Occupation Denies Liberalization

The challenges of democratization and the opening of markets are the two most pressing issues in the larger picture of the former Soviet Union. Some countries have succeeded; the Baltics, for example, for all of their fits and starts, have done very well for themselves, the fruition of a decades-long fight against Russian occupation. Belarus has more or less given up. Armenia holds sham elections that are very free and fair because the choice among war criminals from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is already made before the ballots are cast.

And then there are the countries like Georgia, making progress but struggling more and more as the years go by.

Georgia’s biggest stumbling block may be its political actors, its decimated civil society, or any number of other things. But it is hard to overlook the reason Georgia made international news half a decade ago — the occupation of its territories by Russian “peacekeepers.”

Building democracy in the former Soviet Union is a very hard task, especially where the Soviets worked hardest to destroy rival power structures and organizations to the Communist party. But military occupation of one’s territory is an enormous impediment to liberalization, breeding its own special — sometimes rational and well-intentioned, sometimes not — obstacles and changes in government and civil society that make free markets and free people less likely.

With that, we present a reminder of Russia’s power grab in Georgia from 2008. Tbilisi is hardly innocent in the events of that terrible August, but the effects of the Russian aggression remain with Georgia, into its parliamentary and presidential politics, to this day.