly, it is difficult to find compromises between parties, or even decide which is the opposition, such as a party that represents another segment, another layer of the population or another legitimate point of view because each claim to represent the whole nation.”

He believes that the main problem is not the ruling party, but rather that all the actors agree on the subject and then have nothing unique to tell society.

“If we look at our election campaigns, we see that the parties with their own polls were aware that they could not obtain more than 7-8% of the votes. It was these parties that always promised the electorate they would win the majority of the votes because they believed this was the only message that would ensure them at least 7%. These are the parties that believe society will not accept a party or organization that admits it only represents a small segment of the population or that another party could win more votes. Accordingly, this creates a situation where the other side tries to relate the opponent to the enemy of the country, internal or foreign, to win more votes.” Kvashilava mentions.

This poses the question: why would society accept all of this and allow the political parties to radicalise the situation? According to Kvashilava “the society itself expects such behaviour . . . the society expects the political party to unite the country and confront others cooperatively. Society does not recognize that there may be significant differences, such as between employers and employees, or between the youth and elderly in terms of interests. Society believes that these toast-like promises or programs being implemented can make both pensioners and youth happy. So while everybody promises heaven, society prefers to believe those whom they trust on a personal level.”

Therefore, there is no ideology in the country that the parties can dispute about in a way that would help society make a choice between the parties. The easiest approach is to declare each other as enemies in a way that reflects very aspect of life and society.

“This is alarming because while there is talk about destroying the enemy, there is no ongoing discussion about what is better for country development. Instead, the focus is on who is to blame. We are going through cycles where each new government wants to eliminate all the signs of the previous one. Georgian Dream was unable to achieve this and now supporters are dissatisfied that there was not a more complete destruction of the United National Movement. We are going in circles that is negatively reflected in our development.” Nodia explains.

This overall damages the democratisation process and could be contributing to a prolonged transition process.

A key principle of democracy is that democratic decision making needs the incorporation and debate of the differing ideas or opinions provided by the opposition party. If the ruling party views everybody else as an enemy, a consensus between the government and opposition is not achievable. This has been observed during all significant decision-making processes in Georgia, showcased by formal one-party decisions made by the government.

Another important democratic principle is the conditions and freedoms of media and civil society. In Georgia, it is evident that the media is polarised, pro-government and being pressured to refer to the public sector as an enemy. This hinders the potential power of the two actors, which is a serious problem for democratisation.

These two issues, as noted by Kvashilava, can “cause damage to the democracy, as one party is a considered a destructive force which creates a monopolistic democracy. Democracy is abstractly recognized by all political parties as the best form of governance, however, they also believe that democracy can function without opposition parties. Such democracies do not exist. Rather than focusing on discussion, debate and how to best help the electorate, this system operates on the idea that one party is more honest, more or less Georgian, who is the most trustworthy, and what one party can do better than the other. Therefore, the focus is placed on the heads of parties and the trust that comes from an individual, rather than the rationale of the political agenda. It ignores the feasibility of the offer made to the population in favour of private offers and relationships.”

It is noteworthy that these problems are referred to in aforementioned research that considers polarisation as a “significant hinderance for Georgian democratic consolidation.”

Solution Perspectives

When considering such a significant problem, finding the solution is of paramount importance. However, due to the complexity of the problem, some analysts do not see the way out in any immediate timeframe.

“No leverage has yet been identified. The roots are quite deep in political culture. The way out is for the society to have more trust in political elites; however, the presence of polarisation and confrontation only deepens political distrust and drags itself down,” Nodia points out.

Nodia also believes the solution can be sought in emerging public trust towards political elites. Regarding how to raise this trust, Bakur Kvashilava discusses long- and short-term opportunities:

“One issue that may impact trust in an evolutional way is economic development.  When a large part of the population becomes middle class (recent studies have shown that 75% of the population does not represent the middle class) and the middle class becomes critical (at least 40-45%), then more importance will be given to rational understanding of the programs presented by political parties and politicians, along with personal trust. For instance, nobody will believe that, for instance, the decrease of taxes would cause an increase in social and healthcare expenses. This concept must be sold to a population who does not cling to hope but rather calculates whether or not this offer is rational.” Bakur Kvashilava notes.

Kvashilava refers to emerging financial resources as a comparatively short-term perspective: who will consider funding alternative political parties that will not be successful against one concentrated financial power plus administrative resources? This current situation puts competitors in a bad position to act against the ruling party.

“When the parties are able to grant regular members actual rights along with obligations, then these parties will become more dependent on the population. Eventually this will be successfully presented within the government with fewer financial resources. This will be much easier starting in 2024 with the introduction of proportional representation in the Georgian electoral system.”

According to him, if the opposition choses this route, tactics should be correctly selected. For instance, to depend on more members who pay for membership, they must be aware that they will decide who is within the ruling structure of the party. However, according to Kvashilava, even if done this way, achieving victory will be impossible after the first cycle.

“We will have to wait for several cycles to see a change, unless something unexpected happens such as increased opposition party funding. A significant financial resource for the opposition would have a dramatic impact in Georgia. The majority of parties are conformist and still hope for money, but it is out of their control. Nobody knows if money will be provided or where it would come from. Where the money comes from represents a separate problem because it could be to finance the party that favours the interests of our northern neighbour. The way out of this situation is a medium-term problem as well, but the results will not appear immediately. Announcing “I am the third party” will not make you the third one.” Kvashilava points out.

 

Rusa Machaidze

This article was submitted in a contest for journalists organised by DRI, GYLA and ForSet as part of the project “Strengthening political pluralism in Georgia – Phase III” part of the German governmental programme “Expanding Cooperation with Civil Society in the Eastern Partnership Countries and Russia”, funded by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.

The content of this article is the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of DRI.

*The quotes have been edited in their English translation to preserve meaning and enhance clarity.

DRI shrinking space initiative goes international

“The participants are thinking about suing DRI in the ECHR for the over-human treatment of participants”

Extract from the evaluation form

In such relatively young democracies as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, public organisations, initiatives and volunteer groups appear to be the decisive driving force of reforms and committed human rights monitors. Recently, the pressure on such organisations and initiatives from both the government and pseudo-human rights organisations has increased significantly. This pressure negatively affects the efficiency of organisations engaged in holding public authorities accountable and protecting human rights. Such a negative trend is observed in the entire OSCE region, but in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova it has similar roots and mechanisms. DRI’s project in Ukraine aims to tackle this problem.

