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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

How to get over the fear of losing popularity

17 June, 2014 - 11:49
Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day

On June 7 the fifth President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, was sworn into office. The new head of state is facing a number of important challenges and problems. He seems to intend to tackle them, drawing from the experience of reforms in Georgia. For example, Kakha Bendukidze, a Georgian politician and businessman, a former minister of economics, has already confirmed the reports of his appointment as Poroshenko’s advisor. In his words, the Consultative Council also comprises two American and two Canadian advisors.

Georgia’s ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili has denied rumors that he is also going to be an advisor to Poroshenko. “I am a person who is used to making decisions rather than giving advice,” he says. But he affirms that Georgians will gladly share the experience of reforms with Ukraine, for the Ukrainian government has already invited many Georgian specialists to work in this country. According to Saakashvili, they work at the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade, and at the Kyiv City Administration. He said this, answering the audience’s questions at MIM-Kyiv, Ukraine’s leading business school, where he had been invited to deliver lectures as part of the project “Ukraine: Facing the Future.” Incidentally, on the same day this institution awarded the Georgian reformer the title of honorary doctor. As the MIM-Kyiv President Iryna Tykhomyrova pointed out, it is his fourth doctorate.

As Saakashvili confessed, he is “getting used to normal life.” He lives in New York, jogs mornings in a park, visits a supermarket, and rides the subway. Asked about getting back to practical politics in Georgia, he says evasively: “My people need a rest from me.” Yet he speaks much and willingly about his political past. He is convinced that Georgia’s experience is unique in being applicable to all developing countries, especially those in the post-Soviet space. Here follow the most illustrative excerpts from Mr. Saakashvili’s speech and his answers in a brief interview with The Day after the forum.


“Georgia’s experience is important, for, although I am not inclined to overestimate what we have done, we were the first in the entire post-Soviet space to create a precedent for building a modern state – moreover, in a country with a criminal mentality, where corruption had taken deep root in all the strata of society, where crime was a way of life, and where old formations had always been an obstacle. Within a few days, Georgia managed to rise from the 137th to the 8th place in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index. We were the first developing country to be ranked among the top ten in this category. As for crime, we have become Europe’s most crime-free country. We have become one of the three most incorrupt countries, and by some estimates, the most incorrupt country in Europe. In spite of a war, a complete economic embargo on the part of Russia, and terrorist acts directly organized by and guided from Russia, we had a double-digit economic growth rate. In the past few years, we have seen a 7-to-9-percent annual growth. Georgia has shown that it can find a way out of the most difficult situation, rapidly develop, have modern-day institutions and a modern state, and, at the same time, remain a democracy. The change of government occurred as a result of democratic elections. A new government came with a very different program, but they could not change the main thing. We built a system which no other government can break – nobody can bring back corruption and crime.

“What was the main recipe for economic reform? Success. There was a very fast economic growth owing to a complete deregulation of the economy. We canceled about 90 percent of permits and licenses and cut the governmental staff by 70 percent. People aged 30 to 25 accounted for 90 percent of our state apparatus in the main echelons until the end of my presidency. It was a very important recipe to recruit young people who, apart from not being spoiled by bad experience, also want to do good for their state and who have ideals. A 25-year-old will make far fewer mistakes and will be of much greater benefit than an experienced 60-year-old. This is our experience, but I do not think it is applicable to all young states.”


“We dismissed all policemen. We had no police for three months, but crime did not in fact increase in this period. We thus understood that police had been creating, rather than solving, this problem. As a result, we formed new police. We furnished them with a new uniform, automobiles, weapons, and premises. But the main thing that has changed is public attitude to police. Before this, only 4 percent of people trusted the police. In other words, there was overall hatred for this institution. But now more than 90 percent of the population trust and help police.

“Secondly, I imposed harsh punishment for petty crimes. This means that all pickpockets, car thieves, etc., were to be put behind bars. It was not a good process because it brought about a fourfold rise in the prison population. Now the latter had dropped by 14 times. But, even though there were problems in our prisons, we began to carry out reforms. In particular, we introduced such an institution as alternative punishment. It is very important that we eliminated the system of crime management from prison. The pattern is very simple – criminals coordinated their actions by cell phones. We put an end to this process by way of rigorous discipline, sometimes even overdoing it.

Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day

“By the end of my term, we, of course, understood that our steps had not been the solution of the problem. But this does not mean that I was convinced of having to loosen the grip on crime. Simply, it is always more difficult to carry out this kind of reform in a small country that has a deep-rooted criminal tradition. During my first presidential campaign, people would come to me and complain: somebody had a car stolen, somebody had an apartment robbed, somebody had a daughter raped at the house entrance – they all urged me do something. We established order. On the eve of the next elections, people showered me with a different kind of ‘problems’: my son was unlawfully convicted, my nephew did not do this, he was framed, etc.

“What has happened now? Many prisoners have been released. Crime has gone up, but not to the extent it used to be. Ukraine has seen an increase in the number of Georgian criminal elements lately. Why are they here? Because there is an unfavorable climate for them in Georgia, but here the atmosphere of corruption helps them.”


