President Shevardnadze Visits Harvard

by Irakli Chkonia in Cambridge, Massachussetts

On Wednesday, October 3 Eduard Shevardnadze addressed the audience at the Kennedy School of Government of the Harvard University. The Caspian Studies Program at Belfer Center Science and International Affairs of Harvard’s Kennedy School hosted the event. Although it was Shevardnadze’s first address in his present capacity of the President of the Georgian state, the audience barely heard any concepts different than propagated by the ex-Foreign Minister of the vanishing Soviet Union on his very first visit ten years ago.

President Shevardnandze’s presentation revolved around some general insights on possible institutional arrangements for evolving global security system alongside with references to his own past contribution into shaping the post-cold war world order.

Shevardnadze’s vision and rhetoric of “the new thinking,” carried through the Soviet-U.S. detente of late 80s and 90s, still seems to remain at core of his international PR concept.

It may be inferred that such an approach is productive in sustaining the essence of Mr. Shevardnadze’s image in the West. He was respected and trusted as a diplomat capable of applying cooperative approach based on non-dogmatic, ideology-free political calculus mixed with international institutionalist rhetoric and adherence to basic values of humanism.

On the other hand, quoting a Georgian student, one of those indeed the best and brightest of Georgia who attended the presentation, – ensuring Western support through “telling the same old end-of-cold-war story of the 80s” and “referring to personal contacts with retired Western politicians” must be less and less effective over time.

According to the critics, Georgian President is rapidly losing his international appeal failing to present a future oriented approach, – the dynamic story of challenges, breakthroughs and backlashes in democratic nation-building in Georgia with the reference to the potential of emerging Georgian civil society and the value orientations prevailing in Georgia.

However, the ongoing recasting of Georgia’s internal political map and a fear of backlash on reforms are some of the reasons why the President may not want to discuss necessity of the continued Western support of the emerging Georgian democracy.

In his address Georgian leader stressed the need for rethinking and reshaping institutions of current international order to effectively respond to the emerging threats of international terrorism. According to Shevardnadze, September the 11th is a turning point of the world history. 

President outlined several new challenges: short-term character of the solutions provided by shaping anti-terrorist coalition; possible reemergence of the international model of two competing blocks as the result of exclusion and dissent among the members of anti-terrorist coalition; providing international legitimacy for the use of force in combating terrorism; divergence of national interests in the era of globalization and poverty.

The solutions offered by President Shevardnadze are based on adjustment of currently inefficient international institutions, UN Security Council in particular. Shevardnadze also called for a convent of the world leaders to discuss he sources of terrorism – aggressive nationalism and aggressive separatism. President also acknowledged U.S. leadership in this process and expressed his full support to the new U.S. initiatives including AMD.

Referring to the regional problems Shevardnadze reiterated a concept of Georgia being “a key to the Southern Caucasus.” According to the President, a conflict in Chechnya and importance of Georgia as a key South Caucasus state defines the intensity of Russia’s increasing pressure on Georgia.  President stressed that recent allegations of Russia that Georgia provides shelter to terrorists are groundless. Russia tries to use current political momentum created by the events of September 11th to strengthen its position in the Southern Caucasus.

But President was rather brief in covering the topic of the topmost relevance – democratic transformation in Georgia. President pointed out that the process of transition takes time and although its acceleration is desirable, external pressure to speed it up is unnecessary. He explained the low speed of reform with the lack of experience of democratic institutions in Georgia, deep corruption and impediments brought by the years of civil disorder. In Q&A section President explicitly avoided fully addressing the question regarding anti-corruption policy and activities, offering to attend his presentation at Johns Hopkins University the next day. President’s answer was limited to general declaration that the phase of preparation for serious assault on corruption is completed.

Irakli Chkonia is a candidate for the Master of Arts in Law in Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Medford, Massachusetts.