In the past few years many people have often referred to Ukraine and Georgia as two similar cases in terms of the way they have been dealing with their communist past. Through the Orange and the Rose Revolution respectively, both nations overthrew a more or less pro-Russian, semi-autocratic clique and installed more Western, popular governments. Russian domination in its Western spheres, already largely eroded since the early nineties, seemed to have finally broken.
Now, both countries were again subject to some major events this weekend. While Ukraine voted for a new parliament after a tumultuous and disillusioning few years under president Yushchenko, Georgia saw its president Saakashvili getting heavily under fire through the imprisonment of a political opponent. It would be too ambitious an effort to go into a comparative analysis of both countries’ development since their ‘revolutions’, but some interesting remarks can be made by comparing the two.
First of all, Georgia’s more pro-Western course seems to have found more firm ground than in Ukraine. While Ukraine is still hopelessly split between a more Europe-leaning West and a more Russia-leaning East, as again confirmed in the election results this weekend, the former Defence ministor imprisoned in Georgia is fiercely nationalist and blames Saakashvili (among other things) of not having allowed him to conquer one of the Russian-sponsored rogue states in the Georgian interior.
This point shows quite clearly by observing Russia’s policy towards the two. While it is surprisingly absent in the Ukrainian elections compared to three years ago, it is all the more present in Georgia, albeit in a completely adverse way than before. Import restrictions, failed plane bombs and mutual diplomatic bullying leads one to conclude that Russia is ‘not so pleased’ by Georgia’s change of course. At least much less so than with regards to Ukraine, which is perhaps because in Ukraine it can be reassured that the voting (and economic) power of the eastern Ukrainian Russian-speaking population will provide a sufficient counterforce to ambitious plans of any more Western-leaning government.
The external danger, and the electoral popularity of a nationalist agenda, may be leading to a further radicalization of the Rose revolution, one might say; with Saakashvili – almost Robbespierrian-like – increasing his presidential powers and eradicating his opponents. In Ukraine, the challenge is more internally, and politics are likely to remain non-effective as long as there’s no conciliation between the two sides vying for power.
In general, the Georgian situation seems therefore more explosive and thus dangerous. In fact, not just because of the above, but also because of the availability of more fire-wood: the break-away regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It cannot be ruled out that in the emerging democracy that Georgia still is, its leadership’s increasing attempts to woo the nationalist vote, will lead into a full-scale conflict at some point of time (this is a very intriguing book on this subject, and this a good review).