During the last weekend of May, DRI Ukraine and its long-time partner Freedom House held an international conference devoted to the security of human rights defenders (HRD). The conference was a continuation of the year-long efforts by DRI and Freedom House to strengthen the capacity of civil society organisations, human rights and anti-corruption activists in the field of physical and IT security and communication strategies.

This time DRI brought together ten human rights activists from eight different regions of Ukraine and ten from Georgia and Moldova. Through a combination of discussions and interactive training, the event’s international environment fostered a setting of creative innovation. Here, the participants were able to develop many new ideas on how to minimise risks human rights activists often face.

Quite surprisingly, the conference also became a sort of short-time shelter for the activists who live under permanent pressure. The friendly atmosphere and intensive working sessions helped them to refuel their optimism.

Hopefully, such international forums will remain in the DRI’s portfolio in the future.

 

Overcoming Polarisation – Media Conference in Batumi

On 3 May, on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, a media forum entitled “Overcoming Polarisation in Georgia: lessons learnt, media perspective” was opened in Batumi.

The forum focused on situation of media in Georgia, different aspects of media freedom and the main challenges faced by media. The discussion also addressed the role of the Georgian public broadcaster in a polarised media environment. During the event panel participants reviewed extreme political polarisation in Georgia and discussed solutions and ways forward.

DRI Georgia

During the media form, the Communicathon winning team, Dzialogi, presented their application and received very positive feedback from the forum attendees. The winner of the competition for journalists  was announced, and Lasha Kavtaradze’s article “Media and polarisation” also received positive audience feedback.

The second day of the forum consisted of workshops for regional media, including journalists from Batumi and Kutaisi. One of the workshop findings implemented within the project “Strengthening Political Pluralism in Georgia” was that solution-based journalism could reduce the extreme political polarisation. During the workshop, participants learnt about solution-based journalism and how to apply it in their daily work. Participants also discussed how small media outlets can contribute to more pluralism and what role they can play to reduce polarization.

In the end, the participants of the media forum agreed that in order to neutralise Georgia’s extremely polarised media environment, it is necessary to take concrete steps. The participants concluded that the Public Broadcaster should fulfil its obligations to provide a neutral space and ensure unbiased journalism, work to encourage ethical journalism, and strengthen regional and online media.

Photos provided by DRI Georgia’s Facebook page and Bodie.com from Flickr

Media workshops address extreme political polarisation in Georgia

(For Georgian, please scroll down/ ქართულად იხილეთ ქვემოთ)

Georgian regional media and journalists emphasised a strong need to follow and respect media standards as well as work on promoting critical thinking in order to reduce extreme political polarisation in Georgia.

These are the main conclusions of 6 workshops we held with regional media representatives in February and March. The workshops brought together more than 80 people and took place in 6 cities: Gori, Marneuli, Telavi, Kutaisi, Zugdidi and Batumi. They were organised by our partners GYLA (Georgian Young Lawyer Association) with support from ForSet.

The workshops addressed extreme political polarisation in Georgian media and in the region and also provided theoretical insights on the nature of polarisation (read our report for more information). Also addressed were issues related to post truth and alternative facts, as well as media’s role in fostering a fact-based debate, creating more space for pluralism.

Drawing on our work with media, we also launched a competition for Georgian journalists to submit articles addressing the issue of extreme political polarisation. The winner will be announced in May and will join our communicathon winners for a study trip to Berlin.

 

მედია ვორქშოპები საქართველოში უკიდურესი პოლიტიკური პოლარიზაციის თემას შეეხებოდა

ქართულმა რეგიონალურმა მედიამ და ჟურნალისტებმა ხაზი გაუსვეს მედია სტანდარტების დაცვასა და პატივისცემას, ისევე როგორც კრიტიკული აზროვნების ხელშეწყობას საქართველოში უკიდურესი პოლიტიკური პოლარიზაციის შესამცირებლად.

ეს არის ის შეფასება, რომელიც თებერვალში და მარტში ჩატარებული 6 რეგიონალური მედიის წარმომადგენლების ვორქშოფიდან გავაკეთეთ. ღონისძიებები ჩატარდა ექვს ქალაქში: გორში, მარნეულში, თელავში, ქუთაისში, ზუგდიდსა და ბათუმში და  ერთად შეკრიბა 80 დაინტერესებული პირი. ღონისძიება ორგანიზებული იყო ჩვენი პარტიორების, საია (საქართველოს ახალგაზრდა იურისტთა ასოციაციის) მიერ, ფორსეტის მხარდაჭერით.

ვორქშოფების დისკუსია მიემართებოდა ქართულ მედიასა და რეგიონებში უკიდურეს პოლიტიკურ პოლარიზაციას, განიხილა პოლარიზაციის ბუნების თეორიული ასპექტები (მეტი ინფორმაციისთვის გაეცანით ჩვენს რეპორტს). ამასთან, სადისკუსიო საკითხებს შორის მოექცა ალტერნატიული სიმართლისა და ფაქტების გამოქვეყნება, მედიის როლი ფაქტებზე დაფუძნებულ დებატების წახალისება და პლურალიზმისთვის მეტი სამუშაო სივრცის დათმობა.

მედიასთან მუშაობის გარდა, ქართველი ჟურნალისტებისთვის გამოვაცხადეთ უკიდურეს პოლიტიკურ პოლარიზაციასთან დაკავშირებული სტატიების კონკურსიც. გამარჯვებული მაისში გამოცხადდება და ჩვენი კომუნიკათონის გამარჯვებულებთან ერთად ბერლინში, შემეცნებითი ტურით გაემგზავრება.

Communication: Tackling political polarisation through apps and games in Georgia

DRI brought together 50 participants for a ‘Communicathon’ competition in Tbilisi to design communication campaigns and applications against the extreme political polarisation that pervades Georgia. Two proposals were each awarded a prize and DRI will support their implementation. They include an app that gives users a chance to discuss policy ideas and an interactive video with game features to encourage debate on the local level.

The participants, among them designers, developers, communications specialists and marketing experts, worked together for two days to create solutions addressing the issue of extreme political polarisation in Georgia.

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Ambassador Hubert Knirsch of Germany kicked-off the event, followed by a lecture from Fernando Casal Bertoa, associate professor in Comparative Politics at the University of Nottingham, and a presentation by the chairperson of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), Sulkhan Saladze. They presented the features of extreme political polarisation, its implications, consequences and impact on Georgian society. Recent elections in Georgia raised awareness on the topic and we noticed that compared to last year, extreme polarisation is better understood and more discussed now.

