Presidential Politics

I’ve been loosely following the 2012 Republican Primary campaigns.  It sure is an interesting rogue’s gallery of characters they’ve got going on over there!  For such a beatable incumbent, Obama sure stands a pretty good chance of keeping the White House!

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, President Saakashvili remains wildly popular!  Let me give you all a little background on Saakashvili.

But first!  You’ll need some background on Georgia.  Consider this a crash course in modern Georgian history and politics!  Put your seatbelts on!  (Something Georgians have started doing last October when a new law was passed requiring seatbelts in the front two seats of all cars!  What’s more, you have to wear the seatbelts!!)

In 1991, Georgia declared independence from the USSR.  This was a big deal.  Except for a brief period of independence from 1918-1921, Georgia had been part of Russia for ~190 years.  The Georgian King Irakle II had invited the Russians to take over Georgia back at the turn of the 19th century in order to avoid being conquered by the Muslim Empires of Persia and Turkey (the Ottomans).  In 1991, however, all this was reversed, and Georgia once again attained freedom.  Then things got ugly.

Erekle II, as some might prefer to spell him.

Following Independence, Georgia saw a decade of strife and civil war.  While the Armenians fought the Azeris to the south and the Communist fought to retain power in Tajikistan to the far east, Georgia fought for its survival as several province attempted to obtain independence.

At the conclusion of these wars, Abkhazia received a semi-autonomous status within Georgia and the nineties was mostly lost to infrastructural or national improvement.  The former Soviet foreign minister Chevardnadze was swept into power and stayed there for the entire decade, and then some.

Eduard Chevardnadze. Again, if you prefer, we can call him Shevardnadze. Or maybe just Chevy for short!

Initially, Georgia suffered the same fate as much of the former Soviet Union–rampant corruption and crime, a backslide in terms of infrastructure and social services, basically a taste of anarchy for a good long while.  While American kids were playing pogs, collecting beanie babies, and beating Super Mario 64, their Georgian counterparts were involved with crime, forced to become refugees (who does it willingly?), or resigned to reading by candlelight so as to educate themselves in the lack of a functional school system or electric grid (This was the case for my good friend Koba and his buddies.  They’re all quite successful now!)

That's Koba on the right. I love that guy! I got to see him briefly a few weeks ago!

Then, all of a sudden, along came a dynamic new leader!  A hero of our times!  (Russian literary reference, anyone?)  In 2003, Mikheil Saakashvili seized power in a bloodless democratic coup.  In fact, you can watch it on YouTube!  (Though the sound isn’t properly synced with the video, sorry!)

At around 2:30, Saakashvili and his buddies storm into Parliament and around 5:20 Saakashvili sips from Chevardnadze’s tea after booting him from the podium.  BURN!  It was a good day for Georgia!

Saakashvili inherited a backwards, corrupt, crumbling country and was faced with the near-impossible task of getting Georgia back on its feet.  By focusing his efforts in three major theaters (Police Reform, Education Reform, and Relations with the West), Saakashvili was able to turn the country around and create a nearly unrecognizable state compared to the Georgia of ten years ago.

When I was studying abroad in Russia I was told not to go to the police if I needed help.  I lived in St. Petersburg, the home of several military academies.  If we were mugged or being followed or any other such unsavory thing, it was recommended that we seek out a soldier or naval cadet.  The reasons for this was twofold (Though I reserve the right to retroactively increase the number of folds without backtracking and editing.  [Ed.– I used to edit all of these posts before publishing them.  Then I got lazy.  Now I’ve got people like Rick Gove and Angela MacDougall pointing out every little mistake I make.  Thanks a lot you jackasses!  {I don’t actually mind.  When was the last time anyone saw me really mind something strongly (Get ready for some epic punctuation!!–>)?}]).

The first reason was that the cops were horrendously corrupt.  You would certainly have to pay a bribe, and, more often than not, the cops got a cut of the pickpocketing gang’s take for the day.  Classy, right?  (In related news, I made a good joke about this yesterday!  I’m so proud that I’ll repeat it for you here, parenthetically.  Me- “Yeah, this guy we studied with had a TV show in Russia for the past year!”  Maki- “What?  Seriously?  That’s kinda awesome!”  Lauren- “Yeah, it was basically Ken going around and doing random jobs and getting filmed.  Cop, Shashlik maker, you know!”  Kelly- “Oh, it’s like that show, Dirty Jobs!  But for Russia, I guess.”  Me- “Yeah, Dirty Jobs, Russia: Cop.”  So proud!)

The second main reason was that the soldiers and sailors were much more sympathetic to us as they were close to our age and oftentimes had their own beef with the cops.  A result of all this was that I was afraid of the police in Russia.

While that might have been true of Georgia in the very recent past, Georgia today doesn’t resemble Russia in the least in this regard.  Hundreds of new police stations have gone up all over the country along with policemen’s salaries.  The first step to fighting police corruption is to pay them more.  Then they don’t need the bribes!  A new generation of Policemen who not only enforce, but followthe law exists in 21st century Georgia.  It’s quite remarkable!

