Issue 1, 2015. February-March

   

EXPORTING GEORGIA'S MENTAL REVOLUTION

A generation of Georgian lawmakers made a name for themselves after the Rose Revolution-era reforms. Now Kyiv is eager to make use of their experience and expertise.

Helena Bedwell

There are three foreigners in the Ukrainian cabinet, including Georgian-born Aleksandre Kvitashvili

Forget about Georgian wine and cheese exports to surprise the West. It's now Georgian knowledge and experience that sells like hotcakes today, after two Georgians - Aleksandre Kvitashvili, Georgia's healthcare minister in 2008-2010, and Eka Zghuladze, who was Georgia's deputy interior minister from 2006-2012 - were appointed as members of the Ukrainian government.

Gia Getsadze, a former official in various capacities, was named a deputy justice minister. On February 11, Georgian media reported the former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was appointed as an advisor to the Ukrainian president.

Foreigners in the newly formed government, especially the two Georgians (who may be joined by other teammates) are being hired primarily to recreate Georgia's 2004-2012 successful economic reforms.

Their success would alsoprovide a boost for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement, which is now an opposition party back in Georgia.

Reinventing Georgia's Rose Revolution Success

After gaining power in 2003 following the Rose Revolution, Saakashvili strengthened Georgia's alliance with the U.S. and ushered in an era of reform. Economic growth followed; Georgian GDP went into double digits in 2007.

One of the pioneers of these reforms was Kakha Bendukidze, a former Economic Minister and the Chief of Staff of Saakashvili's government.

Bendukidze was a staunch supporter of major reformsand his ideas gained popularity in Ukraine when he was invited to join the Advisory Board for National Reforms Council (NRC), Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's initiative to coordinate reforms in Ukraine.

"The Georgian team's experience in fast and clean/fresh reforms are really needed in the corrupted [Ukrainian] state, where the past twenty years have been seriously tarnished with corruption," Alexander Rodneli, an analyst in Tbilisi, said in an interview. "There is no relative factor here, no party relations, less risksof future corruption; it's new blood."

For Ukraine, the stakes are high, noted political analyst and former U.S. diplomat Matthew Bryza.

Bryza, who worked extensively in the former Soviet Union, thinks that Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is sending several important messages by hiring foreigners: he is serious about reform and will hire the most experienced and capable ministers he can find - including a Georgian (and an American)and Ukraine's government will not be deterred by invasion, but rather, it will continue to deepen its ties with the EU, reflecting the will of its voters.

The scope and scale of the problems facing Ukraine, however, is much greater than what reformers had to tackle in Georgia. But Ukraine's new patriots appear eager to get down to the business of reforms: in comments to UKR TV, Zghuladze said she plans to reorganize the road police, and to create a fundamentally new police patrol with larger functions and responsibilities.

Close Allies

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk

The wave of Georgian expertise heading to Ukraine is just the latest in a long history of good relations between the two countries.

Kyiv and Tbilisi have historically helped each other in times of trouble: when Georgian products were banned in Russia under the 2006 embargo, Ukraine opened its market.

Also, when Georgia was grappling with separatists during the 1992-1993 war in Abkhazia, Ukrainian fighters helped Georgian soldiers - a favor a number of Georgian volunteers have been eager to repay.

While the number of Georgians fighting with Ukrainian forces is unknown, at least three have died in the war over the Donbass to date.

The current Georgian government has stressed the role of purely humanitarian assistance and has distanced itself from more hands-on support for Kyiv against Russia, but former officials believe Tbilisi has a pivotal role to play in Ukraine.

Giorgi Baramidze, who served as Vice-Prime Minister of Georgia and State Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integrationand is currently a vice-speaker of the Georgian Parliament, said in an interview that fully unconditionally supporting Ukraine means everything today.

Roman Gotsiridze, a former head of the Georgian National Bank, agrees. "These guys have both experience and learnt from their early mistakes, their names will be associated with radical reforms, something Ukraine needs now as much as anything else to remove the old guard," he tells me.

"Ukraine was heavily tarnished with corruption, and they are desperate for new blood and Western ideas and values."

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