While our project last year mainly focused on raising awareness on the issue, this year we are trying to address the negative effects of extreme polarisation.

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Among other ideas, participants presented video games to foster cooperation between supporters of different parties; a marketing campaign and platform bringing together people who are not supporters of the two leading parties but are interested in politics and want to have their voice heard;  a crowdfunding platform for civic and political initiatives; a chatbot who would engage with users to hear their policy expectations; and  a game that represents the allegorical picture of reality.

This second edition of Communicathon took place on 21-23 December and was organised by DRI, ForSet and GYLA in the framework of the project “Strengthening political pluralism in Georgia – Phase III” part of the German governmental programme “Expanding Cooperation with Civil Society in the Eastern Partnership Countries and Russia”, which is funded by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.

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The high price of extreme political polarisation in Georgia (report)

Fact Finding Report, prepared by  DRI and GYLA [1]

Executive Summary

In the realm of politics, Georgia is extremely polarised. The EU, the Council of Europe, the OSCE/ODIHR and NATO have all identified polarisation as an obstacle to Georgia’s democratic consolidation.[2] The World Bank described it as a serious structural challenge.[3] But, unlike the political divisions that are opening up across Europe, in Georgia there is often no clear ideological distinction between the competing political interests and parties.

At present, the major confrontation occurs between Georgia’s two major political parties: the ruling party Georgian Dream, whose division and internal disputes have led to the resignation of the prime minister, and the former ruling party United National Movement, which has recently split into two parties – the United National Movement and European Georgia. While programmatically they both occupy the centre of the political spectrum, they are consistently at loggerheads. Aside from the Labour Party and the new Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, neither of which has gained significant traction, all of the Georgian parties position themselves at the centre of the political spectrum. Most of the parties offer similar platforms and messages, speaking out in favour of pro-market reforms and declaring Euro-Atlantic integration to be a top foreign policy priority.

Extreme political polarisation has multiple negative effects on the quality of democracy in Georgia. It causes intense delegitimisation, which works to split Georgian society into hostile camps. Additionally, democracy and human rights have at times been side-lined and politically instrumentalised.

While many of the consequences of extreme polarisation create a sort of feedback loop, further reinforcing and extending Georgia’s polarisation, there are historical and institutional root causes of Georgia’s high level of polarisation. Issues such as the political culture and the difficult past must be addressed before Georgia can de-escalate extreme polarisation to strengthen a more issue-based political discourse.

This report is based on the findings of the project “Strengthening Political Pluralism in Georgia” implemented by Democracy Reporting International (DRI) and Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA). The results were collected through media monitoring, consultations workshops and meetings with civil society and media representatives.

Download the fact finding report (English)

Download the fact finding report (Georgian)

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1. Introduction

Despite the fact that political pluralism is an established feature of Georgia,[4] the country has become one of the most polarised democracies in Europe. Polarisation is not a new feature in Georgian politics. The country has experienced several waves of extreme polarisation over the last two decades of democratic transition since the breakdown of the Soviet Union.

After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia faced a decade of economic depression, a war and several conflicts.[5] This period was characterised by fierce rivalry between political forces, including armed confrontations and coups, as well as the use of repression against opponents’ followers. From 1992 Eduard Shevardnadze acted as head of state through a series of positions, eventually with the title of President. Corruption, nepotism, and violent crimes characterised the period of his rule. At this time Georgia topped the list of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International. The turning point came with the rigged elections in 2003, which led to the bloodless “Rose Revolution.”

This period was followed by the United National Movement (UNM) rule under Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency from 2004 to 2013. The UNM was effective in combating low-level corruption, strengthening state institutions and diminishing both organised and petty crime. However, power was concentrated among a small circle of UNM personnel and they often resorted to serious violations of human rights and the rule of law.[6]

After a tense and violent pre-election period, the Georgian Dream (GD) opposition coalition won a victory at the ballot-box and ousted UNM in 2012.[7] Instead of bringing the nation together, this seemingly peaceful transfer of power (the first of its kind in Georgia’s post-independence history) did not soften extreme polarisation. GD’s goal seemed to be to destroy their predecessor, the UNM. In the 2016 parliamentary elections, GD gained the constitutional majority and this shift, along with the subsequent constitutional reform that they initiated, has further polarised Georgia.

2. Extreme Polarisation as a challenge to democracy

Polarisation is often conceptually thought of as a measure of the distance – either ideological or social – between different societal groups.[8] As such, polarisation is an inherent part of any democracy that is characterised by pluralism and diversity based on differences of identities, interests or attitudes. Indeed, a measure of polarisation is necessary in democracies to offer voters identifiable electoral options.

In a democracy, the principle concern is that the differences and competition between different groups, whether in left-right or other manifestations, should be peacefully managed, not eradicated.[9] Politicians often use extreme polarisation as a tool to legitimise themselves (at the expense of others), mobilise supporters and create a solid base of loyal support. If competition goes beyond universally accepted boundaries, democracy may be put at risk or its effectiveness diminished. When polarisation – because of its extent – becomes a challenge rather than a natural feature of democracy, it is referred to as pernicious or extreme polarisation. These are typical features of extreme polarisation:

It goes beyond electoral processes and ordinary political struggle. In situations of extreme polarisation, political competition is not just about mobilising supporters and portraying oneself as preferable to a political rival in the electoral context. Politicians delegitimise their opponents. Instead of policy debates or issue-based discussions, politicians use personal attacks and vilify opponents.

Pre-election rivalry becomes so fierce that trying to engage in dialogue and consensus with those ‘others’ after elections becomes tantamount to betraying one’s own beliefs and supporters. Elections and politics turn into a zero-sum game, where the winner takes all while the loser not only loses power but may also face retribution and persecution. This creates a risk that the losing parties will destabilise the country in order to impede governability and force out the winners,[10] which in turn pushes the winners to see the losers as a critical existential threat that needs to be vanquished.

It affects citizens’ daily lives. When polarisation reaches a pernicious level, it is reproduced at the social level “It sharpens ‘us-versus-them’ identity politics and affects the interpersonal relationships and group interactions of ordinary citizens. Ordinary people internalise the partisan divide in their day-to-day life, society becomes divided between two camps that hardly interact with each other[11] and ordinary people start to put arbitrary labels on people who have different political attitudes. As DRI’s video campaign showed, many Georgians cannot imagine dating somebody with another political belief.