“I would not compare Putin with either a madman or a child who still wants to play in war. For me, he is a thief, a pickpocket who has dipped his hand into a pocket and is watching the reaction in order to decide whether or not he can do the same again. Putin is a bandit. I can say on the basis of my personal contacts with him that he has a bandit-type mentality. Therefore, one should deal with him likewise. If you always show a bandit your weakness, he is bound to take advantage of it.

“The US and European sanctions have had an impact on him. He began to be nervous. Even the fact that he has pulled in troops to your border is a sign of nervousness. Forty-five thousand are not enough for Ukraine. Russia keeps 850,000 people under arms. The Kremlin had moved 120,000 to Georgia. And Georgia is 10 times as small as Ukraine. So the task of these 45,000 is not to invade but to signal the West and the local bandits – look, guys, we are here just in case. In reality, Russia did not intend to bring these troops into action. It has chosen a different warfare. So, I would not call what is now going on in Ukraine an undeclared war. It is a very much declared war. Whoever can’t see it is a fool.

“What Putin fears most of all are sanctions that affect the oil sector because Russia is a big gas station. Unlike Hitler, Putin has neither strong allies nor a functioning economy. Oil and gas are the only source of his revenues. When Hitler seized European lands, including Italy and Spain [sic – Ed.], he got resources and allies. Russia has nothing of the sort. Russia has Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Chechen militants, which is not enough.”


“The West is not weak. It is strong but weak-willed. Russia is weak in principle, but it has a strong willpower. This discrepancy in willpower has produced the result we have. The West will have, sooner or later, to impose sanctions on the oil and gas sector. The question is when and at what cost. Putin has now won time, saying that he is prepared to speak to Poroshenko. The Germans strongly oppose these sanctions, for they make tremendous money on Russia. There are a lot of ‘Schroeders’ there. And Putin is playing on this. But all these games will end at a certain stage. The main thing is that Ukraine must be prepared by that time. For Bosnia never became a state. Even Serbia became a modern state sooner than Bosnia whose backbone he had managed to break. The point is the West intervened too late and with incomparably small resources.

“I am aware that the West’s interference into the Ukrainian question is only a matter of time. This will occur sooner or later. It is only important for me to know when this will happen and whether Ukraine will be Ukraine at the time, whether or not it will suffer so much that it will not be able to succeed as a modern state. It is a very important question for such small countries as Georgia or Moldova – it is a question of our survival, too.

“There is no time left. You only have a few weeks. No matter what and how Putin may say, smile, and promise, you must act the way you need and never agree on any compromises with him.

“If Ukraine carries out all the needed reforms, it will leave no chances to the Western countries that would like to dodge – this particularly applies to Germany and France. Whatever the case, there is such a thing as conscience in democratic countries. Of course, it sleeps sometimes. But it still exists and can be aroused. Which cannot be said of Russia. I think it is a proper moment here to recall Churchill’s dictum that all democratic countries eventually do right things after trying out all the wrong ones. Therefore, Ukraine must keep prodding the West to take actions. They have enough leverage to influence Russia.

“Don’t forget that they all have serious economic problems, and sanctions will be shaking their economies too, but they will have to opt for them. They will have to pay this price. But the longer they remain irresolute, the higher the price will be.”


“The main reform for Ukraine is a complete deregulation of its economy. The more restrictions there are, the less success you achieve. Naturally, when you get down to this, all the people who work in various-level inspection authorities will tell you that the entire world will go down the drain without them. Without them, all cafe visitors will get poisoned, fires will break out everywhere, crime will be rampant, banks will cheat all their depositors and creditors, and, in general, the Earth will stop turning. My first advice is not to have a dialog with them at all. They must all be dismissed.

“I often hear that Ukraine cannot carry out reforms as fast as Georgia did because it is different, its territory and population are larger. On the contrary – you can do the job much faster. Your starting situation is better than the one we had. And, secondly, I will say for those who think that Ukraine is too big for fast reforms, while Georgia is suitable because it is small, that it is just the other way round. In a small country, when the state apparatus is being cut by 70 percent, this will inevitably touch your neighbor, relative, or classmate. In a big Ukraine, the ratio of the people I have ‘hurt’ would be so high that I could perhaps never see them again. Ukraine is ideal in size for carrying out reforms.

“It is very difficult for the present-day politicians to remain uncontrolled. I am sure President Yanukovych did not know at all what kind of a devil Facebook was. But this ‘devil’ would have been of so much service to him. For, instead of coming to your senses only when people take to the streets in protest, you can learn about popular discontent by surfing a social networking site. I constantly check my Facebook page, and, in general, all modern-day politicians use social websites in their work to receive the latest information.”


“I saw Poroshenko in Warsaw, and I would not say he is euphoric, on cloud nine. No. He is very much concerned about the situation, and he is aware of all the difficult challenges he is facing. He is also aware of a practically impossible mission that he is obliged to accomplish. I think everything will be possible if society and the government make some joint decisions.

“On the whole, Ukrainian society is far more mature and interesting than its political class. It will take one more reform to bring the political class up to the overall level of society. For a certain Tsariov cannot represent the country’s face in any way.

“Therefore, one of the tremendous challenges for Ukraine is to form a new political class. And this process is underway now. And no managers or advisors will help you. You can do all this by yourselves.”

By Alla DUBROVYK, The Day