In a recent commentary Edward Lucas continues a distressing thread of reporting on events in Georgia (“Playing foul, crying foul”, 14-20 February). While I consider him a good friend and an unbiased analyst, it appears he is one of a number of Western journalists of late who seem to be misinformed.
For the next seven months, the country will be governed in co-habitation between the sitting president and a new prime minister, who decisively defeated the old government led by the president's party. Bidzina Ivanishvili won primarily because he promised to right the wrongs of President Mikheil Saakashvili's authoritarian leadership. As he takes steps to do so, Saakashvili is responding angrily. He is skilfully using a sympathetic Western press to suggest that Ivanishvili is undemocratic and, even worse, pro-Russian.
Many of these reports are based on a selective use of the facts. This time it is Lucas who claims that Ivanishvili demonstrated anti-democratic tendencies during a recent commotion at the Georgian national library. He buttresses his case by assembling part of the picture. There was, in fact, an altercation, but Lucas leaves out some important facts.
The reader is left with an impression of a president hounded off the platform by Ivanishvili's thugs. A more objective analysis, such as that recently released by Oxford Analytica, described Saakashvili's behaviour as an unconvincing diatribe against the Ivanishvili government. It went on to say: Saakashvili amply demonstrated the declining political resources of his United National Movement. These conclusions do not fit into Lucas's picture, so he ignores them.
For example, he somehow forgot to mention the provocations from Saakashvili supporters that helped spark the clashes, only saying police seemed unwilling to intervene; or the fact that Saakashvili decided on his own initiative to speak at the unsecured library, against the advice of Georgian security officials.
Lucas suggests that Saakashvili has been trying to co-habit with the new government, but to no avail. The fact is that the president has sought to undermine and discredit Ivanishvili's government almost from the moment of its dramatic upset victory. His former prime minister, Vano Merabishvili, recently went as far as to say that Ivanishvili's forces should be purged from Georgian political life.
Ivanishvili's efforts to build dialogue with Russia are in fact producing results. Trade is resuming for a Georgian economy devastated by a war with Russia that saw 20% of the country's territory lost to its then-largest trading partner.
In a strong sign of closer ties, Štefan Füle, the European commissioner for neighbourhood policy, was in Georgia this month to sign off a major EU aid programme. NATO officials are noting improved relations with a new defence minister, and Georgia has boosted its commitment to NATO operations in Afghanistan.
Those truly interested in helping democracy take hold should heed the voices of the Georgian people. The following passage from an open letter signed by 18 leading Georgian intellectuals says it all: “How can we convince Western political and financial circles that tyranny has developed in our country in the past nine years? How can we convince them to stop strengthening the remnants of this tyranny by means of their financial or verbal support? And what type of future will our democratic civilisation have if non-democratic regimes continue to be patronised in the future?”