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Perceptions prevail over rational debates. In cases of extreme polarisation, citizens start to respond to policy debates and external developments not through their own judgement, but through their group identities. This “camp-mentality” weakens independent public opinion and has a disinformation effect.[12]

As the camp-mentality grows stronger, citizens’ information becomes more biased and their picture of “political reality” grows less objective. The gap between the “political reality-perceptions” of groups with different political outlooks widens. Individuals with strong political views are more willing to listen to news that confirms their own political beliefs and the analyses of their own party leaders, while – through selective perception – they suppress and filter out information that makes them uncomfortable.[13]

It threatens the middle ground. In highly polarised contexts, there is no – or very limited space for – people who hold middle ground positions. People are forced to take sides. “Persons who do not hold your opinion become perceived as an ‘enemy’ who does not share any common trait with you (in terms of identity or interest or both).”[14] Who is not for you, must be against you. It does not matter whether or not one actually supports a particular camp; in a highly polarised society, individuals are seen as belonging to one side or the other and are forced to choose a camp.[15] The middle ground  shrinks, and any attempt to compromise with the other side is seen as treason.[16] This eliminates any chance of dialogue between opposing groups and further contributes to polarisation.[17]

It entails risks to political stability. The break-down of social trust and normal interaction between different segments of society may create problems of governance, as the two camps are unwilling and unable to negotiate or compromise. The two camps see no point in socially interacting with individuals from the other camp or entering into a dialogue to solve common problems.[18] Instead of seeking and achieving some consensus over public policy issues or neutralising veto points, polarisation increases the motivation of the opposing side to block government policy in every possible way.[19]

It reduces democratic accountability. Democratic control and the accountability of politicians is weakened if most voters firmly belong to one camp.[20] When a government can count on the votes of its own camp in all circumstances and the number of swing voters is low, there is little incentive for moderation or trying to win over voters from the other camp.  The focus on the public interest will be low.

3. Nature of polarisation in Georgia

Georgia’s political environment is characterised by an extreme level of polarisation. Polarisation between different political actors goes beyond the usual political competition and electoral processes. Demonisation and vilification of political opponents, as well as mutual accusation in past crimes have become common features of politics in Georgia.[21] Constructive discussions and debates about policy issues are overshadowed by personal attacks and arguments about the past. Political and social problems that affect society remain unsolved.

Polarisation in Georgia is mainly political and personal, as opposed to ideological. Traditionally, Georgian political parties are identified not with their ideologies, but with party leaders. Parties and leaders build their legitimacy upon the flaws and shortcomings of their political opponents,[22] rather than their party programmes or ideologies.[23]

Political party structures and internal decision-making processes in Georgia are viewed as underdeveloped, with parties often representing very small fractions of the population and failing to create unity around any set of values or ideology. Parties’ are ideological weak and detached from issues that are of practical concern to the public.

Furthermore, polarisation in Georgia penetrates different social contexts and affects the daily reality of many people. One can observe that people often find it difficult or even unacceptable to stand up for a cause that is dear to them if they have to stand alongside representatives of the other camp.

Additionally, lack of trust within a society is believed to be among the most potent factors contributing to polarisation.[24] Georgian society is dominated by mistrust and the prevalence of conspiracy theories. Mistrust exists both towards the state and its institutions and at the inter-personal level. The World Value Survey (WVS) reported that only 8% of Georgians agreed with the statement “most people can be trusted,” which speaks directly to Georgian society’s low degree of “interpersonal trust.” [25]

At the institutional level, there is a strong distrust that the state, especially law enforcement bodies and the judiciary, will perform its functions effectively and based on the principles of rule of law and political neutrality. Furthermore, distrust and cynicism are fuelled by the regular reforms of state institutions that consistently fail to produce desired results. The failure of these institutions to act as neutral and objective arbiters that can reduce the political temperature in tense situations further fuels the already potent polarisation.[26]

4. The effects of extreme polarisation 

Extreme political polarisation has had multiple negative effects on the state of democracy in Georgia.

4.1 Middle ground under risk 

On the one hand, one can observe a shrinking middle ground – evident from election results and the constant verbal attacks against people who try to not belong to either of the leading political parties.

On the other hand, there is a growing number of disillusioned citizens who do not want to belong to either side. Instead of seeking a third option, this group is distancing itself from the political process altogether.

Public opinion polls demonstrate that confidence in political institutions is weak. Most Georgians do not believe that political parties are making changes that matter to them. They feel neglected by their elected representatives, particularly at the national level. Thus, many voters were undecided in the 2016 parliamentary elections. Eventually turnout was only 51,6%, suggesting a degree of discontent with the choices presented.[27]

4.2 Media further polarised 

Georgia’s media environment is characterised as the most “free and diverse” in the region. Yet it is often seen as being tied to and instrumentalised by partisan interests.[28]

Polarisation of the media, their involvement in political disputes and the lack of a popular press with truly independent editorial policies all undermine the prospects of media freedom taking hold in Georgia.

A number of pervasive media practices violate journalistic standards. Examples include republishing of politician’s social media posts without any analysis or context, failing to provide balanced perspectives on critical issues and using misleading aggressive headlines all reinforce political antagonisms.[29]

Loyalties stretch beyond the news media and into daily forms of entertainment as well. Prominent TV channels are notorious for their biases and political affiliations which are evident in the shows that they host.[30]

4.3 Human rights and rule of law sidelined 

NGOs and other groups working for the protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law indicate that they often struggle in this highly-polarised environment.[31] It generates significant obstacles in their work to promote trust and respect for rights as universal principles. “In Georgia there is a proven tendency by many to conflate criticism [of the government] with sympathies for the ‘other side’ – the political opposition”.[32]  Given that these organisations are often responsible for voicing such critique, there is a broad sense in the civil society sector that individual NGOs ‘belong’ to a particular party, movement, or personality.

However, political parties also do not shy away from instrumentalising NGOs to serve their interests. One example is the noticeable number of fake observer organisations that usually emerge right before an election to “monitor” it. During the 2016 parliamentary election campaign, for instance, GYLA observed certain NGOs (about which very little information was known or available in public information sources), who portrayed themselves as neutral. In reality, however, they clearly overstepped the mandate of election observers, attempting to foster the interests of certain political parties. Use of such proxies can be identified on the side of the government and of the opposition.

