author: Mark Belinsky
date: 2011-08-04 03:20:45+00:00
title: What Does A Successful Revolution Look Like? Dispatches from Georgia
"I paid maybe the first and last bribe in my life for "The Economist" in the Soviet Union. It was 3 rubles. A babushka (grandma) sold it to me for 6."
So says Giga Bokeria, the Secretary of the National Security Council for the country of Georgia. And he should know. He’s a crucial part of the youth in government that have run Georgia since the Rose revolution of 2003.
I recently visited the county to understand what a successful transition from dictatorship to democracy looks like. To meet with the people who ran the transition to hear from them how they succeeded where so many other countries failed. Their time in power has seen an elimination of the rampant corruption that existed, a minimization of bureaucratic morass that made it so difficult to start new businesses, and a reversal of the negative recidivism trend for youth – they’re now actually staying to build their country. At the same time, facing war with it’s much larger neighbor Russia and being accused of radical libertarianism.
I was to meet with senior political figures and give a series of lectures to the public as part of the Atlantic Dinners, that brings together opinion makers on major contemporary issues, thanks to Marquardt & Marquardt. After the recent conflict with russia, they’ve been increasingly trying to align with the rest of Europe, showing it’s cultural, religious and intellectual similarities. This event brought foreign dignitaries and thought leaders to discuss a variety of topics facing the country.
I had the pleasure of being invited to speak on two panels and to meet a number of invited revolutionaries trying to transition their countries of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Syria, as successfully as the Georgians had theirs.
There were a number of events and panels staged throughout "European Week." Here’s a brief overview:
"Social Networks and the Arab Spring": Faraz Sanei (Iran and Bahrain Researcher for HRW) Mohamad Al Abdallah (Programme officer, International Centre for Journalists, USA, Syrian Blogger and Activist) Nora Younis (web editor of Al Masry Al Youm, Egyptian Blogger and Activist) Bassem Bouguerra (Tunisian Blogger and Activist) Vincent Cespedes (Philosopher, France) Moderator: Alia Ibrahim (Middle East Correspondent, The Washington Post and Senior Correspondent, Al Arabiya)
It’s fascinating to hear people who have recently gone through a revolution discuss their personal experiences. Unfortunately, they also rehashed the fact that the struggle continues. Stories told by Bassem of the police continuing to assault citizens were sobering to those who had expected more success, no doubt in part due to their own experiences. Meanwhile Faraz detailed cases of countries such as Bahrain, where attempts of citizens to stand up for their rights were being brutally repressed. The optimism Around technology’s role as a tool for empowerment was also peppered with cautions to not discredit the people themselves. After all, technology can help bring people to the streets, but it’s up to them to decide what to do once they are there.
"Revolutions from East to South" which included people who supported the fall of the iron curtain, tech skeptics and myself : myself, James Crabtree (Financial Times) , Denis MacShane (Member of Parliament UK) , Hans Christoph Buch (Writer, Germany) Moderator: Marc Semo (Foreign Affairs Editor, Libération)
Given that just beforehand, a number of leaders from various Arab world uprisings said that while technology didn’t preclude the power of people and individual action, it was still essential to the successful overthrow of governments. The panel, aside from me, denied this entirely. My favorite quote being that "Mao did not need twitter." I guess they haven’t thought about modern distribution methods for his little red book.
The other consensus i battled was that freedoms needed to be supported to preserve the "dignity" of humanity, specifically discussed with regards to Libya. I again came down as the dissident, warning that this similar language was being used by Sarkozy, trying to "civilize" the Internet, rather than aknowlodging the udhr has already been ratified by all nations and can have more teeth as a legal statuate to initiate any said protections for humans in repressive situations.
My overall point being that in the post-industrial Revolution in which we’re now living, we must identify the new institutions necessary to protect and preserve our liberties. Just as it took many years to ban child labor in the industrial age, we need such principles as net neutrality, universal broadband, privacy standards and more in the new age. It’s frustrating to continue to face leaders who do not understand these issues but I’m hopeful that there will be more cross-generational dialogues happening.
*_"The Rise of the New Diplomats" with myself, Baratunde Thurston (cofounder of Jack & Jill Politics) Anand Giridharadas (writer at The New York Times) Moderator: Felix Marquardt (Founding President of the Atlantic Dinners)._**
There was much more agreement on this panel, but skepticism from the audience. One young student in particular pointed out his frustrations that, despite our optimism, the government wasn’t prepared to listen to the likes of him. Oh how quickly people can feel abandoned by a revolution, even a successful one.
However, in the new diplomacy, situations change rather dramatically. I explained that I was rather public about meeting the president, even beforehand, on twitter. Had he asked me to ask a specific question to the leader of his country, I would have. This is a powerful if relatively unique new channel available to citizens. The international journalists covering the region and the issues he’s concerned about are also more highly accessible now than ever before in the past, on twitter rather than just the usual expensive restaurants.
In the audience was Mark Mullen of Transparency International Georgia, who set up a fantastic interactive democracy project where Georgian citizens get updates about what their parliament is doing via SMS and social media. Our friends at MobileActive have a nice write up of the project.
The events came to an end with the Atlantic dinners themselves. This video is a strong summary:
After dinner, President Saakashvili (Misha) spoke from the heart of lessons and insights. It was incredible not only to hear him, but to see Bassem spring into action. We hopped onto the President’s wifi network and he pulled out his computer to live stream the talk to his friends and fellow revolutionaries back home. When I asked him if he’d asked permission, he laughed and said that he’s finally free, why ask for permission.
It strongly echoed the quote that Misha started off with:
**”You cannot be ready to be free until you are free” – Kant**