Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili painted a picture of Georgia’s economic and political liberalization in the past five years last night during a talk at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.
“There is no way back to the Soviet Union,” Saakahsvili said, adding that Georgia has instead embarked on a transformative journey by embracing democratic reforms and economic openness. “There is no way out other than total social transformation and integration into Western society.”
In his address entitled “Georgia and Black Sea Security,” Saakashvili expanded the concept of national security to incorporate the relationship between security, democracy, and legal systems. Though he touched on the issue of Georgia-Russia relations in light of the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, he said that military strength alone would not ensure security for his country.
“Security cannot be separated from democracy,” Saakashvili said. “There is no true security where you cannot rely on the rule of law.” He continued, “Having good elections, and enhancing democratic elections...[is] what makes Georgia more secure.”
Saakashvili also drew a contrast between Georgia’s dramatic economic reform in recent years with the policies of the past. He emphasized fiscal restraint, the importance of soliciting foreign investment, and the reduced role of the government as significant changes to the Georgian economy.
Current policies include the requirement that public spending not exceed 30 percent of gross domestic product and that new taxes be approved by a referendum. Saakashvili also noted that Georgia is ranked 11th in the world by the World Bank for ease of doing business.
“Governments are not smarter than markets,” Saakashvili said. “Our experience has been that with less intervention in the economy, there has been more energy.”
Georgia is now taking a path radically different from that of its past, Saakashvili said at the end of his address. “We are speaking about a long process,” the president said, “but our people will not accept regression.”
Students who attended the speech said they were surprised and impressed by Georgia’s commitment to modernization.
Elliot M. Shaw, a student at the Kennedy School, said he had previously been unaware of the opportunities for economic development in the country.
“It will be interesting to see if this development will translate to other nations in the region,” Shaw said.
Dennis M. Mwaura ’12, who also attended the speech, praised Saakashvili’s efforts to strengthen democratic institutions in Georgia, particularly the fact that Georgia currently ranks first in the world in combating corruption.
“It was clear that the president was really committed to democracy from his speech,” Mwaura said.