4.4 Focus shifted away from matters of public concern, democratic reforms suffer 

Political parties sometimes utilise polarisation to avoid finding solutions to matters of public interest. Polarised debates help political parties avoid responsible political behaviour. Instead of addressing public needs, the debate turns into a forum to vilify the opponent and thereby obtain easy gains in the eyes of the electorate. This often causes the protraction, and even the failure, of important democratic reforms or the work of important state institutions.

5. The causes of extreme polarisation 

Several factors causing extreme polarisation in Georgia can be identified.

5.1 Systemic and institutional factors 

a) Electoral system. Democracies can become polarised independently of their electoral systems, forms of government or levels of party institutionalisation. However, many analysts believe that Georgia’s use of a mixed electoral system with a heavy majoritarian component has contributed to the build-up of two hostile camps with a limited middle ground.[33]

Georgian politics features a powerful, popularly elected head of state (president “First-term” presidential elections in Georgia consistently returned large majorities in the first round (87.6 in 1991; 77% in 1995; 82% in 2000; 96% in 2004; 54.8% in 2008; 62.1% in 2012).[34] Such strong popular support of the presidents, and parliamentary majority for their parties have emboldened presidents  to flout constitutional divisions of power, push their agendas and reinforce the winner – takes it-all principle.[35]

b) Weakness of political parties. Over the 25 years of independence, political parties have been unable to firmly establish ideological profiles and become genuine representatives of different social groups (and their needs/rights). Thus, they have difficulties in offering attractive platforms for a political society. Party programmes are usually weak and inconsistent. Wanting to obtain maximum support through minimum work with the electorate, parties are often seen as lacking capacity in many fields and not working consistently or hard enough to create a solid electorate base. Internally the parties are weak, dominated by powerful leaders rather than democratic institutional structures and decision-making processes.[36]

c) Political culture. The political culture in Georgia is influenced by the Soviet legacy: the strong is leader is almost expected to suppress his opponents. Compromise and consensus are not respected political goals.[37] This makes the political fight fierce, as all methods to avoid defeat and, thus, obtain victory are seen as acceptable. Each party sees itself as the exclusive owner of the truth regarding what is good for the country and the people and how processes should develop.[38] The other side is often portrayed as being evil. This approach also makes it more difficult to admit defeat and recognise the winner.

5.2 Historical factors 

The role of trauma and insufficient reconciling with a ‘difficult past.’ Georgian society has gone through numerous traumatic events, including conflicts, Soviet repression, wars and human rights violations. Society cannot process these events without justice and truth seeking. Georgia’s recent past has not been subjected to a balanced analysis and self-reflection.[39]

Both interactions with stakeholders and DRI-GYLA’s media monitoring in 2016-2017 demonstrate that one of the key factors polarising Georgian society at present is its recent and highly contested past: the period from 2003 to 2012 when UNM and President Saakashvili ruled the country.[40]

For some, this time is associated with vibrant, much-needed reforms and the modernisation of the country. For others, it is a time of flagrant and widespread human rights violations and torture which remain largely unacknowledged and unaddressed.

Reports by national and international organisations and human rights mechanisms have testified to the unlawful deprivation of liberty, abnormally high conviction rates, and psychological and physical torture.

Other serious violations included arbitrary killings, misuse of the plea bargain system to pressure individuals and their families to “donate” property to the state, other heavy-handed behaviour by prosecutors and other officials, restrictions on freedom of media, expression and free assembly, forceful dispersal of demonstrations, pressure on courts, and illegal surveillance over opposition activities and journalists.

The Saakashvili administration prioritised what it considered to be a strong state over human rights, which resulted in abuses of power, high rates of arrests and violations of citizens’ rights.”[41]

Over time, the repressive policies of UNM led to growing popular dissatisfaction and split society. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the richest man in Georgia, brought the opposition together into GD, which defeated the ruling party in the 2012 parliamentary elections. The election itself was largely peaceful and the ruling party admitted defeat. However, the nine previous years of UNM ruling indicated that the period after the elections would not unfold as the peaceful and smooth transition of normal electoral cycles.

A cohabitation period between the new ruling coalition and the incumbent leader of the defeated party followed the parliamentary elections until the 2013 presidential elections gave GD control of the presidency as well.

After the relatively peaceful transfer of power, many leaders of the UNM have been arrested or prosecuted, and the party activists and supporters have suffered from intimidation and numerous attacks.[42]

The EU adviser on Georgia, Thomas Hammarberg stressed:

This is not only a matter of law and legal procedures; the political dimension is obvious…Whilst on the one hand it is important to fight impunity not least in relation to crimes committed by public officials, it is on the other hand necessary to ensure absolutely transparent and fair proceedings free from political interference.”

Hammarberg further urged the government to engage ina wise and rights-based review of the past.[43]

The government failed to define a policy based on respect for human rights and rule of law principles for dealing with the past. This lack of policy in conjunction with the weakness of the country’s justice institutions, the political temptations of the ruling party and the vibrant PR tactics used by the opposition have created a strong perception of a political witch-hunt, especially in the eyes of Georgia’s western partners, which has largely overshadowed the demands of justice: to seek truth and acknowledge and redress victims.

Georgia has often been criticised for its selective justice approach, including violations of the rights of ex-officials and repression of UNM, but almost never – for its failure to establish truth and redress victims.[44]

State policy in redressing violations has been vague, fragmented, inconsistent (hence the appearance of selective justice) and ineffective.

At the institutional level, several failed or ineffective reforms have demonstrated that pouring old wine into new bottles will not solve the problems at hand. If the individuals in the law enforcement bodies, security services and judiciary remain largely the same, new regulations alone cannot transform the old, problematic practices.

5.3 Social and economic reasons 

Income inequality and the fight for scarce economic resources have been cited as important contributing factors to polarisation.[45] Income inequality has been a problem in Georgia since independence. According to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI),[46] Georgia has the second highest inequality rate in Europe, just behind Macedonia. Income inequality in Georgia continues to worsen. One of the practical issues that demonstrates the winner-takes-all dynamic of Georgian politics is the mass dismissal of public servants and re-distribution of public offices among the activists and followers of winning parties after elections. This is a particularly painful process in the regions, where jobs are especially scarce. Thus, every election in Georgia turns into a battle for scarce resources.

