For the first time a female president was elected, and an alien candidate defeated, on Georgian soil
Houston, we have a problem! We know what the problem is. We lack trust in our society, food in our refrigerators and weapons in our arsenal - those three essential ingredients of government that Confucius described some 25 centuries ago.
For the past couple of years, what we have seen in Georgia is a political disenchantment, and truth be told, this is very common in Western democracies who are becoming increasingly untrusting of existing political institutions. However, these democracies are facing different challenges than Georgia.
Let’s start with trust – it is a general benefit to society and the economy and serves as a glue that holds us together. For this reason, trust is often treated as the core component of social capital.
Today Georgians trust television and even private banks more than each other. “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” is one of the frequent survey questions that measures interpersonal trust and here we have an issue. Since 1995 when GORBI first measured this phenomenon, it has reached the lowest level. Based on a 2018 nationwide survey only 12% of the adult population thinks that the most people can be trusted.
Table 1: Trend of Interpersonal Trust
Source: World Values Surveys 1995, European Values Surveys 2008-2018
In societies where people trust each other, citizens are wealthier, healthier and live longer, the corruption level is low and school attendance rates are high. Income is distributed more evenly and electoral turnouts are higher; there are also are more volunteers and tolerance. These have all been well documented by social scientists and I can add here a few more things that my Western colleagues have not included in their analysis.
Where trust is high, people do not park cars on sidewalks. They pay for tickets on public transport, do not drive recklessly and, most importantly, do not seek certification as clergy from political organizations to avoid mandatory military service. These numbers are alarming and I don’t think all of them are heroes from the Hacksaw Ridge movie.
As for food, the last time when a mankind received a free loaf of bread was 20 centuries ago, after which one needed a job to earn food or be born in a state wealthy enough to provide a decent living. In Georgia, both job and wealth creation needs overhauling and ASAP!
Now about arms. Thanks to our allies we possess some modern conventional arms, recently received some Javelins, an American man-portable fire-and-forget anti-tank missile. The Stinger man-portable air-defense system is arriving soon, and NATO has committed to build a military airport near Tbilisi. These are still things that the “Mastercard can buy“, but Georgia also possesses priceless assets – NATO standard trained army personnel with immense experience serving in missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the only weapons that can solve Georgia’s territorial issues are diplomatic, and after the recent presidential elections, these have only grown stronger.
Finally, while the situation with food and arms are manageable to various degrees, building trust in our society is the most important. The recent runoff presidential elections clearly showed an existing divide in our society and calls for mass disobedience by the ex-President and former Georgian citizen Saakashvili are only worsening our polarization. These were shameful elections when it comes to hateful rhetoric and conspiracy theories.
Table 2: Dramatic shifts in public perceptions that helped winning presidential elections
I have seen countless angry and drunk Georgians and Russians, and a few crazy ones too, during my service in the Soviet Army and elsewhere. But I have never ever heard such disgusting language against both men and women by these nationals. Former Soviet diplomat Comrade Vashadze’s claims on television that he shares both the Russian and the Georgian cultures are simply preposterous BS. No part of our culture raises such people, so I think he is an alien infiltrated into planet Earth and unmasked during the recent presidential elections.
The elected President of Georgia has limited power under the constitution but unlimited ability to contribute to trust-building in the society, and I only wish her good luck in this long journey!
PS. For those happy readers who just learned about the Georgian presidential elections and are wondering what the political campaign of candidates looked like, I can say that it was a classic example of how a stupid campaign can destroy one’s chances to win. In short, the UNM started a dirty war against Mrs. Zurabishvili, calling her traitor and such, and that was their grave mistake. When it comes to who committed more sins, the UNM may well be Mephistopheles.
Note: I would like to extend special appreciation to Ani Lortkipanidze who assisted with the analysis and charts featured in this article. GORBI is an exclusive member of the Gallup International research network and has more than two decades of experience in survey research (gorbi.com)