Saakashvili listened to some experts. But did he really hear what they said?23.01.2009 | 15:16
On the evening of 21st January President Mikheil Saakashvili met with some Georgian political and economic experts and proposed that they set up a new consultative body. Its main aim would be to "help the authorities to overcome the economic crisis".
Those who disagree with the regime's position and openly criticise it were also invited to the presidential residence. "We must listen to those who might not agree with us or conversely, whose opinion might be unacceptable for me. Despite our conflicting views and political differences, we are all children of this country and we all have a single task - to ensure that Georgia is strong, united and independent, and to protect our country from this severe economic crisis," said the president.
Admittedly, the Georgian radio station Kommersant notes that the economic bloc was represented by just a few experts. Many venerable economists, whose opinions are held in high regard by society, did not take part, such as: the former economics minister and deputy, Professor Lado Papava; the expert on economic issues and political commentator Soso Tsiskarishvili; and the expert who headed the parliamentary committee on the industrial economy up until the Rose Revolution, Demur Giorkhelidze. By their own admission, nobody invited them, since "our opinion doesn't interest anyone in the government".
At the meeting the president did not just discuss economic issues. They also spoke about foreign and domestic policy, and touched on the social sphere and education. We have to acknowledge that among the participants there genuinely were those who openly criticise the authorities. Here is how they assess the conversation with the president on the urgent issues.
At the end of 2008 the political commentator and Georgian ambassador to Russia during Shevardnadze's time Zurab Abashidze turned down an offer to become minister for culture. However he views the conversation positively. As he told the Georgian agency Inter press news, this talk was interesting. He said that along with topical international issues a series of important domestic themes were examined. Abashidze noted that, despite the very difficult relations with Russia, the Georgian regime does not intend to prohibit private individuals and companies from making business contacts there.
Our Georgiatimes correspondent heard other opinions and assessments personally.
The political commentator Ramaz Sakvarelidze noted that it is still too early to talk about the concrete results of the meeting. "Progress has come with the fact that the young president wanted to hear opinions which don't coincide with his own. Until now the head of state's team was governed by the principle that: we are in power, and we will do what we like. As a result the opinion of intellectual groups was unheard, it was just ignored." He stressed that Saakashvili demonstrated a non-impulsive, rational style of communicating, quite the opposite of what is seen on the television screens. However, according to Sakvarelidze, the future of the expert council that is being established is not quite certain.
Moreover, Sakvarelidze doubts that when making decisions, whether they are related to politics, the economy or science, Saakashvili will follow the experts' recommendations. "I was one of a group of advisers that was established by the president in 2004. Very soon his team stopped needing our recommendations." And he concluded: it is willing to listen to the position of opponents, but it is incapable of understanding what it has heard.
Sakvarelidze was also sceptical about Saakashvili's idea of asked foreign experts to act as advisers. The commentator reminded us that they have been invited several times before. But judging by the situation in the country, no concrete results can be seen. "They need to be able to use other people's intellect," summed up Sakvarelidze. And he added that the main task which the government has to solve is to devise and implement a systemic policy, rather than constantly being lost in current problems.
And what about the financial crisis? After all, this is what prompted Saakashvili, who is often accused of authoritarianism, to listen to the opinion of independent experts. Most Georgian economists are convinced that, on the back of the international financial crisis, the state has to take emergency measures. But in their view, the liberalism proclaimed by the father of the Georgian economy Kakha Bendukidze (he now heads the state chancellery) is disastrous and belongs to yesterday.
Almost all of the invited experts told the president all this. At the same time reminding him that one of the problems is that even strategically vital facilities are concentrated in the hands of Russian business. And they gave the recent deal over the Inguri hydro-electric power station as an example. On the whole, they said, there is a clear "duplicity" in relations with Russia: confrontation in foreign policy, but entirely good favour in the economic sphere.