6. Case study: Constitutional reform process of 2017

The 2017 constitutional reform process turned out to be another polarising development in Georgia. Not only did it divide the political parties (the ruling GD against the entire opposition political spectrum), but it also deepened tensions between the ruling party and the government, as well as amongst civil society and the expert community, who became divided over involvement in the Constitutional Commission and views on the process. The process also divided the ruling party itself, especially over the abolition of the mixed electoral system and the introduction of a fully proportional system. Positively, for the first-time discussion also focused on ideological, programmatic issues.

Several amendments have become the centre of major political debate and a matter of fierce contestation between the ruling GD, on the one hand, and the opposition, civil society and the ruling President, on the other.

Elimination of direct presidential elections. The new Constitution envisages that presidents will be elected by a college of voters rather than directly by the public. The college of voters will include MPs and delegates from representative bodies of Adjara, Abkhazia and local self-governments. The constitution provides that this change will be effective as of 2024; thus, it does not affect the 2018 presidential election, from which the president will – exceptionally – be elected for six years.

Powers of the president – transition to a full parliamentary system. The president will lose powers related to foreign and domestic policy and will be seen as an arbiter between the branches of government. However, many in the opposition and civil society see the current semi-presidential system as a guarantee against the over-concentration of power in the hands of one party.

The system for parliamentary elections – transition to a fully proportional system. The timing of this change is the main issue of contestation, as it will be effective as of 2024, so that the next parliamentary elections will be held under the current mixed system. The Venice Commission has indicated that this decision is “regrettable.” The new constitution bans blocs and envisages a 5% threshold (2020 elections will be an exception, as electoral blocs will be allowed, and the threshold will be 3%).

Definition of marriage. The new Constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and woman. This definition has raised objections from civil society organisations and was criticised by the Venice Commission, which is concerned that the text should not close the possibility of legal recognition of same-sex partnerships (even if not called marriage).

Selling land. According to the new Constitution, agricultural lands cannot be sold to foreigners, with some exceptions determined by the organic law. The law was criticised as having no ground. A similar moratorium was introduced in 2013, but it was declared unconstitutional as “the defendant could not present enough evidence to demonstrate a link between the prohibition of acquisition of agricultural land by foreign citizens and registration of agricultural land or development of a state policy on state-owned land management.”[47]

In contrast to the previous reform and election processes, one novel feature of the political divisions accompanying the constitutional reform process was that the fierce discussions were not only triggered by personal issues, but divisions around ideologies became a vivid part of the public discourse. Both inside and outside of the Constitutional Commission, there were intense discussions over issues of the economy and rights, such as labour rights and labour inspection, the right of the people versus that of the parliament to introduce new taxes, and the legality of purchasing Georgian agricultural land by foreign citizens.

7. Recommendations

To reduce the current level of polarisation, the following measures should be considered:

  • A rights-based approach and rule-of-law perspective should be applied to past and present human rights violations.
  • Adopt and promote policies directed to not only increase economic development, but also to reduce Georgia’s high levels of economic inequality.
  • Continue rigorous anti-corruption policies, emphasising respect for the rule of law and a separation of powers.
  • Put a greater focus on building/strengthening independent institutions and on judicial reforms, ensuring proper respect for their independence and autonomy.
  • Put an end to non-consensual constitutional and major legislative reforms.
  • Strengthen the internal democratic mechanisms of the political parties and ensure parties campaign on issues rather than engage in personal attacks. The media should hold political parties to account equally in this respect.
  • The emergence of a less partisan media needs to be promoted without undermining media diversity.
  • Conduct awareness campaigns to explain public policy and promote pluralism and tolerance.
  • Increase public awareness that extreme polarisation can be a political method: Instead of reflexively responding to any new controversy it would often be useful to have a public debate about why that controversy is taking place.

Methodology 

This report summarises the findings of the project, “Strengthening Political Pluralism in Georgia” implemented by Democracy Reporting International (DRI) and Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA). The project aims to provide Georgian civil society with a starting point to think about both the root causes and effects of extreme political polarisation as well as possible approaches for working together to address it. The above findings are based on media monitoring results, research on diverse legal and political aspects of polarisation, and the views of civil society and experts in Georgia.

Four consultation workshops on mapping political polarisation were organised by DRI and GYLA in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi in 2016. Some of the questions addressed in the workshops included: What drives polarisation and what are its effects (short and long-term) on Georgia’s democracy? Is polarisation a serious problem? What are the potential solutions to polarisation? What is the role of civil society and institutions in a polarised political environment? Can political parties, civil society and the media promote political convergence and social understanding?

Over 80 people participated, including civil society leaders and activists, academics, journalists, and policymakers. The project also commissioned research to map out existing studies and reports on political polarisation in Georgia, assess the institutional arrangements of the legal-political system favouring polarisation, and put the problem in comparative perspective. Based on these insights, this report offers recommendations for aligning work moving forward.

Download the fact finding report (English)

Download the fact finding report (Georgian)

This publication has been produced with the assistance of the German Foreign Office. The contents of this publication are the  responsibility of Democracy Reporting International and the Georgian Young Lawyers Association. They can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the German Foreign Office. 

 

Cover photo: Daria Tsintsadze, winner of DRI poster competition

 

[1] This report has been prepared by  DRI and GYLA based on research, fact finding and the outcome of the joint project implemented in 2016-2017.

[2]See, e.g., Resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, “On the Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Georgia,” 01 October 2014, <http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-XML2HTML-en.asp?fileid=21275&lang=en> (18 July 2018); and NATO Parliamentary Assembly Declaration 435, “On Supporting Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic Integration,” 29 May 2017 <http://scara.gov.ge/en/2011-09-08-07-44-18/885-2017-05-29-13-28-22.html> (18 July 2018).

[3] World Bank Group, “Polarisation and Populism, Europe and Central Asia Economic Update,” November 2016, <http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/278581479765753603/ECA-Economic-Update-Nov-2016-Eng.pdf> (18 July 2018).

[4] National Democratic Institute (NDI), “Final report of the NDI on Georgia’s October 2016 Parliamentary Elections,” <https://www.ndi.org/publications/final-report-national-democratic-institute-georgias-october-2016-parliamentary> (18 July 2018).

[5] Freedom House, “Nations In Transit, Georgia 2016,” 14 November 2016, <https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2016/georgia> (18 July 2018).

[6] Freedom House, “Nations in Transit, Georgia 2016.”

[7] Freedom House, “Nations In Transit, Georgia 2016.”

