Last week, opposition parties in the nation of Georgia vowed to boycott Parliament until the government releases Nika Melia, the leader of Georgia’s main opposition party. Videos posted online following Melia’s arrest show that riot police forcefully entered the building that houses his political party, and used tear gas in order to remove him. Meila’s arrest has caused a political rift within Georgia and is plunging the nation into crisis.
Nino Evgenidze is a Georgian activist, executive director of the Economic Policy Research Center in Tbilisi, and an alumna of the Draper Hills Summer Fellows Program at the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. Listen and read below for her analysis of Georgia’s turbulent history, the current political climate, and what the rest of the world can do to help her country uphold its democratic values.
On Georgia’s relationships with its neighbors:
“20% of Georgian territory is occupied by Russia. Just 40 kilometers from the capital of Tbilisi — where I live right now — there are Russian troops stationed there. They're moving across the border every single day, they're kidnapping people every single day, and they're killing people every single day. And no one is refusing. No one can stand against this ongoing Russian occupation, unfortunately.
Georgia is like an island in the authoritarian sea. Just look at our neighbors — Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, Iran. Georgia is trying to fight for its freedom and democracy, but we’re in a very tough neighborhood.”
On Russia’s expanding influence in the world:
“Over the past decade, Russia has invaded Ukraine, interfered in U.S. elections, and has interfered in European elections as well. This is where we stand now. Putin and the kleptocracy and oligarchy within Russia is not only Georgia's problem — it's a global business model of the 21st century.
Russia and the other authoritarian countries are exporting this model to the rest of the world, and proving to them that this Russian-style gangster model works. And maybe countries like the U.S. can contain it because they are very strong. But without international support, it's almost impossible for a country like Georgia to fight against this phenomenon.”
On Bidzina Ivanishvili, billionaire and former prime minister of Georgia:
“He's the informal governor of the country, but formally or legally, he's not responsible for anything. And he's controlling all different aspects of power within Georgia. Over the past few years, he has been constantly attacking civil society organizations and Western-oriented people who want Georgia to join NATO. And of course, he came from Russia — that’s where he made his money.
If you look at the structure of our economy, Georgian trade mostly relies on Russia, and most investment comes from Russia. Ivanishvili’s presence in this country keeps Georgia close to Putin's Russia.”
On the importance of U.S. support in Georgia’s time of crisis:
“[Melia’s arrest] was alarming to our international partners, especially the United States and Europe. I believe this is a litmus test for the Biden administration. We were watching Biden’s statement that America is back, democracy is back, foreign policy is back. And now it's time for him to deliver. This is not only about Georgia's inside political crisis, it's also about the Russian special operation against Georgia. And we need the support of the West to survive in this situation.”