Issue 6, 2014. December-January


KAKHA BENDUKIDZE: BUILDING A LEGACY FOR THE NEXT GENERATION spoke with Vato Lejava, the chancellor of the Free University of Tbilisi and one of Kakha Bendukidze's close associates, about the impact Bendukidze had on Georgia and the future of his legacy projects, the Free University and the AgriculturAl University.

Much has been written about the late reformer Kakha Bendukidze since his death was announced on November 13.

He has been credited with bringing libertarianism to Georgia and spearheading the reforms that helped catapult the country's economy growth during the Saakashvili administration.

A legacy for Georgia's "grandchildren"

Bendukidze made a lasting impact on Georgia in the last decade of his life, Vato Lejava said.

Lejava - the chancellor of the Free University of Tbilisi - said: "Imagine if in 2004 Bedukidze would not have come to Georgia, would Georgia be a different country today? I think it would have been a different country for two reasons. First, for the reforms that have contributed to the economic performance and growth and second I think he has influenced how we think about economy and the state in general. He broke many taboos."

But Bendukidze's most lasting legacy could be the two universities he created after leaving public service, Lejava said.

Bendukidze, he said, first started speaking about creating a university in 2006 - at the height of his tenure in public service."We have an expression in Georgian - sashvilshvilo - so something you do for your grandchildren, not for your children, but for your grandchildren," he said. "He was referring to this project always like that. He was sure it was something that should last far beyond his life time."

The Free University and the Agricultural University were a place for him to put his motto - knowledge, labor and liberty - into practice, Lejava said.

"His famous saying was knowledge, labor - toil - and freedom. I think the university was such a place that could combine these three and also give the students the possibility to get knowledge, to learn how to work or to labor, and to understand what freedom means," he said.

Passing the torch

Even though Bendukidze passed away much earlier than anticipated, Lejava said he laid the foundation for his work at the universities to continue.

"Of course I cannot say it will be business as usual. It is not business as usual. But on the other hand, when he was talking about it - discussing the university and discussing his ideas about the university - this was always something which had the horizon longer than one man's lifetime," he said."It was not made for the short period or medium term."

Lejava added: "Of course, no one can replace Kakha and we will miss- not only the university but society as well will miss - his ideas which could have born in the years to come, but this is already, unfortunately, sadly, is just speculation now."

But he said the university and the administration are committed to continuing and trying to uphold the mission Bendukidze started: providing a quality education to create Georgia's future.

"I am explaining this in this way: maybe the genius thing is to invent an engine. But to run the car with that engine, you need a good driver, or good engineer or a good manager. This is how things happen in the world," he said.

"There are innovators and geniuses who really do something but if these are viable ideas, then it is not necessary for geniuses to implement them and to give them durability as well."

Lejava said the university is now working on moving forward.

"Nobody can replace him. He will be missed and this will be a deficit that cannot be compensated by something else," he said.

"But this is the reality. And we have to deal with that reality. It is a painful reality, but he would have wished that this would not have limited or hindered the future of the university or the students."

The fate of the university

The future of the university might not depend just on Lejava and the rest of the administration: the investigation launched into Bendukidze's procurement of the university is still open, Lejava said.

"When I talk about the future of the university, I am discussing the indigenous risks...but of course there are always exterior factors.

This investigation is formally standing; it is not closed, so we cannot address what kind of risks could come from there," he said.

Kakha Bendukidze, Reformer

Kakha Bendukidze was a large man who fit easily into superlatives.

He was the visionary who came home; the voice of Georgian libertarianism; the biologist who could see the potential in ruined things, whether they be the crumbling carcasses of an old university or the failing economy of his homeland.

He was also famous for his footwear, for always finding time for journalists, for saving the political cartoons that lampooned him, for appreciating a good joke - even if he was the subject.

He pushed Georgia out of its post-Soviet lassitude and was seemingly unscathed by the controversy and criticism his reforms generated.

Born in 1956, Bendukidze moved to Moscow for post-graduate studies in biology after he received his degree from Tbilisi State University in 1977. In 1993, he entered business, first purchasing Uralmash and then Izhora Plants. The two companies, merged into Objedinennie Mashinostroitelnie Zavody (OMZ), became one of Russia's largest heavy engineering companies.

But in 2003 he sold his holdings and, a year later, returned home to join the Rose Revolution government.

At the time of his death, he was rumored to be a front runner for a cabinet position in Ukraine and he had been advising Kyiv for months. He had also advised other former Soviet and Eastern bloc countries; in July he was reportedly in Albania for meetings with the government.

Bendukidze, like many of the personalities that made up former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's cabinet, was a dividing figure. Under his watch, the country withstood over 70 reforms - many radical - at a dizzying pace, according to an obituary published in Tabula magazine on November 14.

Tabula magazine, a venture he supported, credited his reforms - however unpopular - with creating the Georgian middle class.

"By appointing Bendukidze, the government made a clear choice. This choice gave the country a yearly 9.3 percent economic growth in 2004-2007 and almost four times more foreign investments. Despite separate compromises and mistakes, the government managed to decrease the taxes fourfold, the number of licenses by 90 percent and liberalize the labor market," the editorial stated.

"The reforms, obviously, came at a price, which most distinctively showed on 7 November 2007. However, these liberal steps were what lead to the formation of the previously almost non-existent middle class."