[8] Jennifer McCoy and Tahmina Rahman, “Polarized Democracies in Comparative Perspective: Toward a Conceptual Framework,” Working Paper, 2016. <http://paperroom.ipsa.org/papers/paper_54556.pdf> (accessed 18 July 2018).

[9]McCoy and Rahman, “Polarized Democracies in Comparative Perspective.”

[10] McCoy and Rahman, “Polarized Democracies in Comparative Perspective.”

[11] McCoy and Rahman, “Polarized Democracies in Comparative Perspective.”

[12] András Körösényi, “Political Polarisation and Its Consequences on Democractic Accountability,” Corvinus Journal of Sociology and Social Policy  Vol. 4, No. 2 (2013).

[13] McCoy, “Lessons from Venezuela’s Pernicious Polarization,” Latin Amerian Studies Association, Vol. 4, No. 1 (2017) <http://lasa.international.pitt.edu/

forum/files/vol48-issue1/Debates-Venezuela-5.pdf>.

[14] McCoy, “Lessons from Venezuela’s Pernicious Polarization.”

[15] McCoy, “Lessons from Venezuela’s Pernicious Polarization.”

[16] McCoy, “Lessons from Venezuela’s Pernicious Polarization.”

[17] McCoy, “Lessons from Venezuela’s Pernicious Polarization.”

[18] McCoy, “Lessons from Venezuela’s Pernicious Polarization.”

[19] Körösényi, “Political Polarisation and Its Consequences on Democractic Accountability.”

[20] Körösényi, “Political Polarisation and Its Consequences on Democractic Accountability.”

22 Participant at DRI/GYLA fact-finding workshop, “Mapping Political Polarisation,” Tbilisi, Georgia, 18-19 July 2016.

23 Participant at DRI/GYLA fact-finding workshop, “Mapping Political Polarisation,” Tbilisi, Georgia, 18-19 July 2016.

[23] Ghia Nodia, Álvaro Pinto Scholtbach, The Political Landscape of Georgia Political Parties: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects,

Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, Netherlands Institute for Multi-Party Democracy, and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 2006.

[24] Daryna Grechyna, “On the Determinants of Political Polarization,” Economic Letters , Vol. 144 (2016), p.10-14.

[25] World Value Survey “Self-Reported Trust in Others,” 2016,

<http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSDocumentationWVL.jsp> (18 July 2018)

[26] A clear example of suh an institutional failure is in the court  case against a top opposition-affiliated TV channel Rustavi 2– when, instead of depolitisising the issue and ensuring distancing it from political context, the national court system further fueled the politisation of the matter.

[27] NDI, “Final statement on Parliamentary Elections 2016.”

[28] Freedom House, “Nations In Transit, Georgia 2016;” and see EU and UNDP, “Results of Media Monitoring of 2016 Parliamentary Elections in Georgia 2016,” 16 December 2016 <http://www.ge.undp.org/content/georgia/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2016/12/16/eu-undp-summarise-parliamentary-election-media-monitoring-present-recommendations-to-georgian-media-.html> (19 July 2018).

[29]DRI-GYLA, “Media coverae of local elections adds to political polarisation in Georgia,” October 2017, <https://democracy-reporting.org/partisan-media-coverage-of-local-elections-adds-to-political-polarisation-in-georgia/> (19 July 2018).

[30] DRI-GYLA, “Media coverae of local elections adds to political polarisation in Georgia.”

[31] Participant at DRI/GYLA fact-finding workshop, “Mapping Political Polarisation,” Tbilisi, Georgia, 18-19 July 2016.

[32] Freedom House, “Nations In Transit, Georgia 2016.”

[33] See, e.g., C. Berglund, “Georgia,” in The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe, eds. S. Berglund, J. Ekman, K. Deegan-Krause and T. Knutsen (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2013); and F. Casal Bértoa, “Effective Number of Parties,” Who Governs in Europe and Beyond, 2016, <http://whogoverns.eu/party-systems/effective-number-of-parties> (19 July 2018).

[34] In 1992, Shevarnadze was also elected Chairman of Parliament, which was then equivalent to the position of head of state, with 96% of the vote.

[35] This does not hold relevant for the current president, whose powers are limited according to the Constitution.

[36] The relative simplicity of the Georgian party system is well illustrated by the fact that the post-communist history of the country’s government and party politics can be retold with no more than four party names, namely, Georgian Dream (GD), United National Movement (UNM), Union of Citizens of Georgia (GCU), and Round Table-Free Georgia (MM-TS).

[37] Participant at DRI-GYLA fact-finding workshhop held in Tbilisi in July 2016.

[38] At the DRI-GYLA fatfinding workshop in July 2016, David Usupashvili, former Speaker of the Parliament, quoted Soviet Constitution, Article 6 which frames the ruling party as the leading force of society. He noted that this mentality is still alive in Georgian politics. Later, the President of Georgia in his live interview with Rustavi 2 TV company stated the same.

[39] Conclusion from DRI-GYLA fact-finding workshop held in Tbilisi in July 2016.

[40] It is interesting that throughout its recent history of independence, Georgia has gone through several developments which would encourage it to deal with the past. However, Georgia does not have a tradition of – or experience with – doing so, as even its Soviet-era violations and injustices remain largely unacknowledged  and unaddressed.

[41] Howard Varney, author of the report and Senior Program Adviser at ICTJ.

[42] COE GA Resolution “On the functioning of democratic institutions in Georgia”, 2014.

[43] Thomas Hammarberg, “Georgia in transition: Report on the human rights dimension: background, steps taken, and remaining challenges,” EU Special Adviser on Constitutional and Legal Reform and Human Rights in Georgia, September 2013, <http://gov.ge/files/38298_38298_595238_georgia_in_transition-hammarberg1.pdf> (19 July 2018).

[44] For exceptions, see  Georgia’s Ombudsman’s Report, 01 April 2016 <http://www.ombudsman.ge/en/news/public-defenders-report-on-situation-of-human-rights-and-freedoms-in-georgia-in-2015.page> (19 July 2018).

[45] A participant at DRI-GYLA fact-finding workshop in Tbilisi, Georgia, 18-19 July 2016.

[46] World Development Indicators, “GINI Index,” World Bank, 2016; World Bank

<http://databank.worldbank.org/data/reports.aspx?source=world-development-indicators#> (19 July 2018).

