The Republic of Georgia: A Democracy in a Rough Neighborhood
As the world leader in freedom and democracy, it is in our national interest to see the same freedoms we enjoy spread to people throughout the world. The Republic of Georgia is a small and young democracy in an area that is more known for its authoritarian rule than freedom. Georgia formally declared its independence in 1918, but 4 years later, the Soviet bear invaded and declared Georgia a Soviet Socialist Republic.
But the Georgian people are resilient, and with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia again declared its independence from Russia. Over the past 25 years, Georgia has become the freest country in its region. It sets up a stark contrast to the dictatorship of Putin in the north. However, the Russians never gave up on their ambitions to control Georgia. I was in Georgia in 2008 when Russian troops invaded and took one-third of Georgia. I saw the Russian tanks up on the hill, and the Russians still illegally occupy one-third of the nation of Georgia.
The Russians want to impose tyranny upon Georgia precisely because of Georgia’s quest for democracy and liberty. Georgia has made good governance a cornerstone of its reforms, grown the economy, and made significant progress toward creating a democratic society. The world witnessed Georgia’s first peaceful democratic transition of power from one party to another in 2013, and it has improved media freedom for 4 consecutive years, according to Reporters Without Borders.
In fact, Freedom House ranks Georgia number one in the region for its freedom of the press. Georgia has also made significant strides when it comes to corruption. It even ranks higher than some European Union countries and other U.S. allies according to Transparency International. When it comes to business and free markets, Georgia makes it to the top of the pack. The World Bank ranked Georgia among the top 25 countries easiest to do business in.
The fact is that the Georgian people and their government share our Western values. A recent poll found that more than three-quarters of the Georgian people support their government’s goal to join the European Union. Nearly 70 percent of Georgians also support Georgia’s joining NATO. The United States should be vocal and support Georgia’s quest to be in NATO. For the past 25 years of independence, Georgia has been a valuable ally of the United States. Due to Georgia’s free market system, low corruption, and simplified tax system, many American companies have invested in Georgia, especially in the energy sector.
The U.S. should negotiate a free trade agreement with Georgia to add jobs to both of our economies and send a message that Georgia is an important friend of the United States. Georgia is also a vital partner in the battle against international terrorism. It has provided more troops to the effort in Afghanistan than any other non-NATO member. Thirty-three Georgian troops have fought and died on the battlefield with American troops, and 900 Georgian troops still remain in Afghanistan. The Georgians are now preparing to hold elections in October. To ensure that these parliamentary elections are free and fair, the Georgians have invited international, independent election observers to monitor those elections in October.
The United States and our NATO allies must remain firm in our support for Georgia. Georgia is a sovereign country whose boundaries should be respected—even by Putin. Russia knows Georgia is a symbol of democracy in the region. That is why Putin continues to rattle his sabres in the entire neighborhood. Dictator Putin knows if Georgia is a successful democracy, then Georgia’s neighbors are going to want to follow that lead and become more democratic. It is in our national interest to support Georgia and their democratic aspirations in their journey for liberty.
Fifty years ago, our President John F. Kennedy talked about liberty. He stated what the American policy is regarding liberty. I hope and believe it is still our policy today. Here is what he said: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." That applies to Georgia.
And that is just the way it is.