- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution,” which swept Viktor Yushchenko to power, came barely a year after a similar uprising in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia saw U.S.-trained lawyer Michael Saakashvilli overthrow Eduard Shevardnadze in what has been called the Rose Revolution.

I was a there the day Mr. Shevardnadze escaped through a back tunnel from the Parliament building in the capital city of Tbilisi.

In both cases, the public was buoyed by the promise of new, young leadership and government cleansed of post-Soviet corruption. It seems both revolutions, while public relations dreams, left those who wore orange T-shirts in Kiev and waved roses in Tbilisi disillusioned and bitterly disappointed.

Earlier this month, Mr. Yushchenko fired his government and dismissed the colleagues responsible for his election.

In Tbilisi, President Saakashvilli has struggled with claims of incompetence and corruption. This while he travels the world, proclaiming his leadership and while workers have just completed a lavish McMansion on the outskirts of Tbilisi at a cost of $27 million to the state. This “President’s Palace” sits atop a mountain, perfect for looking down on the little people.

At the same time, pensions for retired citizens accounted for $17 million, which works out to $7 monthly per recipient.

Electricity is provided sporadically. There is no health insurance, though the new president promised it in his campaign. Taxes have been raised, not lowered.

Sixty-five percent of Georgians are unemployed, which may account for the exodus of smart and talented professionals who simply cannot make a living in Georgia. More than 1 million Georgians have abandoned their home country. There are now little more than 4 million people, most below the poverty line.

American aid to Georgia — a high priority for the current administration which backed Mr. Saakashvilli — is $300 million a year. This prompts the question: Where does all the money go?

But it was not America that failed. The blame lies squarely on the inexperienced Georgian government, which is grappling with serious problems unlike ever before. No amount of money can compensate for corruption and scandal, and no orange shirts or long-stemmed roses can prevent a governmental implosion.

Both revolutions had a “honeymoon” period. Now the marriages both seem to be on the rocks. According to statistics just released by www.geoforum.ge, a Web site devoted to current affairs in Georgia, Mr. Saakashvilli’s popularity has plummeted. A month after his 2004 election, his popularity stood at an astounding 88 percent, numbers anyone in political life — aside from Laura Bush — can only dream of. This week, his popularity is barely 43 percent.

Ninety percent of Georgians who once expressed hope and belief in the Rose Revolution. Those same people now only number 28 percent, which certainly indicates the new government is floundering.

The value of Georgian products has also declined in economic terms, the gross national product in 2001 was 48 percent. Today that number has fallen to 12 percent.

U.S. AID and State Department officials have a daunting task. Monetary aid is not enough. The Ukraine and Georgian governments need substantial training in how to run a democracy. Otherwise, U.S. tax dollars are simply going down the drain and we all know better uses for it, including relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The State Department must act. The people of Georgia and Ukraine are looking to America for answers. Otherwise, both countries will dissolve into chaos, not unlike that of Belarus, where communist dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s regime resembles the Middle Ages. Opposition leaders have either fled Belarus or sit in rat-infested jails as political prisoners. Old Soviet flags still fly and there are no media other than Mr. Lukashenko’s private television station.

Polls in Ukraine and Georgia both show the U.S. government is respected and people are devoted to the values and freedoms America represents. They dream of free elections, freedom of speech, a free media and uncorrupt officials. They are starved for strong leadership and interactive checks and balances.

The people of Kiev and Tbilisi are looking for answers. They are looking to America for support and advice. They loathe any prospect of returning to the days under Soviet control.

Both young presidents must recognize that without this effort to form honest partnerships with the United States, democracy will remain only a public relations dream.

Tsotne Bakuria is a former member of Parliament in Georgia. He is a visiting scholar at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University.


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