Khazaradze to launch a public movement – is it a good thing?'s Running Commentary

TBC Bank’s founder and chairman Mamuka Khazaradze announced he is launching a public movement in September. What does this mean for Georgia’s politics?’s Jaba Devdariani and Ted Jonas got together – via social media – to discuss.

Jaba Devdariani: Some say we are witnessing the birth of Oligarchic pluralism with Khazaradze’s announcement, how do you look at it, Ted?

Ted Jonas: I expect a business party will be to the right of my personal politics on socio-economic issues. But I think this is an extremely positive development, if it provides a haven for business to break from the current government and become active in the political process of protecting the liberal basis of the state – rule of law, independent and non-corrupt courts, protection of human and civil rights, secularism – and a Western orientation in foreign policy. The only way to dislodge Bidzina Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream (GD) is for business to break from them, and I hope that’s what Khazaradze’s announcement means.

There is a need and there is space for a left-right liberal coalition in Georgia, on the basic issues I mentioned, even though the different ideological components of that coalition should compete against each other and offer voters a real variety of ideological and policy choices in elections. But while being in agreement on the basic framework of pro-Western orientation, secularism and rights, and parliamentary democracy.

JD: But would not you rather see as natural if the political parties were taking the lead, with businessmen in a support role, rather than in charge? Or is this a testimony of the general crisis of the party system in Georgia?

TJ: We definitely have a crisis in the party system in this country: you have the GD, the United National Movement (UNM), the fascist movements, and the liberal center is weak. Khazaradze can help strengthen the liberal center, and bring in money and votes to ease out the current government. It can reinforce the competitive political system in a way that will help the smaller liberal parties, both left and right, to survive and compete.

JD: Talking of liberal center, I have read the tenor of Khazaradze’s message as being liberal-conservative, perhaps close to what Georgian Dream under Kvirikashvili’s government was preaching. I’m afraid taking a stance which is slightly better than what we have now might not be good enough for the people who are protesting in Tbilisi now.

TJ: We’re in a very bad place right now, politically, per my previous comment. A stalemate, with everyone spinning wheels. If this future movement is committed to be independent of the current ruling party, and committed to the basic set of Western values I’ve outlined above, it can be a lifeline out of the current impasse. Like I said, it won’t necessarily be my party, but I am glad to have them show up.

JD: In my mind, Khazaradze’s movement risks being to Georgian Dream what European Georgia is to UNM – a break away from radicalizing core, but not a qualitative transformation. Under the current circumstances that can be a welcome development, but surely not a breakthrough.

TJ: Well, let us see. I prefer for the moment to consider the positive possibilities of it than to retreat into cynicism. I have actually been saying for some time – since June 20 – that I hoped some key business leaders would break from the current government and start a centrist party. The only thing that surprises me is that it actually happened!

It won’t surprise me at all if they bring in Kvirkashvili, and I think anti-GD people should not dismiss that out of hand. We need to build a coalition in this country to support the democratic and liberal values that are threatened today by the GD, the UNM and the fascists. This is an important step in that direction, and we should be in the mode to cooperate with it and build on it.

JD: I can agree that with things being as they are, anyone sane and with a modicum of common sense entering the political scene in Georgia is welcome. It is sad that a category of people now defaults into seeing Khazaradze as a new messiah…. But if the “moderate brands” of the radicalizing extremes manage to hold the majority of voters closer to the center, that would benefit Georgia’s democracy greatly. It would also vindicate the Tbilisi Protests – bringing in a fully proportional vote in 2020, and spawning one or two serious moderate parties to contest them is no mean feat.

TJ: Well, first of all, let’s hope they become more than moderate brands of the extremes – rather that they stand on their own in the center. European Georgia’s continued flirtation with the UNM is driven by European Georgia’s weakness, more than anything else. If the liberal center becomes stronger, then perhaps they will not need that.

And I certainly hope that Khazaradze’s party is not going to be an underwater ally of the GD. That is totally unacceptable. And if people view Mamuka Khazaradze personally as another “messiah,” that will be a big mistake indeed. He is not, and nor was Zviad [Gamsakhurdia], Shevy [Eduard Shevardnadze], Misha [Saakashvili] or Bidzina [Ivanishvili]. We should have learned that by now.

The key thing is that other strong and qualified people – as I expect from the business and professional community – join this movement and act as a collective group of smart people. Like a political party! We need to move away from Big Man government in Georgia – that’s clear. And our dear fellow Georgians need to get this messiah-seeking out of their heads…

JD: In my mind, we would only move away from Big Man government if we have a big idea government. Personally, the businessman “announcements” of this sort – like Badri Patarkatsishvili’s or Bidzina Ivanishvili’s in their own day – rub me the wrong way. I would expect it to be “normal” for the political movements to form around ideas, and yes, leaders, while businessmen – or any influential men – may express support to the idea and provide support to the movement. I have deepest respect for what Khazaradze has done with TBC, it was unthinkable to make something so forward-looking in those days, but I fear that his “call to banners” is going to degenerate into a rush for money. That isn’t what politics should be about.

TJ: I think he has expressed ideas in his announcement. Moreover, Khazaradze is a very different type of businessman than Bidzina Ivanishvili or Badri Patarkatsishvili. Those two were 90s hucksters in Russia, where the illegal model of wealth accumulation was prevalent. Khazaradze has been squarely within a modern, legal model of business development and wealth accumulation. And he is part of a business society in Georgia that largely reflects those more modern values. I know the Georgian business and professional community quite well, having lawyered in it for 23 years, and there is a lot of positive, untapped potential here. Very different to the Ivanishvili and Patarkatsishvili models.

I should add – my comments above assume that this “movement” will eventually become a political party. If it is only a platform for business and professionals to express opinions and positions, it can be positive, and perhaps even reinforce existing parties and participation in them, but its impact will be more subtle and indirect than what I’ve been describing above. Probably less effective in actually changing the present dynamic of deadlock and division.

About participants: Ted Jonas is a lawyer in private practice who has lived in Tbilisi for over 20 years, he has contributed influential opinion pieces to Jaba Devdariani, is a political commentator and the first editor of in 2001, who has recently re-joined the editorial board.