[47] Transparency International, “The new moratorium on the sale of agricultural land to foreign citizens is also unconstitutional,” 28 June 2017, <https://www.transparency.ge/en/blog/new-moratorium-sale-agricultural-land-foreign-citizens-also-unconstitutional> (25 July 2018).

DRI’s work in Georgia

The big picture

In our project “Strengthening political pluralism in Georgia – phase II,” DRI, in partnership with the Georgia Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), addressed the critical issue of extreme political polarisation within Georgian society and politics. The project included raising public awareness of polarisation, sharing tools with civil society and the media, and bringing key actors together to engage in a meaningful discourse on the issue. Through the project, DRI reached over 20,000 people and actively engaged around 130.

What is extreme political polarisation?

Political polarisation is often present in democracies and can lead to a healthy political debate. However, when polarisation becomes extreme it is detrimental for political discourse and creates divisions in society.  In essence, extreme political polarisation involves political parties reaching voters by using polarising rhetoric that destroys any middle ground. Instead of being about differing policies, politics becomes focused on party competition itself in which parties utilise personal attacks against their opponents. This is detrimental to the very foundation of democracy, as explained by Michael Meyer-Resende, DRI Executive Director:

“Disagreement in a democracy gives voters a clear choice, but when opponents become enemies and arguments personal, not policy-based, democracy turns against itself.”

Below is a video that DRI produced with ForSet to help explain extreme political polarisation:

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Extreme polarisation in Georgia brings with it a wide spectrum of consequences both for politics and society as a whole. With a lack of policy-based politics, voters lose their voice on critical issues as both parties hold the same moderate policy ground.  As DRI and GYLA’s summary report “Extreme Political Polarisation and its Impact on Democracy in Georgia” explains:

“Extreme political polarisation has multiple negative effects; it engenders a ‘winner-takes-all’ logic and leads to dysfunctional policymaking, political patronage and regular revisions of fundamental rules.”

Some context

In Georgia, DRI’s project was occurring simultaneously with local elections and the adoption of Georgia’s third constitutional reform, both of which were further exacerbating Georgia’s political polarisation. While the constitutional reforms lacked wide political consensus and proper public consultations, the elections continued the norm of politics based on personal attacks that avoided substantive policy debate.

Step 1: Raising awareness

A large part of DRI’s project was aimed at raising Georgian society’s awareness of extreme political polarisation and its array of negative effects.

DRI approached this through a number of initiatives, including publications, workshops, and social media campaigns.

To learn more about these activities, look through the module below:

From Information to Awareness

In a number of cases, DRI supported youth and civil society in the creation of their own media campaigns on extreme political polarisation by providing them with training in proper messaging and then assistance throughout the development process. DRI’s CommunicaThon event was one of these opportunities.

Find out more in the module below:

CommunicaThon

Another way in which DRI harnessed social media was through a poster contest on polarisation’s causes, dangers, and solutions. Two winners were selected, the first by a jury, which is shown below.

The second poster was chosen through support on Facebook, with the winning poster, shown below, reaching  over 24,300 people.

 

Step 2: Reaching out to the media

While strengthening this foundational understanding of polarisation with key actors, DRI worked to brainstorm and discuss with the media various tools that would be necessary to support constructive dialogue and advocate for change.

Given the media’s important role in spreading political messages, DRI engaged with journalists to show possible roles for the media in fighting polarisation.

Read more about DRI’s work with the media:

Workshops with the Media

Step 3: Starting a conversation

Finding effective solutions requires discussion between individuals coming from all relevant sectors of society, from politicians to civil society. DRI created opportunities for such actors to engage in constructive dialogue on the issue of polarisation.

To learn more about these activities, look through the module below:

Shaping the Discourse

Where does that leave us?

If one thing is for sure, abating Georgia’s extreme political polarisation will be a slow and difficult process for Georgian society. Through their activities in Georgia, DRI aims to create a stronger basis of knowledge and a more open discussion through which local actors can continue to engage with each other and cooperate on establishing strategies to strengthen Georgia’s political pluralism.

Polarising Politics and the Future of Democracy in Georgia

Polarisation has been considered to have important negative consequences for the consolidation of democracy as well as for the evolution of a country’s party system. Georgia, one of the few democratic countries re-emerging from the ashes of the Soviet Union, has suffered from this “disease” from the very moment it recovered its independence in 1991, if already not before that time.

The current discussion paper assesses the problem of political polarisation in Georgia, putting it in a comparative perspective. In particular, it constitutes an attempt to shed light on some of the essential questions regarding the possible consequences and causes of polarisation in new democracies: what are the effects – both short- and long-term – of polarisation? What is the role of institutions in polarised political environments? Are political elites to be blamed for increasing levels of socio-political polarisation? Can political parties contribute to promote political convergence and social understanding? Following a “most-different-systems-design”, the collection of cases surveyed here (i.e. Hungary, Poland, Spain and, of course, Georgia) exemplifies the contexts in which polarisation comes about, demonstrating the impact it has for the functioning of democracy as well as elucidating how it could be avoided.

Read the paper in English and Georgian.

The content of the discussion paper does not reflect the official opinion of the Democracy Reporting International. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the paper lies entirely with the author.

Cover photo: Nino Mandaria 

CommunicaThon. Debugging Georgia’s politics. Programme, Trainers and Mentors

DRI and Georgian Young Lawyers Association are organising a three-day CommunicaThon in Tbilisi on July 14-16.

50 selected participants will try to ‘debug’ Georgian politics by developing communication ideas and solutions around the theme of extreme political polarisation and its costs. Experienced mentors will guide the teams along the path from early-stage idea to a ready-made plan of a communications campaign. They will help the teams avoid bad choices and encourage experimentation and innovation

Students of social sciences, marketing and PR will be key participants, but the event welcomes others interested in art and design. Teams up to 6 will do problem solving and attempt to create plans and samples of future communication campaigns to raise awareness about the negative effects of polarised politics.

The full program of the CommunicaThon is available in English and Georgian.

See the instructions for the participants in English and Georgian.

meet the mentors

Find out more about the trainers and mentors: read their bios in English and Georgian.

The CommunicaThon will take place at Impact Hub Tbilisi (8 Egnate Ninoshvili Street, Tbilisi).

Screenshot 2017-07-11 09.13.13 - Kopie

The hackathon is implemented by DRI and GYLA in cooperation with ForSet Communications Agency and supported by the German Foreign Office. Learn more about DRI’s work in Georgia here