A couple o' troopers chillin' by their cop car. (also new)

The second big area for reform is Education. As I mentioned above, education in the 1990s was a bit of a mess.  Schools got bombed, sacked, or burned and were often closed for lengthy periods of time as War and Gangsterism ran rampant through the country.  Buildings crumbled and supplies disappeared.  Koba and his friends were forced to self-educate by candlelight while the other neighborhood kids ran around shooting off guns

My program, TLG is just one of many educational reforms going on right now.  In another bold move, teachers face a certification deadline.  That is to say, they need to get officially certified in their subject by 2015 or they get canned.  The incentive?  A certified teacher gets quadruple the salary!  There’s also a curriculum overhaul going on and mandatory twelfth grade.  Big news!

As regards the certification, a brand new Teachers’ House just openedin Gldani (a neighborhood on the edge of Tbilisi).  It’s spankin’ new and looks like it’s maybe even from the future!  It seems a little out of place in a district such as Gldani, but that’s just what the President himself told us when he invited us to the opening ceremony!

Saakashvili gave maybe a forty minute talk that evening. It was crisp and clear and awesome!

He spoke entirely in Georgian, but Maia was on hand to translate for me and Deborah.  We got to hear about how Georgians invented everything from airplanes to Russian Rockets (“Although I wish they had broken arms and couldn’t build those rockets!” -Saakashvili).  We learned how Gldani was once filled with garbage that just got paved over because it was the “worst region in Georgia.  But now, behold!”  With a sweeping gesture, the audience was invited to take in the lovely glass and steel building behind the president.

Following his talk (which ended with, “I’ve been talking for a while and you’ll all catch a cold out here, so let’s call it quits!” [Note: all these quotes are paraphrases]), we were invited over for wine and photos.  Though I tried to shepherd Gvantsa into a photo opp with her hero, she balked and instead I found myself standing in Misha’s shadow, dwarfed.  It was picture time and the president had his arm around my shoulder!

Who has two thumbs and wanted to take a picture with Raughley? Also, I do really like Saakashvili. He's quite the character, in the best way possible!

This is where I would insert the photo, but wouldn’t you know it, it’s on the Minister of Education’s Camera.  Dangnabit!

Let’s fastforward a bit to last Friday.  (Someday soon, kids aren’t going to know what words like “rewind” and “fastforward” mean.  It’s all “skip” and “scene select”!  Damn shame….)  This past weekend was Tbilisoba.  That’s a big holiday that’s basically just Tbilisifest.  Friday, however, was a postponement of Tbilisoba in favor of a presidential visit from France.

Nicolas Sarkozy came to town after stopping off in Yerevan and Baku in the preceding days.  Everyone got off work and the streets were blocked off around Freedom Square.  There were Georgian and French Flags everywhere and St. George’s column was decked out with flags and banners.  It was quite the sight to behold!  I, however, was forced to behold it from work.

Despite the festive atmosphere of Sarkozoba, the TLG Staff was hard at work.  At around 4:30 pm, we all piled in a van and drove across town to the event, though.  It was a splendid act of clemency by the powers that be.

We marched down the center of Rustaveli.  At one point I tried to meet up with my colleagues after getting separated and I asked into the phone, “Are you on the side by Parliament or across from it?”  I got the response, “Neither!  We are in the middle!”

After swimming through a sea of bodies, (live ones, fear not!) we arrived within…I don’t know, a hundred meters of Freedom Square?  It was really quite crowded that day.  We got there just in time for the beginning of the festival!

Unfortunately, the Georgians around me chattered away throughout both speeches.  Saakashvili spoke first in French then in Georgian (He’s quite the polyglot, that one!).  His French was indiscernible from where I stood (though I think my mis-use of the word “indiscernible” is implying that you can’t tell his French apart from the place where I was standing), and his Georgian speech was unintelligible to me (Because of my unintelligence).  Then the French President took to the podium and the chatter in the crowd seemed to multiply.

Just as Putin’s Russian is very clear and well-enunciated to the non-native ear, so too Sarkozy’s French was crystal clear.  Especially in the wake of Saakashvili’s drowned-out French.  Unfortunately, Sarkozy was drowned out as well.  I did catch probably the three most important phrases of the entire speech:

“Today I arrived in Tbilisi…”

“…the territorial integrity of Georgia…”

“Vive la Georgie!  Vive la France!”

What more needs to be said, after all?

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6 thoughts on “Presidential Politics

    1. > one of Georgia’s most corrupt ministries

      Would you please provide an evidence of corruption for the audience? I’m really eager to see it.

    2. L. Phillips,
      Well I do find a post pretty ok

      the only one that has his head in someones butt here seems to be you
      I don’t know is this is because you are just ignorant, Putinophile, Georgianophobe or just got a chance to date daughter of one of Shevardnadze’s corrupt policemen – it is visible that you NOTHING about this country, unless of course you are one of those Geogrians who believes that criminal mentality, “sami dalie” songs and colour black should be the only things associated with Georgia.

      1. Thanks for your comment and your defense of my blog, but please try to be less negative. Regardless of whether I agree with a comment or not, I’d like things to remain civil here.

  1. of course corrupt and saakashvili is usurper .
    they r doing whatever they wish there is no rule of law in georgia
    if you have different thought you be arrested and your family members will loose their jobs
    all of media controlled by government. we are back to ussr
    whoever says there is freedoms and democracy in georgia he is a liar or have no idea about democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms.
    freedom loving people can not will not support saakashvili and a his mafia kind government

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